Canada’s Governor General Julie Payette has resigned following the “scathing” findings of an independent review into workplace abuse allegations that had been levied against her.
Sources have told Global News that the findings left Payette with two options: to resign, or be fired. By Thursday afternoon, she had chosen the former.
Gov. Gen. Julie Payette resigning amid ‘scathing’ Rideau Hall workplace review
The professional path that led to this outcome for Payette is a long one, littered with impressive accomplishments that made her a stellar on-paper candidate to serve as the Queen’s representative in Canada – but one that has ended with her being forced to resign.
Payette’s path to GG
Payette was born in 1963 and raised in Montreal’s Ahuntsic neighborhood, where she attended private schools before being chosen to attend the prestigious United World College of the Atlantic in Wales. There, she completed an International Baccalaureate diploma.
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After graduating in Wales, Payette returned home for university.
Her dad was an engineer, and the star student opted to follow in his footsteps when she started studying engineering at McGill University. She graduated with a degree in electrical engineering in the mid-1980s before obtaining a master’s of applied science in computer engineering at the University of Toronto in 1990.
Just two years later, Payette was hand-picked by a committee – which included former astronaut and current Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau – to become an astronaut at the Canadian Space Agency.
Over the years, Payette amassed an impressive resume. She had been to space. She spoke both French and English. She could get by in Spanish, Italian, Russian and German, and she was the recipient of a whopping 28 honourary degrees. She is also a member of the Order of Canada as well as the Ordre national du Québec. On top of all that, she plays piano and has sung in multiple orchestras.
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And in 2017, that resume landed her the esteemed role of Governor General. She called the appointment a “great adventure.”
However, as she began her tenure in the very public role, reports began to emerge of incidents in her personal life and past that chipped away at the perfect image portrayed on paper.
Allegations of abuse
Shortly after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the plan to appoint her as the Governor General in the summer of 2017, reports emerged that she had an expunged second-degree assault charge from 2011 – which she called “unfounded.”
The charge was laid while she lived in Maryland in late November 2011 but was formally dismissed two weeks later. While online records did not reveal what led to the charge, iPolitics reported at the time that the alleged victim was her then-husband William “Billie” Flynn, a retired Air Force pilot.
The two split up shortly after the alleged incident.
“For family and personal reasons, I will not comment on these unfounded charges, of which I was immediately and completely cleared many years ago, and I hope that people will respect my private life,” Payette told iPolitics in a statement at the time.
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Fatal car crash
The Governor General’s plea for privacy went unheeded as reporters quickly learned of another incident involving Payette. Just one day after news of the expunged assault charge emerged, the Toronto Star reported that the then-soon-to-be Governor General was involved in a no-fault fatal car accident.
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In July of 2011, 55-year-old Theresa Agnes Potts was struck when she ran across an intersection as Payette was heading through a green light. An accident report of the incident showed that Potts had her head down and likely didn’t see Payette’s vehicle.
A police investigation found that Payette tried to brake and swerve to avoid hitting Potts, but there wasn’t enough time for her efforts to succeed. Potts later died in the hospital.
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The two reports from Payette’s past raised questions about whether the Prime Minister’s Office had fully vetted the former astronaut before announcing her appointment as Governor General. In response to questions on the matter, Trudeau said Payette had been undergone the same “deep and extensive” vetting process as other high-profile appointees.
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He wouldn’t, however, confirm whether the two incidents had come up during that vetting process.
“Obviously, our heart goes out to the family affected by this tragic accident. It was a terrible and tragic thing and we know that Mme. Payette actually personally reached out to share her condolences with the family subsequent to the accident,” Trudeau said.
Unhappy in her role
As Payette settled into her position, she enjoyed a relatively tame and scandal-free first year – that is, until the National Post reported that she was reluctant to perform basic functions of her job.
In the fall of 2018, they wrote that she hesitated to sign the legalization of cannabis into law. Her reasoning wasn’t that she didn’t understand her duty, nor was she drawing an ethical line in the sand – she was reportedly frustrated that she had to make a last-minute change to her schedule, according to the National Post.
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The article, citing multiple anonymous sources, painted a picture of Payette as so deeply unhappy in her role that many wondered if she might leave the job – and its annual salary of just over $290,000 – early. She disliked the public scrutiny into her personal life, the expectations for how she was supposed to dress, and demands on her personal time, the National Post reported.
In response to questions from the National Post, a Rideau Hall spokesperson said “The Governor General is fully committed to serving Canada and Canadians. Over the past 11 months, she has shown great leadership and executed, on time, all the duties that a Governor General must perform.”
“We would like to point out that your assertions are either inaccurate or based on incomplete information,” Marie-Ève Létourneau added.
The peppering of scandals and unflattering reports over the years took on new relevancy in the summer of 2020, when CBC News first reported allegations from multiple sources that Payette fostered a toxic, harassing work environment.
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Employees at Rideau Hall alleged to CBC News that Payette had yelled at and publicly humiliated staff members. Individuals who later spoke to Global News under the condition of anonymity – fearing that coming forward could damage their career prospects – expressed similar experiences.
“Right from the beginning, I was appalled at what was going on,” one former employee said.
“The atmosphere, the vibe, the stress, the constant barrage, it was just … it was unbearable.”
Removing a governor general is a rare, vague process that is up to the Queen
The slew of allegations prompted The Privy Council Office to hire Quintet Consulting Corporation in the fall to conduct a review into the claims of workplace harassment. The result of that review, some of which were reported on Thursday, was “scathing,” according to sources.
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