GG’s secretary promises to improve work environment following allegations of verbal abuse at Rideau Hall

July 22, 2020
GG's secretary promises to improve work environment following allegations of verbal abuse at Rideau Hall

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette’s secretary has sent a memo to Rideau Hall employees promising to improve the working environment following reports of a toxic climate within the Governor General’s office.

The memo from Payette’s secretary and longtime friend, Assunta Di Lorenzo, thanks staff for the work they’ve done so far.

“I want you to know that I, along with the Governor General and the entire management team, am deeply committed to fostering a healthy work environment,” says the memo, obtained by CBC News.

“Please rest assured that the well-being of our employees remains our priority.”

The email came just hours after a CBC News story reported that Payette, according to sources, verbally harassed employees to the point where some were reduced to tears or left the office altogether. Di Lorenzo also is accused of harassing employees and calling some “lazy” and “incompetent.”

“This has gone from being one of the most collegial and enjoyable work environments for many of the staff to being a house of horrors,” said one government source. “It’s bullying and harassment at its worst.”

CBC spoke to a dozen sources with direct knowledge of the office environment during Payette’s mandate. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared they could lose their jobs or their careers could suffer.

Concerns about accountability 

Di Lorenzo’s memo, sent out Tuesday evening, doesn’t deny the allegations but calls the story “troubling, to say the least.”

The email goes on to tell staff they can talk to their manager, their director, human resources or the ombudsman if they have complaints.

“We are here to listen and to take action in order to keep improving our work environment,” the memo said.

However, sources who worked at Rideau Hall said the harassment claims should raise questions about oversight and accountability at Rideau Hall.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on as his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau greets Assunta Di Lorenzo, secretary to Governor General Julie Payette, as they arrive at Rideau Hall to meet with the Governor General in Ottawa on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Employees can complain to the HR office, but the complaints go to Di Lorenzo, who reports to the Governor General.

Like other federal employees, the Governor General’s staff members can talk to an ombudsman with Public Services Procurement Canada, but it’s not part of the ombudsman’s mandate to register complaints or launch investigations. At most, the ombudsman can raise issues to the most senior person within the department — in this case, Di Lorenzo.

NDP calls for review

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said all workplaces need to be safe and called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to look into the allegations against Payette.

Watch | Singh calls on the PM to follow up on abuse claims leveled against Payette:

There has been an exodus of employees from Gov. Gen. Julie Payette’s Rideau Hall office because of a culture of bullying and harassment, CBC News has learned. 2:15

“I think the first step would be to follow up on complaints and then there could be a thorough investigation of these. And if there were enough evidence to warrant suspending the Governor General from her duties, then that would be assessed at that point,” he told a news conference Wednesday morning.

“There is a lack of transparency. There is a lack of clear protocol, which leads to a confusing and uncertain situation for employees.”

The Prime Minister’s Office said all Canadians have to work in a “healthy, respectful and safe environment,” but referred CBC’s questions to Rideau Hall ahead of Tuesday’s story.

“Our government is committed to ensuring that all federally-regulated workplaces are free from harassment of any kind,” said PMO press secretary Ann-Clara Vaillancourt.

Watch | Allegations of bullying, harassment in Gov. Gen. Julie Payette’s office:

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was asked by reporters to respond to a CBC News investigation of the abuse of staff by the Governor General at Rideau Hall. 1:24

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