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Rémy Beauregard died on January 8, 2010, at age 66, from a heart attack. His death came after months of conflict at Rights & Democracy with Tory-appointed board members who were ideologically opposed to the organization's grants, and accused Beauregard of improper management and of associating with "terrorist" organizations. Subsequent investigations exonerated Beauregard and were critical of the board's new management. The Minister responsible for the board appointments, Lawrence Cannon, lost his seat in the 2011 elections.
Rémy Beauregard served as president of Rights & Democracy (R&D) from 2009 to his death in 2010. He was a respected non-partisan public servant who had also worked in human rights with African human rights and children’s organizations. He had previously been Executive Director of the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
An organization thrown into crisis
In early 2008, the Harper government appointed new board members at R&D, including a new Board Chair, Aurel Braun, who wanted a hands-on operational role in decision-making. Conflicts ensued: the new members challenged Beauregard’s 2009 approval of three $10,000 grants to the organisations B’Tselem, Al Haq and Al Mezan, which all work in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. All three were well-known and respected human rights NGOs. In 2009 B’Tselem and Al Haq were co-winners of the Geuzenpenning, a Dutch award given to persons or organisations which have fought for democracy and against dictatorship, racism and discrimination.
According to a subsequent audit by accounting firm Deloitte, the grants were consistent with R&D’s operating policies and had been previously vetted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Documents obtained by the National Post show that federal officials knew of the internal governace crisis as early as 2009 and had tried to set up a special training session on board governance to support the new members in better understanding their roles.
The efforts came to naught. Three of the new Board appointees initiated a new performance review of Beauregard to overturn a previous positive one, alleging among other things that Beauregard had not been transparent in his dealings with the Board and was involved in unlawful activities such as meeting with and/or financing “terrorists” following a Middle East conference. The new Board members refused to give the majority of the Board or even Beauregard himself access to the review.
Beauregard was forced to file an Access to Information Request to see his own evaluation. It emerged that the so-called “meeting with terrorists” was in fact a meeting attended by representatives of several national governments, including a Lebanese government delegation that included members of the political party Hezbollah.
Canadian government officials have regularly met with Lebanese government officials in the past.
The conflict between Beauregard and the Braun-aligned Board members erupted on January 7, 2010, by which time this group constituted a majority. They denied a second term of office to Guido Riveros Franck of Bolivia, one of three international Directors. Sima Samar, a prominent Afghan women's rights advocate, resigned and walked out of the Board meeting, as did international human rights expert Payam Akhavan. One former international Board member described the new Board as pursuing a “narrow ideological position”. Documents obrained from the federal government by the National Post show that Board Member Donica Pottie had signalled the "ugly mess" occasioned by the Braun-aligned faction. She later resigned.
At the January meeting, the remaining Board members voted to "repudiate" the three grants to B'Tselem, Al Haq and Al Mezan. R&D management claimed that no minutes were taken at this crucial Board meeting. However witnesses state that Beauregard had agreed to repudiate the three grants but according to his widow, Suzanne Trépanier, he did so in what is now appears as a clearly futile attempt to resolve the conflict with the Board and not as acknowledgement of wrongdoing.
That night, Beauregard died of a massive heart attack.
The fall out
The R&D scandal garnered media attention and the overwhelming majority of R&D staff demanded the resignation of Harper’s appointees because they had “lost the confidence of the employees of Rights and Democracy.”
While R&D staff were in Ottawa attending Beauregard’s funeral, the organization was burglarized and computers were stolen, including the computer of the communications director.
Private investigators and an audit firm were hired by the remaining Board members who also ordered a forensic audit of the agency, claiming that it had lost its way and that millions of dollars were unaccounted for due to employee mismanagement. On this basis, several employees were suspended and the senior staff members were dismissed. Within nine months of these events, more than a third of all staff had either quit or been fired.
Before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, Beauregard’s wife, Suzanne Trépanier, and former Board member Payam Akhavan testified that Beauregard had been bullied. These allegations were denied by Aurel Brown.
While the Standing Committee found no improprieties under Beauregard's management, nor any "emplyee mismanagment", the Standing Committee reported that the new Board spent about $500,000 following Beauregard’s death on untendered contracts to lawyers, security firms, accountants and external communications. After these expenses were made, the Board passed a retroactive amendment to the R&D by-laws to permit untendered awards of such contracts.
In June, 2010, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development called for a new Board, an apology to Beauregard’s family and the correction of his evaluation record. The Government did not accept these recommendations.
The October, 2010, annual report of the agency noted that expenses incurred by the Board of Directors have nearly tripled.
Meanwhile, the forensic audit of R&D, which had been launched in February 2010, was repeatedly delayed. The audit, which cost more than a quarter of a million dollars, was leaked to the media in December 2010. It found no wrong-doing by Beauregard, who in fact was credited with leading a clean-up of earlier accountability problems. Instead, the report found that conflicts within the agency were the result of a change in “strategic orientation” linked to the arrival of the new Board member.
The government quietly awarded Beauregard a posthumous merit bonuses and pay increase in July 2010.
In 2011, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and the Union of Employees of Rights and Democracy created the Rémy M. Beauregard Fund to honour his involvement in the defence of human rights. This Fund allowed the construction of the Rémy M. Beauregard School in Columbia to support the education of aboriginal children who were displaced and suffered from the armed conflict.
A year later, in February 2012, the National Post reported that government documents showed that the Government of Canada was fully ware of the "ugly mess" and of the role of the Braun-aligned group in creating it.
R&D was abolished in the March 2012 budget.
Date updated: October 10 2012
- July 2008: Rémy Beauregard named as R&D’s fifth President.
- February 2009: R&D provides small grants to three human rights groups critical of Israeli human rights violations.
- March 10, 2009: Aurel Braun is named Chair of the Board of Directors.
- May 2009: Three directors, Gauthier, Tepper and Braun, lead a secret assessment of Mr. Beauregard's performance, sending it to the Prime Minister’s Office without Mr. Beauregard's knowledge.
- June 18 - 19, 2009: Having obtained the evaluation through an Access to Information Request, Beauregard presents it to the entire Board, the majority of whom rejects the evaluation. Further discussions are stalled until the new Braun faction constitutes a majority.
- January 6, 2010: Beauregard learns that his performance assessment remains unchanged but for a few minor details.
- January 7, 2010: Meeting of the Board of Directors – international member Guido Riveros Franckès term is not renewed and Board members Akhavan and Samar resign.
- January 7-8, 2010: Hours after the Board meeting, Beauregard dies of a massive heart attack.
- June 2010: The Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development issues its report, exonerating Beauregard.
- July 2010: The Privy Council of Canada issues two posthumous performance bonuses to Beauregard, and a posthumous pay increase.
- December 2010: A confidential audit report by Deloitte is leaked to the Globe and Mail. It credits Beauregard with clearing up previous accountability issues.
- January- February 2011: Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon reappoints Elliot Tepper and Jacques Gauthier to the R&D board.
- May 2, 2011: Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon loses his seat in the federal election.
- January 2012: Beginning of construction of Rémy M. Beauregard School in Columbia to support the education of aboriginal children who suffered from the armed conflict.
- March 2012: The Government's budget is released. R&D is to be shut down.
Role or Position
Implications and Consequences
- Democracy: Institutional change was achieved in R&D by appointing Board members that were ideologically aligned with the Harper government.
- Democracy: Basic principles of democratic governance, procedural fairness and natural justice should have operated to stop the attacks on Mr. Beauregard's reputation. The Report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development found that Beauregard had done no wrong and that the Board of R&D should be reconstituted. A forensic audit commissioned by Braun found no improprieties on the part of Beauregard. Mr. Beauregard’s widow has testified that her husband experienced harassment and bullying by newly appointed Board members due to grants for work in the Gaza strip. Former Board member Payam Akhavan, testifying to Parliament, said that the treatment of Beauregard amounted to “psychological harassment” that likely violated the provincial Occupational Health and Safety Act. The new Board members deny these allegations.
- Transparency: The government publicly stated that it was not going to get involved in the affairs of R&D as justification for its failure to rectify the governance "mess". At the same time, the Harper government was making appointments to the Board of members who would support its ideological position, with the full knowledge that those appointed manifestly lacked the ability to manage an organization of this kind, or indeed understood their roles as board members.