Who the Tories stand with on human rights

Hunches and goose chases at Rights and Democracy have cost taxpayers $1 million

Who the tories stand with on human rights
AMR Nabil/AP

From 2005 to 2008, Rights and Democracy, the Montreal-based arm’s-length agency created by an act of Parliament in 1988, counted a man named Saad Eddin Ibrahim among its board members. Today we will compare Ibrahim to his successors to measure how completely Rights and Democracy, and with it the human-rights credibility of Stephen Harper’s government, have collapsed.

For most of his career Ibrahim was a sociologist at the American University in Cairo. A long-time critic of Anwar Sadat, he paused to praise Sadat for his peace with Israel. He became, in Christopher Hitchens’s words, “the best of the Egyptian ‘civil society’ dissidents by taking Hosni Mubarak’s sham elections at face value.

Sometimes he ran as a candidate. Other times he polled public opinion or instructed Egyptians in the legal exercise of their voting rights. For his troubles, Ibrahim spent three years in Mubarak’s jails, winning every appeal until George W. Bush secured his release. He has lived in the United States since then.

Last year in the Washington Post, Ibrahim criticized Barack Obama as an inadequate steward of Bush’s pro-democracy record in the Arab world. “Reform activists in Lebanon, Egypt, Kuwait and elsewhere felt empowered to press for greater freedoms during the Bush years. Unfortunately, Bush’s strong support for democracy contrasts sharply with President Obama’s retreat on this critical issue.” On substance, Ibrahim would fit right in with our government’s foreign policy.

But conservatism does not seem to be the quality Harper is looking for. What he is looking for is chaos. So in 2008, the year Ibrahim could have been reappointed to the Rights and Democracy board, the Harper government appointed several others including Elliot Tepper and Jacques Gauthier.

Last week, Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon wrote to the opposition parties telling them he intends to reappoint Gauthier and Tepper for another three-year term. Let’s see what it takes to become a two-term Harper government appointee.

Tepper is a political scientist at Carlton University. Gauthier is a lawyer. Within 14 months of their appointment, five members of the R&D board had written to the federal government to complain that Gauthier and a later appointee, board chairman Aurel Braun, were showing “manifest lack of transparency and violation of procedure” in their treatment of the organization’s then-president, Rémy Beauregard. In October, they wrote Ottawa again, calling the board “dysfunctional” and saying the organization was in “crisis.”

Some board members who objected to Gauthier, Braun and Tepper were replaced in a series of board appointments through 2009. Others resigned in disgust. Beauregard spent eight months trying to get his hands on a job evaluation that Gauthier and Tepper had sent the government, with Braun’s endorsement, and then trying to clear his name. A year ago he died in his sleep after yet another confrontation with his tormenters.

Nearly the entire staff of R&D signed a letter demanding that Braun, Gauthier and Tepper be dismissed. The board responded by appointing Gauthier as interim president, to replace the deceased Beauregard. He sacked three staffers after hiring a private investigator, Claude Sarrazin, to listen while the three were questioned without being told who Sarrazin was. Gauthier contracted Deloitte & Touche to run an audit of Beauregard’s management of the agency. He promised the audit would be publicly released last March. It had still not been released to the public when a copy was leaked to the Globe and Mail last December.

The audit shows, as Graeme Hamilton wrote in the National Post, that poor management at the organization “predated the presidency of Rémy Beauregard” and that he had “introduced changes to better control spending soon after arriving as president in 2008.” In short, “An organization whose annual budget of $11 million is supposed to defend human rights around the world has spent $253,000″—the cost of the untendered Deloitte contract—”to learn that its suspicions about Mr. Beauregard were unfounded.”

How unfounded? Gauthier’s main suspicion when he hired Deloitte, the audit report stated, was that R&D was sending $30,000 a month in clandestine payments to the agency’s Geneva office. Not only did Deloitte find no proof for this explosive accusation, it found no evidence for it. It was fantasy.

But what about the private eye Gauthier hired, at a cost of $91,000 without tender? Aurel Braun has argued elsewhere that the report from Sarrazin’s firm Sirco would show the real dirt. But in a Jan. 4 letter to the Commons foreign affairs committee, R&D president Gérard Latulippe said Sirco turned up nothing worth MPs’ attention. “The present crisis has lasted long enough,” Latulippe wrote plaintively. “The time has come to put it behind us.”

I would like nothing better. But Lawrence Cannon will not let that happen because he wants the architects of this disaster to keep running the wreckage. Jacques Gauthier’s hunches and goose chases cost Canadian taxpayers $1 million last year. One-third of the R&D staff has quit. The organization has said no word of warning or celebration during the astonishing events in Tunisia and Egypt. Saad Eddin Ibrahim still lists his R&D affiliation in his bio. It used to be something to be proud of.