The parliamentary season in Ottawa ended on a singularly tawdry note in December 2010. The government abruptly cancelled a scheduled meeting of a House of Commons committee that would have discussed an auditor’s report clearing a deceased president of the embattled Rights and Democracy agency of alleged wrongdoings. The allegations against RÃ©my Beauregard were made during and following a particularly tense meeting back on January 7, 2010, where recently-appointed members of the agency’s board of directors made accusations about financial mismanagement, not to mention their opinion that the organization was funding “terrorist” groups in the Middle East. Mr. Beauregard died of a heart attack in the early hours of the following day. It has now been shown that the allegations against him were baseless. The Globe and Mail newspaper has provided a leaked copy of the forensic audit that was to be discussed by the parliamentary committee. It cleared Mr. Beauregard. The irregularities, so darkly hinted at, had not occurred.
The International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development was created in 1990 by the Conservative administration of Brian Mulroney as an organization at arms-length from the Canadian government, with a mandate to support democracy-enhancing projects internationally. Its first president was Ed Broadbent, the former leader of the New Democratic Party and the second was Warren Allmand, a former cabinet minister in various Liberal governments. Mr. Beauregard was appointed in June 2008 by the Conservatives as president for a five-year term. He was a former executive director of the Ontario Human Rights Commission and had worked in the human rights field internationally as well.
A Globe and Mail story following his death in January 2010 quoted sources as saying that the government’s recent appointments to the Rights and Democracy board had dramatically altered the organization’s direction and had placed Mr. Beauregard under increasing stress. One of those appointments, in March 2009, was Aurel Braun, a professor at the University of Toronto. He became the board’s new chair. He and other board members alleged widespread mismanagement under Mr. Beauregard. They were also harshly critical of three small grants of $10,000 each to rights monitoring groups in the Middle East. One of them was Israeli based and two were Palestinian. Four Rights and Democracy board members appeared before a parliamentary committee on April 1, 2010 – several months after Mr. Beauregard’s death. (Mr. Beauregard’s widow Suzanne TrÃ©panier had asked to appear at a meeting as well, to respond to her husband’s critics, but manouevring by Conservative committee members prevented her from being allowed to do that). Jacques Gauthier, the new vice-chair at Rights and Democracy, talked to the committee on April 1 about a “dysfunction” at the organization which, he said, had to do with “accounting issues and accountability.”
Aurel Braun described “a private fiefdom using public money” and said that far too much of that money “has gone to terrorist front organizations.” There is no credible backing for any of these claims and they can only be understood in the context of the how the Conservative government, elected in 2006, has clearly chosen sides in the Middle East conflict – supporting Israeli no matter what actions it undertakes. There is no subtlety here. Question the policies of the Israeli government and people like Mr. Braun or Conservative cabinet minister Jason Kenney will describe you as an anti-Semite or an enabler to terrorists. These claims were made not only against Rights and Democracy, but also against the ecumenical group KAIROS, which lost its CIDA funding in 2009. Then in March 2010 the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), another arms-length organization of the Canadian government, cut off funding to Mada al-Carmel. It is a social research centre based in Haifa and it studies aspects of Israel’s Arab minority. The IDRC had earlier provided grants to Mada to study both the marginalization of women in Arab-Israeli society and the low level of political participation by Arab Israelis.
The cutbacks made to KAIROS, to Mada al-Carmel, and the controversy at Rights and Democracy all had at least one thing in common. All were based, at least in part, on information and complaints from a right wing Israel-based group called NGO Monitor. In February 2010, Paul Wells of Macleans magazine reported that Gerald Steinberg, an Israeli political scientist who also runs NGO Monitor, had published an Opinion Editorial in the Jerusalem Post congratulating the Canadian government for its actions against both KAIROS and Rights and Democracy. Wells wrote: “Steinberg’s list of organizations he regards as anti-Israel is long. In one publication he decries CIDA aid to what he calls ‘extremist political groups’ opposed to Israel, among which he counts MÃ©decins du Monde, Oxfam, and the Mennonite Central Committee of Canada.” Wells added that NGO Monitor “diligently chronicles international criticism of Israel’s human rights record and portrays it as an attack against Israel’s right to exist.” Wells described Steinberg as a friend of Aurel Braun’s and wrote that Braun had earlier attempted (unsuccessfully) to have Steinberg speak to the board at Rights and Democracy.
Audit’s release delayed
By the time they had appeared before the parliamentary committee in April, the interim president replacing Mr. Beauregard at Rights and Democracy had already spent $400,000, hiring a new a public relations firm, two separate law firms for legal work, a private investigator to gather information on employees, and the accounting firm Deloitte to investigate how the agency’s money had been spent. The new board had levelled serious allegations against Mr. Beauregard for a lack of transparency and for allegedly questionable spending practices. The new crowd promised that Deloitte’s audit would be ready within five weeks, but five months and more passed without their releasing the report.
Paul Wells of Macleans continued to request that the report be made public and to ask why that was not happening. The House of Commons foreign affairs committee made four requests to see the audit and in December it finally ordered Rights and Democracy to provide the report or to face parliamentary censure. Rights and Democracy argued that it could not present the report publicly because it might interfere with a lawsuit by three former directors who had been fired and are suing the agency. The committee eventually agreed that the report, or perhaps an abridged version of it, would be presented at an in camera meeting on December 16. The committee was also to hear from Aurel Brown and GÃ©rard Latulippe, the permanent replacement for the deceased Mr. Beauregard’s as president at Rights and Democracy. Mr. Latulippe had been appointed in March 2010.Â He is a former candidate for the Canadian Alliance Party in the 2000 election and an advisor to Stockwell Day when he was leader of that party. Day is now a Conservative cabinet minister. Mr. Latulippe has more recently been the director of the National Democratic Institute in Haiti. He raised eyebrows and ire in 2007 when he said publicly that immigrants from Muslim countries “undermined the proper functioning of Quebec society.”
Scoundrels and shame
The December 16 committee meeting never occurred. It was cancelled by the government at the last minute and so the Deloitte audit, which had cost $253,000, was not tabled. It was, however, released in its entirety on the Globe and Mail’s website. The Globe’s Daniel Leblanc reported that, “The audit did not come to damning conclusions regarding the agency’s financial management.” Paul Wells, in a column for Macleans titled: Rest in peace, RÃ©my Beauregard, wrote: “[The audit] shows what Beauregard’s defenders have long asserted: that the agency was run without scandal, and without unusually lax management, even before his arrival; that he was taking clear steps to improve its management; and that specific claims against him and his staff from Gauthier [Rights and Democracy vice president] and others hold no water. In short, that RÃ©my Beauregard died while fighting back against an unfounded witch hunt perpetrated by scoundrels who today stand unmasked and humiliated. The government of Canada under Stephen Harper and his minister Lawrence Cannon today continues to support those scoundrels, to its shame and ours as citizens.”