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Advisory council could strip Julie Payette of her Order of Canada | CBC News

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As governor general, Julie Payette presented one of the country’s most prestigious civilian honours to hundreds of accomplished Canadians. Now, an advisory council is thinking about taking her own Order of Canada away.

CBC News has learned the 11-member Advisory Council for the Order of Canada, chaired by Chief Justice Richard Wagner — who took over the governor general’s duties for six months after Payette stepped down — is considering whether to terminate Payette’s appointment to the Order of Canada.

Only seven people have ever been expelled from the Order of Canada in its more than 50-year history — and no one has ever been dropped from the order due to allegations of harassment — says Rideau Hall.

“Never has a Governor General been stripped of an honour. It’s as simple as that,” said Michael Jackson, president of the Institute for the Study of the Crown in Canada at Massey College in Toronto. “There is a long process and due process has to take place. If it happens, it will be absolutely unprecedented.”

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Rideau Hall received a request to revoke Payette’s Order of Canada from a member of the public shortly after Payette’s resignation six months ago. The complaint came after an external review found Payette had presided over a “toxic” and “poisonous” workplace that drove many employees to quit Rideau Hall or go on sick leave.

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Julie Payette appointed more than 400 Canadians to the Order of Canada during her time in office. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Rideau Hall: ‘… the process is following its due course’

Vancouver welder and public sector employee Giovanni Cormano told CBC News he filed the request to drop Payette from the Order of Canada. In his letter to Rideau Hall, he wrote that “Julie Payette has undermined the Order of Canada and what it stands for.”

“For her to retain this honour would tarnish the achievements of Tommy Douglas, Margaret Atwood, Terry Fox, Kim Campbell, Leonard Cohen and Rick Hansen, to name a few,” Cormano wrote in his letter dated Jan. 31, obtained by CBC News.

Cormano hasn’t worked for Payette but argued in his letter that her alleged pattern of mistreating staff at Rideau Hall, the Montreal Science Centre and the Canadian Olympic Committee undermines the credibility of the honour.

Citing confidentiality rules, Rideau Hall won’t say if it’s received other formal requests to eject Payette from the Order of Canada.

According to the regulations, 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.”

Any Canadian can file a request to drop someone from the Order of Canada. If the deputy secretary of honours at Rideau Hall concludes that there may be reasonable grounds for revoking the honour, the complaint is sent to the advisory council, which makes a recommendation to the Governor General. The process can take more than a year.

The Governor General’s office told Cormano it’s taking his request seriously, according to an email viewed by CBC News.

“The reputation of the Canadian Honours System is at the heart of our mandate,” retired Brig.-Gen. Marc Thériault, deputy secretary of honours, said in an email to Cormano on June 4. 

“I confirm that the process is following its due course … The review of your request may take several months to be completed … you will be advised in writing should your request be rejected at any stage of the procedure.”

Julie Payette was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2010 for being a “source of inspiration and 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.

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

In 2017, the Queen named Payette an Extraordinary Companion of the Order of Canada to recognize her appointment as governor general.

The Queen released Payette from her viceregal role on Jan. 22 in response to a request from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

When asked for comment on the request to drop her from the Order of Canada, a spokesperson for Payette declined to comment. 

“Right now, her focus is on personal issues and applauding Canada’s athletes at the Tokyo Olympics,” wrote Lise Boyer, an agent at JP Communications. “Mary Simon’s appointment as GG should also rightfully be at the forefront of public attention and Madame Payette has no wish to disrupt that.”

A ‘vindictive’ form of payback?

Some constitutional experts argue that revoking Payette’s Order of Canada would amount to overkill.

Barbara Messamore, who has criticized Payette’s alleged mistreatment of staff, said it’s “undeniable” Payette has “already paid a high price.” She acknowledged some might disagree, since Payette is receiving an estimated $149,484 annuity per year for life after leaving office.

“Her reputation really suffered,” said Messamore, a fellow and vice-president of the Institute for the Study of the Crown in Canada. “I don’t think we need to take the next step of being vindictive, of pursuing every possible way in which we can punish her for her conduct.”

She said Payette still deserves recognition for her work as an astronaut.

Carleton University’s Philippe Lagassé, who studies the Westminster system at Carleton University, said taking back Payette’s Order of Canada would be “excessive.”

“She wasn’t dismissed,” he said. “She did bow out of the position. She agreed to resign in the face of workplace harassment allegations. She had to deal with the consequences of that already.”

Lagassé said the allegations against Payette have not been proven in a court of law. The external review attempted not to make findings of fact but rather to determine the scope of the problem.

Actor William Shatner is invested as an Officer of the Order of Canada by Gov. Gen. Julie Payette at Rideau Hall in Ottawa in 2019. (Chris Wattie/The Canadian Press)

Termination process confidential, says Rideau Hall

Rideau Hall would not offer comment on this case to CBC News, stating the termination process is confidential.

Rideau Hall spokesperson Lynne Santerre said in a media statement that the advisory council’s decisions are based on evidence that “can include, but is not limited to, criminal conviction or sanction by a professional body.”

“The termination of any honour is an extraordinary measure which serves to protect the credibility of the Canadian honours system,” she wrote.

Some Order of Canada recipients have been stripped of the honour due to criminal convictions — which have included fraud, assault with a weapon and obstruction of justice — according to Christopher McCreery’s book The Order of Canada. Other appointments were terminated over professional misconduct, such as making anti-Semitic comments or being disbarred from practising law, he wrote.

“There has been an unwillingness to strip honours from those who have suffered personally or who have made such significant contributions that their crimes are minor in comparison,” wrote McCreery. 

If the advisory council decides there might be reasonable grounds for termination, Payette would be notified and given a chance to provide a written response.

If the case makes it to the end of the lengthy process, the council would make a recommendation to Gov. Gen. Mary Simon on whether to terminate Payette’s appointment to the Order.

Simon is already familiar with the revocation process. She sat on the advisory council in 2014 — the year it recommended the expulsion of former media baron Conrad Black from the Order of Canada.

Black had been convicted of fraud and obstruction of justice in the United States seven years prior. McCreery wrote that the advisory council waited until Black had exhausted his appeal options.

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