Governor-General Julie Payette has been frequently at odds with the RCMP over security issues in the first year of her mandate, from her decision to go jogging without informing her protective detail to the fact that she lives off the protected grounds of Rideau Hall, current and former RCMP sources say.
The disputes highlight some of Ms. Payette’s struggles to fit into the vice-regal role as she enters the second year of her mandate on Oct. 2.
A former astronaut and public speaker, Ms. Payette was widely hailed as a good choice to replace David Johnston last year, with her nomination respecting the tradition of alternating between francophones and anglophones. In addition, her scientific background and ability to inspire young Canadians were in sync with the image that the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wants to project.
Still, current and retired officials from Rideau Hall and the RCMP, as well as one of her close friends, said Ms. Payette was not entirely ready for the public scrutiny that came with her nomination, as well as the constraints that would be placed on her personal movements. While mostly symbolic, the governor-general is the head of Canada’s military and fulfills a key role in the country’s democracy that goes from giving legislation royal assent to issuing election writs and summoning Parliament.
“She is used to being a public figure, but she was not used to the protocols and all of those things,” said John Fraser, a former master of Massey College in Toronto who has known Ms. Payette for years. “I don’t think anything could have prepared her for the shock of what being governor-general was. She hasn’t been immersed in that life.”
An expert on issues related to the monarchy, Mr. Fraser added that the first year of a mandate is typically hard for governors-general.
“I understand the essential loneliness of the job that she has taken on, which I don’t think she realized when she did it,” he said. “Security is one of the nightmares of any of these jobs, it must be a shock to realize that your whole life is bounded by this.”
The current and former RCMP officials spoke anonymously to The Globe and Mail on the matter because of the confidential nature of issues surrounding security. They expressed concerns that the Mounties are not in a position to offer traditional standards of protection for the Governor-General, adding that they are concerned that the RCMP will nonetheless be blamed in the event of an incident.
The RCMP is in charge of protecting the governor-general and family “at all times when in Canada or abroad, including during personal travels and visits,” according to federal rules.
Stéphanie Dumoulin, a spokeswoman for the RCMP’s National Division that is in charge of protecting all Canadian and foreign VIPs, said the force “cannot comment on specific details regarding the Governor-General’s security.”
Still, RCMP sources said there have been concerns over Ms. Payette’s personal activities, whether in Ottawa where she has gone out to jog by herself or in her hometown of Montreal where she likes to be in crowded parts of the city that are not easy to secure.
“I don’t know what the RCMP have as a threat risk on her but the reality is she is the Governor-General and we are not immune from potential terrorist attack. Because of that and her status, she could definitely be a target at some point,” former RCMP superintendent Garry Clement said.
The RCMP and the National Capital Commission (NCC), which is in charge of the government’s official residences, have also faced resistance in their efforts to enhance the security infrastructure at 7 Rideau Gate, where Ms. Payette is living while Rideau Hall is facing further renovations, the sources said.
Mr. Clement, who conducted a security review of the prime minister’s official residence and Rideau Hall after an intruder broke into 24 Sussex in 1995, said Rideau Gate is a “vulnerable” location because it is located so close to the street. Mr. Clement said that extensive security updates have been done at the Governor-General’s residence to protect the head of state from either a terrorist attack or a lone wolf.
“Look, you accept that appointment, that means you live at Rideau Hall. It’s not just tradition, it is done because we spent a lot of money securing Rideau Hall,” he said. “That is like saying the Prime Minister should live anywhere he wants and we don’t have to worry about it. It’s ridiculous.”
In recent months, the NCC changed the heating system, renovated a washroom, replaced lighting systems and upgraded furnishings and furniture layouts at Rideau Hall. There is continuing work at the official residence on the building’s foundations and three washrooms in the administrative building, according to the NCC. However, Ms. Payette’s office has said that she will continue to live at Rideau Gate to allow the government to complete a new round of renovations at Rideau Hall to make the location more accessible to people with mobility issues. There is no official timeline for the completion of the renovations.
Asked to comment on relations with the RCMP, a spokeswoman for Ms. Payette said that the Governor-General has no concerns related to her security.
“The Governor-General’s protective services are assessed continually and adapted, depending on the threat level and the environment. Her Excellency has full confidence in the RCMP competency and professionalism, and the relationship with her close protection team is excellent,” Josephine Laframboise said.
Ms. Laframboise said the Governor-General is keen to let Canadians know about her accomplishments in her first year in the position.
“In a few weeks, we will release our yearly assessment and we look forward to presenting the work we have done to Canadians. We have a few new outreach initiatives we are quite proud of and look forward to talking about,” Ms. Lafromboise said.
Mr. Fraser said Ms. Payette had initially been taken aback by some of the negative media coverage about her divorce and a fatal car crash that took place at the start of the decade. She also faced criticism for a speech in which she derided those who believe in divine intervention rather than natural evolution.
The key for Ms. Payette will be defining the issues that she will be promoting for the rest of her mandate, Mr. Fraser said.
“She is doing everything that is asked of her, and doing it with great charm,” Mr. Fraser said. “I think that now, in her second year, is the time where she will start flying a bit. She has a better measure of what it is the job involves.”