PM Trudeau faces questions over Julie Payette appointment
Published Wednesday, July 19, 2017 10:06PM EDT
OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Governor General Designate Julie Payette will inspire Canadians, as he defends the pick following revelations she faced a quickly dropped assault charge.
Trudeau's office knew that Payette had been charged with second-degree assault prior to appointing her, CTV News has learned.
Payette's Nov. 24, 2011 assault charge was dropped two weeks later and Payette ultimately had it expunged, or wiped clear, from her record.
It came up during her vetting by the RCMP but Trudeau pressed ahead with the appointment, CTV News has learned, because the Prime Minister's Office was satisfied it happened during the breakdown of her marriage, and that it had been dropped by prosecutors.
The assault charge was laid following an incident at the home in Maryland that Payette shared with her then-husband, former Canadian fighter pilot Billie Flynn. The couple later divorced. Flynn is a test pilot for the F-35 fighter jet.
The charge was first reported by iPolitics.ca, raising questions about whether the PMO knew about it when Trudeau chose Payette to represent the Queen in Canada.
Trudeau announced Payette's appointment last Thursday.
Speaking Wednesday in Laval, Que., Trudeau refused to say whether he knew about the assault charge, though he noted that candidates for appointments such as Payette's are screened in advance.
"I know that Madame Payette is going to make an extraordinary Governor General," Trudeau said.
"She represents the very best of Canadian values -- openness to the world, curiosity, intellectual rigor and inspiration. She will continue to inspire generations of Canadians as she represents us at the very highest level."
In a statement to CTV News, Payette refused to comment on the charge.
"For family and personal reasons, I will not comment on these unfounded charges, which I was immediately and completely cleared of many years ago. It is my hope that people will respect my private life," she said through a Rideau Hall spokeswoman.
A second-degree assault charge covers physical injury done to a person, or placing a person in reasonable fear of imminent bodily harm.
'This never should have happened'
The assault charge came four months after a tragic incident in which Payette accidentally struck and killed a visually impaired pedestrian who jay-walked in front of her car.
A police file obtained by CTV News describes the July 10, 2011 incident, including multiple witness accounts of the pedestrian stepping into the road in front of the former astronaut's car, and of Payette braking and trying to swerve around the woman.
One witness "observed the victim run across the street" as Payette drove down the road, according to the police report.
"He advised the SUV did have the green light to proceed through the intersection."
The medical examiner's report suggested the victim, Theresa Potts, crossed the road looking in the opposite direction from the one Payette approached. Another witness suggested the sun may have been in Potts' eyes as she crossed the street, while others, including Payette, described her looking at the ground as she walked.
The sun was setting behind Payette's car at the time.
Potts' sister later told police that the woman was very light-sensitive "and bright lights caused her to be completely blind."
The case was closed without charges in April, 2012, after police finally received cell phone records they sought. The records showed Payette was not using her phone at the time of the accident.
CTV News spoke to Potts' family, who said Payette sent them a heartfelt letter of condolence. It was given to the funeral home to be provided to them.
In the letter, Payette said she had been "incessantly" replaying the accident.
"I wish to God I had seen Ms. Potts in time to avoid her. This should never have happened," she wrote.
"If this is any comfort to you, her family and friends, I will live for the rest of my life with the sorrow of having hurt another human being."
With a report from Glen McGregor, Rachel Hanes and Mark Khouzam