Rideau Hall spent over $110,000 on legal fees in response to bullying, harassment claims

·3 min read

Rideau Hall has spent more than $110,000 in public money so far on legal representation in response to allegations of a toxic workplace and verbal harassment at the Governor General's office, Radio-Canada has learned.

That sum is larger than the original value of the contract the federal government entered into to hire a third party to conduct an external review of the workplace culture at Rideau Hall. On Sept. 2, the Privy Council Office (PCO) said Quintet Consulting was hired on an $88,325 contract.

The PCO triggered the probe in response to a CBC News report in July citing a dozen public servants and former employees claiming confidentially that Gov. Gen. Julie Payette belittled, berated and publicly humiliated Rideau Hall staff. Her second-in-command, Assunta Di Lorenzo, is also accused of bullying staff. Many staff members have gone on leave or have left the office altogether, according to former employees.

In July, Payette said she welcomed the review and takes "harassment and workplace issues very seriously."

Rideau Hall hired former NDP national director Karl Bélanger and his firm, Traxxion Strategies, in August to provide strategic communications counsel and media relations support to Payette.

The public relations and communications firm has been paid under $5,000 for its services so far, according to Payette's press secretary.

"It is an honour and a privilege to serve our country," Bélanger said in a statement.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press
Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Last week, Radio-Canada revealed that the Governor General has also retained the services of former Supreme Court of Canada justice Michel Bastarache as "constitutional adviser." Bastarache's mandate is to ensure the review does not violate the constitutional protections enjoyed by Payette and to prevent her from becoming personally involved in the process. Bastarache has received $36,208 for his services, Rideau Hall said.

Law firm Blakes is also assisting the Office of the Secretary to the Governor General (OSGG) in the review process and has been paid $74,500 to date.

Ashlee Smith, Payette's press secretary, said OSGG doesn't have its own lawyers and the contracts "are a normal part of such an exercise."

"This decision was made due to the fact that the OSGG does not have in-house legal counsel, and as with any process, there were some legal and constitutional questions that required addressing, in order to ensure that there would be no conflict of interest for the PCO Legal Services sector," Smith said in a statement.

Smith said the contracts were awarded in accordance with the rules and with the consent of the Department of Justice. The government proactively released the figures at Radio-Canada's request.

Colin Perkel/The Canadian Press
Colin Perkel/The Canadian Press

After CBC's story aired, Rideau Hall issued a public statement on Wednesday night stating that governors general "receive constitutional advice from a suite of experts to ensure the impartiality of the institution and to allow for governors general to remain apolitical. This advice is given in a completely independent manner and on as an-needed basis."

Smith said the "rights of OSGG staff regarding privacy and confidentiality, which were not covered in the initial terms of reference, are being protected through this counsel."

In September, Quintet invited current employees to share their workplace experiences confidentially and gave them until Oct. 5 to let the company know if they wanted to participate. Some former employees got in touch with the company proactively to put their names on the list.