Former governor general Julie Payette won’t lose her Order of Canada, advisory council says

Former governor general Julie Payette won't lose her Order of Canada, advisory council says-Milenio Stadium-Canada
Former GG David Johnson first named Julie Payette an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2010 at Rideau Hall. An advisory council considered a request to take her honour away. (Christopher Pike/Reuters)

Former governor general Julie Payette won’t lose her appointment to one of the country’s most prestigious civilian honours.

An advisory council has been considering a request to strip Payette of the Order of Canada. The request was filed following Payette’s resignation from Rideau Hall in January 2021, after she was accused of mistreating staff.

An 11-person council chaired by Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Wagner — who took over the governor general’s duties for six months after Payette stepped down — debated whether Payette’s alleged actions undermined the integrity and relevance of the Order or detracted from the original grounds of her appointment.

“The Advisory Council of the Order of Canada has concluded that there are insufficient grounds to proceed further at this time,” wrote Order of Canada Secretary General Ian McCowan in a letter to the complainant obtained by CBC News.

Rideau Hall confirmed the independent advisory body’s findings to CBC News but said it could not comment further. The office does not comment on specific cases, a spokesperson said.

‘Extremely disheartening’ response, says complainant

The complainant contacted Rideau Hall in February 2021, shortly after Payette left office. Vancouver welder and public sector employee Giovanni Cormano argued Payette’s treatment of staff at Rideau Hall and two of her previous workplaces — the Montreal Science Centre and the Canadian Olympic Committee — undermined the credibility of the Order of Canada.

Cormano said the response he received from Rideau Hall on Monday about his request for termination was “extremely disheartening.”

“It was disappointing in many ways,” he said. “I guess unprofessional behaviour that Julie Payette displayed at the highest level of this country’s government is acceptable in Canada.”

Cormano said he’s the son of an Italian immigrant born in B.C. and his heroes are Order of Canada recipients, including Terry Fox, Jean Chretien, Margaret Atwood and Leonard Cohen.

“I respect Julie Payette’s achievements and contributions to our country but as far as I’m concerned … she has no right to share the honour with countless others in Canada’s order,” he said.

Payette received honour for her work as astronaut

The Order of Canada is a gift of the Crown and can be revoked if an individual is convicted of a criminal offence or engages in conduct that “constitutes a significant departure from generally-recognized standards of public behaviour which is seen to undermine the credibility, integrity or relevance of the order, or detracts from the original grounds upon which the appointment was based,” according to the regulations.

Any Canadian can file a request to drop someone from the Order of Canada. Payette’s case made it to stage three, according to Cormano’s letter. The fourth and final stage is terminating the appointment.

Julie Payette-Milenio Stadium-Canada
Julie Payette was first appointed to the Officer of the Order of Canada in 2010 for being an “extraordinary role model” to youth through her accomplishments as an astronaut and engineer. (NASA/handout photo/The Canadian Press)

Payette was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2010 for being a “source of inspiration and [a] remarkable international ambassador for Canadian engineering,” according to Rideau Hall’s website. As an astronaut, Payette logged over 611 hours in space and was the first Canadian to board the International Space Station.

The Queen named Payette an Extraordinary Companion of the Order of Canada in 2017 to recognize her appointment as governor general. The Queen was later the one who released Payette from her viceregal role in response to a request from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Payette’s departure came after an external review found she presided over a “toxic” and “poisonous workplace” that drove many employees to quit or go on sick leave. The Privy Council ordered the review following a CBC News report on claims that Payette had belittled, berated and publicly humiliated staff, in some cases reducing them to tears.

Payette later apologized for the tensions at Rideau Hall and wrote in her resignation letter that she takes the allegations very seriously.

Payette with actor William Shatner-Milenio Stadium-Canada
As governor general, Julie Payette presented the Order of Canada to hundreds of accomplished Canadians, including actor William Shatner. (Chris Wattie/The Canadian Press)

The independent review’s mandate was to determine the scope of the problem. The authors of the report did not attempt to make findings of fact and the document relies only on what interviewed participants reported.

The review interviewed 92 current and former employees and other knowledgeable individuals. Only ten of them described positive or neutral feelings about the work environment.

Some constitutional experts had argued that revoking Payette’s Order of Canada would be overkill because she’s already paid a high price by agreeing to resign.

CBC News has contacted Payette for comment but has not yet heard back.

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