Canada governor general resigns over harassment claims

By: AFP      Published: 02:54 PM, 22 Jan, 2021
Canada governor general resigns over harassment claims

Governor General Julie Payette, Queen Elizabeth II's representative in Canada, resigned Thursday ahead of the release of a reportedly scathing report on workplace harassment claims levelled against her office.

The independent review had been ordered by the government last July when allegations of a "toxic" climate at Rideau Hall -- the official residence of the governor general -- first surfaced.

Canadian media, citing unnamed sources briefed on its contents, said the review's conclusions were damning.

"In respect for the integrity of my viceregal office and for the good of our country and of our democratic institutions, I have come to the conclusion that a new governor general should be appointed," Payette said in a statement.

And so, she added, "I have submitted my resignation... (and) I have informed the prime minister of Canada of my decision."

Current and former staff at the governor general's office had alleged that Payette bullied, yelled at and publicly humiliated staff, some of whom left her office in tears.

Payette responded at the time that she took the allegations very seriously.

The resignation of a governor general, especially under such circumstances, is unprecedented in Canada's history.

In addition to the harassment claims, Payette faced public criticisms for insisting on expensive renovations to Rideau Hall, and then refusing to move in.

And she often found herself at odds with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police over tight security, including eluding her security detail to go for a jog.

Her longtime friend Assunta Di Lorenzo, whom Payette had appointed controversially as secretary to the governor general and was also accused of mistreating staff, quit too.

- 'Tensions' at Rideau Hall -

In the statement announcing both of their departures, Payette apologized for what she described as "tensions" at Rideau Hall over the past few months. 

"Everyone has a right to a healthy and safe work environment, at all times and under all circumstances," she said. 

"It appears this was not always the case... and for that, I am sorry," she said.

Payette, a 57-year-old former astronaut, had been nominated to the largely ceremonial post by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2017 to represent Queen Elizabeth II in the Commonwealth country.

Trudeau said her resignation "provides an opportunity for new leadership at Rideau Hall to address the workplace concerns raised by employees during the review."

Payette's replacement, he added, "will be provided to Queen Elizabeth II and announced in due course."

Chief Justice of Canada Richard Wagner, per protocol, will assume the duties of the viceregal representative -- including giving royal assent or making acts passed by parliament law -- until a new governor general is named.

The Bloc Quebecois, an anti-monarchist third-ranked party in parliament, suggested now was a good opportunity to reconsider the "usefulness" of the post, calling it "an outdated function that has no place in a democracy."

Trudeau's Liberal government has not indicated if or when it will release the nearly 200-page third-party review of the workplace issues at Rideau Hall, in which dozens of public servants and former employees were reportedly interviewed.

The National Post said it may release only a summary of the findings, but not the full report.