Dr. Dawg

Rights and Democracy: dirty work at the crossroads

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Since my post last Thursday, more information has emerged about the internal squabbling that has paralyzed the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, and in particular about the behaviour of Stephen Harper's recent appointees.

Haroon Siddiqui, writing in yesterday's Toronto Star, has been speaking to Board members who recently left in protest, as well as to four previous chairs of the Board. What emerges is an ugly picture of political partisanship, secretiveness and bully tactics.

[Aurel] Braun, a University of Toronto professor of political science, was named chair of the board early last year. It was not long before he clashed with [the late President Rémy] Beauregard, who it seems was not duly deferential.

Worse, Beauregard had approved the three Mideast grants of about $10,000 each – to B'Tselem, Israel's leading human rights group, and its partner agency in the West Bank, Al Haq, as well as Al Mezan in Gaza.

All have repeatedly criticized both Israeli and Palestinian human rights violations, including the Israeli war on Gaza last year.

Beauregard had also attended a 2008 Arab League meeting on freedom of association in Cairo.

Braun did not like any of that.

But Beauregard had already been given a highly favourable evaluation by the board in March.

Braun initiated a new evaluation. He did not show it to the majority of the board, nor to Beauregard, who got a copy of it anyway, by filing a Freedom of Information request.

On June 1, four directors complained to the Privy Council about the secrecy. On Sept. 8, one director suddenly resigned. Donica Pottie, a career diplomat who had served as ambassador to Cambodia, was said to have been eased out by the Prime Minister's Office because she had sided with Beauregard, not Braun.

Her departure left no Canadian woman on the board.

On Oct. 23, [Sima] Samar* and four others wrote to Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, saying the board was "dysfunctional." They wanted Braun replaced.


In approving the three Middle East grants [terminated by Braun and his colleagues], Beauregard had the support of the Department of Foreign Affairs, according to both [Warren] Allmand and [Ed] Broadbent [former Board Chairs].

Said Broadbent: "After the war in Gaza, the two Palestinian and one Israeli group were checking if there had been human rights abuses. When Mr. Braun found out, I'm told, he went completely bonkers."

Braun could not be reached Saturday. But he told The Canadian Press the three groups were "toxic" and linked to "extremists" and terrorists. [emphases added]

The backgrounds of two other Board members in the Braun faction are slowly becoming better known. Michael Van Pelt is the president of CARDUS, a fundamentalist Christian think-tank.

He has over 20 years of experience in public life, including advocacy with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Chamber of Commerce and serving as a municipal Councillor. He continues to consult widely, helping institutions connect their beliefs with their behaviours.

Brad Farquar, an old Saskatchewan Party hand, ran (unsuccessfully) for the Conservatives in 2006, with the enthusiastic endorsement of the far-right "pro-life" Lifesite News: he opposes same-sex marriage. Rights and democracy, eh?

Paul Wells, meanwhile, is stuck to this story like a limpet.

Today he reveals that one of the three Board members whom the entire staff demanded be fired for harassment, Jacques Gauthier, is now the new Chair of the Board--by a vote of the Board.

Wells fishes up even more sordid details about the treatment of the late President by Harper's late arrivals. This snippet about another new appointee (David Matas, chief counsel to B'nai Brith) is particularly precious:

[I]n a thoughtful analysis of events that took place before he rejoined the board, Matas takes issue with a staff allegation I repeat in my own column, which is that a small group on the board, led by Braun, had sent an evaluation of Beauregard to the Privy Council Office in Ottawa without letting Beauregard see it. Matas writes:

The (staff) letter omits to mention a number of relevant facts. One is that the performance evaluation committee had obtained a legal opinion that its evaluation was a confidence of the Privy Council and could not be disclosed to the President. Second, the President nonetheless obtained a copy of the evaluation through an access to information request. Third, the committee had agreed to reconsider and amend its evaluation based on the comments the President had made after having seen the copy of the evaluation he had obtained through access to information. Fourth, the committee had made a number of changes based on these comments. Fifth, the President was free to write to the Privy Council himself to express any disagreement he might have with the evaluation as amended.

Students of logic, or of its glaring absence, will note that this is a bucket defence. Beauregard couldn’t see the evaluation because it was a “confidence of the Privy Council.” Beauregard could see the evaluation, so what’s the problem. The board committee agreed to change the evaluation after Beauregard saw the evaluation he wasn’t allowed to see, so double-what’s-the-problem. Finally, Beauregard could examine the changes to an evaluation he wasn’t allowed to see and suggest further changes, so what’s the etc. etc.

But it gets better. Just as selected memos were leaked to the Globe & Mail's hawkish Christie Blatchford awhile back to make Richard Colvin look bad, so too are documents in this case finding their way into the public gaze--from a perhaps not unsurprising source:

But here’s what’s most intriguing about Matas’s essay defending the new board majority’s claim that all Rights and Democracy needs is a little transparency and openness. It’s that the essay is, for the moment, available here and nowhere else. On the website of author, erstwhile publisher and 2008 Conservative war room staffer Ezra Levant. That’s fair, but it seems worth pointing out.

Oh, it does, indeed it does. Keep digging, Paul. The rest of us will hold our noses.
*Sima Samar was, until her resignation, one of three foreign members on the Board. Siddiqui: "She was an Afghan women's rights advocate who won world fame for standing up to Taliban rule in the 1990s and is now chair of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission."

[H/t Alison at Creekside and commenter Holly Stick]

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on January 25, 2010 6:20 PM.

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