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

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 a $88,325 contract. 

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.

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,” said Belanger in a statement.

Then-NDP leader Tom Mulcair and then-NDP national director Karl Belanger share a laugh as they walk to the Progress summit in Ottawa on April 1, 2016. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Last week, Radio-Canada revealed the Governor General also has 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,” said Smith in a statement. 

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

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. Others have said they haven’t received updates from Quintet for weeks and do not know when the interviews will begin.

Former Supreme Court of Canada justice Michel Bastarache is seen outside Federal Court in Toronto on Wednesday, May 24, 2017. (Colin Perkel/Canadian Press)

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