OTTAWA—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is refusing to say what he knew—and when he knew it—about a dismissed, non-felony charge against his choice for Governor General.
Julie Payette is calling the six-year-old incident a case of an “unfounded" allegation for which she was "immediately cleared” without any prosecution.
The second-degree assault charge doesn't appear in Maryland court records, but is accessible through American-based background check websites that provide the charge, dates, case number, location, and reason for its dismissal.
It provides no further details about the reasons for the charge.
The incident, first reported by the political news website iPolitics, has raised questions about whether Trudeau knew about the potentially-embarrassing information during the selection process that took place behind closed doors in the Prime Minister's Office.
And if he did know, why he didn't see it as an issue towards making Payette the next vice-regal.
Trudeau twice said yesterday he had no comment when asked about the deleted charge against Payette, echoing comments he made a day earlier.
He said that before any appointment to such a high-profile political post, the government conducts a thorough background search on the candidate's past.
Trudeau wouldn't say if he had been made aware of the incident prior to her appointment.
“I know that Mme. Payette is going to make an extraordinary governor general," he remarked at an event in Quebec. ”She represents the very best of Canadian values, openness to the world, curiosity, intellectual rigour, and inspiration.
“She will continue to inspire generations of Canadians as she represents us at the very highest level.”
Political appointees normally are run through a detailed vetting process that includes looking for details that could become damaging for the candidate and government should they become public.
The candidate also usually is asked to volunteer any embarrassing details in their personal lives before an appointment is finalized.
Depending on the severity of the what is found, the appointment could be killed.
The final decision usually rests with the prime minister, who can decide to overlook the details because the person is an exemplary candidate, or give them a pass after hearing a reasonable explanation.
“Generally, security vetting and/or interviews would catch a situation like this,” said Penny Collenette, who was Jean Chrétien's director of appointments for four years and now is an adjunct law professor at the University of Ottawa.
“Obviously, this situation is personally disquieting, both for Julie Payette and for the prime minister,” she added.
“We don't have the full context or all the facts, but it is worth remembering that appointees always have a human dimension, separate and distinct from qualifications and accomplishments,” Collenette stressed.
“We should not be surprised when that human dimension comes to light.”
An online background check search shows Payette was charged with second-degree assault on Nov. 24, 2011.
The prosecutor formally dismissed the charge about two weeks later on Dec. 8, 2011.
The online records don't detail what led to the charge. They also don't turn up in official Maryland records searches, suggesting they were expunged from the public record.
In a statement issued through Rideau Hall, Payette declined to comment on the event.
“For family and personal reasons, I will not comment on these unfounded charges, of which I was immediately and completely cleared many years ago, and I hope that people will respect my private life.”
At the time, Payette was living with her then husband, William “Billie” Flynn, a retired Air Force pilot who now is a Lockheed Martin test pilot for the F-35 fighter jet.
Payette and Flynn went through lengthy divorce proceedings that closed in late June when Payette withdrew a motion for child support, based on online Maryland court records.
The records also show that a motion to seal the proceedings and accompanying affidavits was filed in Maryland court Tuesday.
Meanwhile, media reports surfaced late yesterday that said Payette also was involved in a fatal accident in Maryland in July, 2011, four months prior to the assault charge.
She reportedly struck and killed a pedestrian who had stepped off a curb into in front of Payette's car.
The case was closed without charges in April, 2012 following an eight-month police investigation.