Governor General’s office was ‘toxic,’ ‘unbearable,’ former employee says

Click to play video: 'Gov. Gen. Payette ‘welcomes’ probe into harassment claims'
Gov. Gen. Payette ‘welcomes’ probe into harassment claims
WATCH: Gov. Gen. Payette "welcomes" probe into harassment claims – Jul 24, 2020

A former employee is speaking out against what they described as a “toxic” work environment at the office of Gov. Gen. Julie Payette.

“Right from the beginning, I was appalled at what was going on,” the source said.

“At first, I was just like, ‘OK, I have to give myself time to figure this out,’ or ‘Maybe things are really busy right now and they’re tense, I don’t know,’” the source said.

“The atmosphere, the vibe, the stress, the constant barrage, it was just … it was unbearable.”

Global News is not identifying the source, a former employee with regular contact with Payette who wishes to stay anonymous due to concerns about their career.

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The source is one of several people who have recently alleged a hostile environment at Rideau Hall. A report from CBC News, based on accounts from past and current staff, alleged Payette yelled at and intimidated staff — even quizzing them on their knowledge of the solar system.

The Privy Council Office said Thursday it is launching an independent review of the allegations.

Payette, who was appointed the Queen’s representative in Canada in 2017, said she is “deeply concerned” by the reports and welcomes the review.

“I am completely committed to ensuring that every employee who works at Rideau Hall enjoys a secure and healthy work environment at all times and under all circumstances,” she said in a statement.

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In a statement on Tuesday, the Governor General’s office said the recent media reporting had “no basis in the reality of working at the OSGG (Office of the Secretary to the Governor General).”

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Scheer wants ‘comprehensive’ look at PMs office when asked about Julie Payette harassment allegations

“We take these matters very seriously, and we are proud of our stringent internal processes for our employees to voice concerns, through the staffing of a robust and accessible human resources department, an independent ombudsman, in addition to maintaining excellent relationships with the unions that represent our employees, who have additional processes for the protection and support of federal public servants,” spokesperson Ashlee Smith said.

The office has had low staff turnover relative to other departments, according to Payette’s press secretary, and no formal complaints have been made during Payette’s tenure.

Asked Friday if any complaints were received after the allegations became public, a spokesperson said the previously issued comments stand.

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The former employee said the Governor General herself “wasn’t so bad,” though a little bit eccentric.

“I saw people saying, ‘Oh, she quizzed you on stuff.’ She did that to me too, but I kind of thought that was cute, right? She’s an astronaut.”

Click to play video: 'Singh says Trudeau has ‘obligation’ to investigate allegations against Gov. Gen. Julie Payette'
Singh says Trudeau has ‘obligation’ to investigate allegations against Gov. Gen. Julie Payette

But when Payette was with Assunta Di Lorenzo, Secretary to the Governor General and reportedly her longtime friend, they would “gang up” on staff, critiquing their work and calling them “lazy,” the source said.

“They would barrage people. If anybody had anything to say that was contrary to what they wanted to hear, it was very much a shoot-the-messenger kind of situation.”

The source, who ultimately left the position, said people left Di Lorenzo’s office in tears once a week or more.

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“I’ve worked in very, very tense work environments, but nothing, nothing like that. That was just, you know, I think the word ‘toxic’ is like… That’s the very definition of a toxic workplace.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was pressed on the matter in the House of Commons, said Wednesday that “Every Canadian has the right to a safe, secure workspace, free from harassment and that is extremely important.”

— With files from the Canadian Press

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