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Rights & Democracy
Rights & Democracy was a respected government organization. Its reputation and effectiveness were undermined by political appointments and bullying designed to prevent support for three small projects that helped Palestinians. The projects represented less than 1% of the organization's budget. The former President supported these projects, but died in 2010 of a massive heart attack after months of harassment. The organization was thrown into crisis.
Rémy Beauregard was named President of Rights & Democracy in 2008. Around that time, the government also named new members to the Board who held a “narrow political agenda”, according to former International Board member and prominent Afghan women's rights advocate Sima Samar.
Among these new Board members was Aurel Braun, a University of Toronto professor of political science, named as Chair of the Board. Mr. Braun and his faction of new appointees soon clashed with Beauregard. A key part of the conflict related to three grants, valued at about $10,000 each, made to B'Tselem, one of Israel's leading human rights groups, and its partner organizations, Al Haq and Al Mezan. According to former R&D Presidents Warren Allmand and Ed Broadbent, Beauregard had the support of the Department of Foreign Affairs in approving these grants and the funds were already disbursed.
Mr. Braun is on record as stating to the Canadian Press that the three grantee organizations were "toxic" and linked to "extremists”. Together with his allies on the Board, he accused Beauregard of insufficient accountability and communication with the Board. Payam Akhavan, a former Board member, has stated that these allegations are false. Beauregard was in fact credited by an independent audit as having taken steps to improve internal governance.
According to a House of Commons committee that looked into the matter, “it is abundantly clear that a significant factor underlying the dispute between certain members of the Board and Mr. Beauregard were differing views on the current dispute in the Middle East.”
Prior to these events, Beauregard had received a positive performance review. The 2009 audit of R&D by the Auditor General of Canada had been similarly positive.
The new appointees initiated a new, secret and negative performance review which they refused to show to the majority of the Board or to Beauregard himself. Beauregard was eventually forced to file a Access to Information request to see his own evaluation.
On October 23, 2009 five Directors wrote to Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, alleging that the R&D Board had become "dysfunctional" and asking that Chairman Braun be replaced.
Instead, in November the Harper government appointed Michael Van Pelt, “a Christian fundamentalist committed to ‘changing hearts and minds, institutions and networks, with a gospel-oriented world view.’" Conservative partisans Brad Farquhar and Marco Navarro-Génie, as well as David Matas, were also on the Board.
The conflict between Beauregard and certain members of the Board erupted at a key meeting on January 7, 2010 by which time the new Harper appointees constituted a majority. These individuals denied a second term of office to Guido Riveros Franck of Bolivia, one of three international Directors. Sima Samar resigned and walked out of the meeting, as did international human rights expert Payam Akhavan.
Beauregard died of a heart attack on Jan. 8, 2010. His widow has stated publicly he experienced considerable stress and bullying in the months before his death. She had begged him to resign as the harrassment continued but Beauregard refused to give in.
Of the 47 staff employed at R&D at the time, 45 members signed a letter demanding that Directors Braun, Gauthier and Tepper be dismissed from the Board.
The Standing Committee of the House of Commons called for the organization to reconstitute its Board of Directors, but the Harper government has shown no interest in doing so. The Chair of the Board remains in place and certain Board members responsible for the crisis were even reappointed.
The reputation of Rights & Democracy was destroyed the politically motivated scandal, while the organization's work in a number of areas was severely affected. Employees and former employees accused the Braun faction of dishonesty, bullying and bad faith. The Braun faction hired forensic investigators to examine R&D and its management, at signficant taxpayer expense.
During Beauregards's funeral in Ottawa, which all the staff attended, the R&D offices were mysteriously burglarized and computers and file were stolen. No one has ever been arrested for the thefts.
A forensic report ordered by the Braun faction to find something on Beauregard - at considerable taxpayer expense - came up empty handed.
Three former senior staff are suing R&D in relation to their dismissal.
In 2012, the Harper government announced that it was closing down R&D for good.
- 2008: Rémy Beauregard is named president of Rights and Democracy. So are new board members holding a "narrow political agenda" according one one observer.
- 2008-2009: Conflicts over political issues of the Middle-East between Beauregard and some board members cripple the organisation.
- 23 October, 2009: five Directors write to Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, asking him to replace the Chair, Aurel Braun.
- November, 2009: Instead of replacing Chair Braun, the Harper Government appoints Michael Van Pelt, "a Christian fundamentalist" to the board.
- 7 January, 2010: Conflict within the Board of Directors of R&D erupts again, this time with the majority of board members having been appointed by the Harper Government.
- 8 January, 2010: Beauregard dies of a heart attack.
- January, 2010: 45 of the 47 staff members of R&D sign a leter demanding the dismissal of Directors Braun, Gauthier and Tepper. Additionally, the Standing Committee of the House of Commons called for a reconstitution of R&D's board. The government never acted on these demands.
- February 2010: A major accountilng frim is retained to undertake an audit of R&D
- April 2012: The Harper government announces the shut down of R&D.
Role or Position
Rights & Democracy (R&D) was an international human rights agency created by Brian Mulroney in 1988 to provide non-partisan support to Canada's foreign policy, working in countries like Afghanistan and Haiti. It received about $11 m a year in federal funds, and reported directly to Parliament. R&D’s Canadian Board of Directors were named by the government and three non-Canadians (from Asia, Africa and Latin America) are elected by the Board.
Implications and Consequences
- Free Speech: Any semblance of Canadian neutrality was sacrificed as the government advanced its strategy of silencing supporters of Palestinian rights. According to former R&D president Ed Broadbent, "there has been a clear tipping of the balance away from Canada's tradition of viewing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a neutral and objective eye, and not taking sides. This government has really breached a Canadian tradition in a serious way."
- Transparency: Institutional independence and good governance in Canada suffered, affecting our international reputation. As Broadbent stated, ”the day Rights and Democracy becomes known not for its independence on rights matters from the government of the day, but for supine acquiescence to the party political agendas of the day, will be the day that foreign governments and NGOs alike will cease to be interested in the opinions of Rights and Democracy.”
- Free Speech: Aside from a scarce few media commentators, there has been relatively little media coverage in English Canada and a lack of public pressure to clean up the mess or make amends to the people affected. Most mainstream media coverage of the scandal has been from the French-language daily, Le Devoir, and in English from Paul Wells’ columns in Maclean's magazine, along with some articles in Canada's three national daily newspapers.
Published: 28 March 2011