Rights and Democracy: Qui veut noyer son chien... - Macleans.ca

Rights and Democracy: Qui veut noyer son chien…


There’s no reason to believe three years’ worth of relentless negative coverage led to the Harper government’s decision, announced today, to shut down Rights and Democracy. No negative coverage preceded the government’s decision, announced last Thursday, to shut down the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy; Katimavik; the National Council on Welfare; and the First Nations Statistics Institute. It’s reasonable to suspect that if nobody at the PMO had taken an interest in Rights and Democracy in 2008, it would have run much as before — that is, as a beacon of hope for oppressed millions around the world — until it would have been dumped last week for the crime of having been created while Joe Clark was a minister of the Crown.

But the PMO did take an interest, and a Volkswagen was parked in front of R&D’s downtown Montreal office in late 2008, and an amazing succession of clowns started tumbling out of the Volkswagen, led by Perfesser Aurel Braun with his squirting lapel daisy, and pretty soon the place was in crisis, and it never came out. I have chronicled it all too many times to repeat; click the Rights and Democracy tag at the bottom of this post for the complete archive.

One little excerpt from the record, for posterity’s sake. In 2010 Braun and his board colleagues tried to dispute the assertion that they had hidden a damning evaluation from its subject, the former president of the organization. Rémy Beauregard, now deceased. As I wrote then:

[Braun and his colleagues claim they] “gave the former president [Beauregard] repeated opportunities to meet and discuss the evaluation in Toronto, Ottawa or Montreal. He chose not to avail himself of those opportunities.”

Rémy Beauregard actually addressed that point in a long letter to the board of Rights and Democracy on Oct. 26, 2009. “With respect to the efforts made to accommodate the President for a meeting of the Committee,” he wrote, “it is important to clarify that of the 55 days proposed by the Secretary of the Board for such a meeting, the President indicated he was available for 45 of those days.”

Then why was there no meeting? Because, as I’ve learned when trying to seek comment from them, Aurel Braun and his pals can be difficult to pin down. The Executive Committee of the R&D board is supposed to meet four times a year. How’d that go in 2009? “In June 2009, the dates for these meetings were not set because some members were not sure of the days they would have to teach. The Secretary of the Board was mandated to hold an e-mail consultation to try to set a date that would be suitable for as many people as possible. Starting in early August, she proceeded with this consultation and offered fifteen possible dates for the meeting. None of the proposed dates was convenient.”

So Beauregard was available on 45 of 55 proposed days for a meeting that never happened. The Executive Committee of the Board was available on none of 15 proposed dates for a meeting that never happened. Once Beauregard was dead, the board blamed him.

That story matters less than much of what happened, but I wanted to reprint it for the sake of memory.

Canada still has no organized democracy-promotion effort, despite a 2008 campaign promise and throne speech commitment. It has lately preferred more robust techniques for promoting democracy, such as jet fighters. Oops. I can’t help thinking that if the government of  Stephen Harper had paid less attention to a $50,000 grant, and more to a $25 billion procurement contract, it would stand less shamed and disgraced than it does today.

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Rights and Democracy: Qui veut noyer son chien…

  1. Jet fighters! Also, robocalls!

  2. Sorry to tell you, Mr. Wells, but John Baird just explained in the HoC that it’s your fault.

    • They couldn’t find someone to blame posthumously?

      • Just what are you advocating? 

        • I’m just saying this could be Earl McCrae’s fault.

    • Well, not exactly Lawrence.

      Hon. John Baird (Minister of Foreign Affairs, CPC):  

           Mr. Speaker, promoting freedom, human rights and democracy is a central element of our foreign policy. Our ambassadors and our foreign service officers do that work every day, all around the world.    

      For some time, the numerous problems at Rights & Democracy have been the subject of much comment in the media. It is high time that we put these problems behind us and move forward.


  3. I have to say I don’t get Paul Wells’ affection for this organization.  It may have seemed a good idea when Joe Clark founded it, but it never seems to have achieved anything of substance, however well intentioned its members may have been.  There seems little that it can or should do that can’t be done as well by the Foreign Affairs Department, or, if you really think non-government organizations can play a role, but actual non-government organizations.  This sort of QUANGO really has had its day.

    • It wasn’t that he loved the organization; It was that he couldn’t believe the unprecedented level of political interference, cover-up and straigh out t lies that surrounded the politicization of the organization.

      • Well put.

    • Foreign Affairs suffered a 10% reduction in staff in the recent budget. Do more with  less?

      Expect shutdowns of consular offices and embassies shortly .
      To be replaced by trade offices, as companies are more important entities than people?

      Might as well say good-bye to human rights and democracy, as supported by the majority of Canadians.

    •  Could you back up your statement to the effect that nothing of substance seems to have been achieved. I suppose you have talked to groups who had been helped by R&D?

      • Proving an absence may be a bit difficult. If there are any objectively measurable successes attributed to this organization you would think they would have been mentioned in the course of the soap opera it became over the last few years.  I don’t doubt the sincerity of the intentions. But it was  a cold war relic whose purpose can simply be fulfilled by the Foreign Affairs department.  The only surprise about the announcement of its passing is that it didn’t happen a couple of years ago.

        •  I work at R&D. Needless to say, it’s been a rough week. There have been many accomplishments, substance-wise, over the years. And we did mention it, though no one listens when the story isn’t salacious. We trained bloggers in Egypt before the Arab spring was a glint in anyone’s eye. We’ve been documenting human rights violations in Zimbabwe and developed software so HR defenders could share information quickly and coordinate effectively. And those democracy activists in Burma who are finally getting their day in the sun? We’ve been helping them, step by step, since 1990. These are just a few examples and honestly I’m too pissed at Harper to even think about this anymore. But just so you know.

          • Thanks for your work.

    • “I have to say I don’t get Paul Wells’ affection for this organization”

      He had a scoop on it, and then he became the media mouthpiece for (understandable) disaffection within R&D.  You gotta take your friends where you can find them.

  4. Congrats on seeing this story through to the end Paul.

  5. No organized democracy-promotion effort? What about the office of religious freedom? Maybe it can turn into a circus for our entertainment too.

  6. Suppress dissent by neglect, invalidation, intimidation, or starvation. There must be a way to say that in Latin. If so, it should be the motto on the CPC’s coat of arms.

    • Dissensiam incuria infirmatio meto aut fame opprimete.

      Not sure if that is exactly right, I’m a bit rusty. (I made up the noun infirmatio from the verb.) Perhaps someone can tweak it.

      •  Thanks…I used to know my Latin but now it’s all Greek to me ;)

      • In the end, it’s always about ideological priorities. Austerity is a smokescreen.

      • What fresh new hell is this? Abandon hope all ye who enter here. Attenuating the nomative from the verb? Dantes Inferno was’nt written for the souless plebian masses. We’ll let it go for now. But in the future…..

        • There is no nominative in that sentence. Dante wrote in Italian, not Latin. 

          I would say “good try”, but….

          • optimum est pati quod emandare non possis

          • Virgil, Dantes supposed mentor, wrote in the vulgate. Italian descended from it. A massive comedy of errors. As far as the nominative I was referring to, it’s a conjunctive connection to nothing.You missed my double entendre entirely. And the Inferno, the introduction to his famous work, was written for the souless masses. I was just being facetious. Anything else which you care to debate?

          • No, I don’t think there was anything worth debating in that.

          • cadit quaestio

    • That’s fantastic.  Trust a progressive to think that not paying for something is the same as actively suppressing it.

      • No, it’s sad, actually. First, they crippled Rights & Democracy by encumbering it with a chair whose not-so-hidden agenda was to neuter the organization, then they declared the organization had too many problems (which they created by their harassment), then they de-funded it.

        That’s the “starvation” part of the motto I’m proposing for your beloved Cons.

  7. Rights and Democracy replaced by new religious freedom department Cons have been talking about creating? Rights and Democracy not disappearing, just being re-named?  

    •  That’s exceedingly generous of you.

  8. I’m having a wake to mourn its demise.  I expect dozens to attend.

    • It’s important to protect the freedom of people you don’t agree with. One day, you may need the same kind of help.

  9. If there is one issue that symbolises what is wrong in Harperland, it is this one. Harper has changed the general direction of our government like no else before him. Even if in 3 years, he may be gone the damage he will have done will stay with us for years to come. God forbids that Tricky Steve be re-elected in 2015.

  10. Thank you for following this story!

  11. Paul, it’s thanks to you more than anyone that this shameful unraveling has been documented. It would only be fitting for you to write the institution’s obituary. The last words you write about Rights & Democracy should be about the good it has done over twenty years, not the harmful acts of small men who saw fit to destroy that work. Aung San Suu Kyi was just elected to Burma’s Parliament. When she was deposed by the military junta in the early nineties, R&D was the first international organization to support her government in exile. That work continued for over two decades despite many saying it was a lost cause. Today, that work ended.

  12. Snuffed by the Ministry of Truth aka the PMO

  13. Such destruction of what BH (Before Harper) had been such a great organization contributing to important causes around the world. I worked in this field and I KNOW they were excellent. We need to have stronger citizen input to stop this kind of behavior. Watch next week for the launch of the Campaign to build One Big Campaign.

  14. The government is getting rid of Rights and Democracy, but keeping the Office of Religious Freedom….seriously…

    I don’t particularly go out of my way anymore, when travelling overseas, to correct people when they mistake me for an American. 

  15. I was saddened when I learned of this yesterday. Whatever independence R&D staff had is now totally lost; don’t expect DFAIT to sponsor the kind of behind-the-scenes programs R&D led in hard countries without the local government knowing about it, like in China or Zimbabwe. DFAIT will only assume the most uncontroversial and bland projects. I’m worried for the employees in Montreal, many of whom I’ve had the chance to meet in two years of involvement with the Rights & Democracy Student Network. When I think of the agency’s termination I think of specific people who I know would find moving over to DFAIT quite hard. As to the R&D Student Network, it was a fantastic way for young people to address issues they cared about while developing professional skills and networking with people working in the field. Now it’s most certainly going to disappear, fast. Here in Quebec City where I study, our R&D student association put forward several high-profile projects, chief of which is an exhibit on the Arab Spring that comprises photos taken by photographs in Yemen, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. It was inaugurated last month in Ottawa and was meant to travel all across Canada. Forget about it now; it’ll gather dust in a warehouse somewhere in Ontario. 

    It’s a lot of bad news in one announcement. All I can do is wish that R&D’s employees be able to keep doing their part to inch ever closer, however slowly, to their ideals. They’re an incredible bunch,

  16. It is most telling, once more, that PW does not mention the Terry Glavin investigative piece that indicated that R&D was in fact involved in Durban II, something that the former R&D Pres denied.

    R&D was formed during the dying days of the cold war with the soon to break up Soviet Union, at a time when apartheid was in place in South Africa etc. 

    It was well before the internet, social media etc. which are now the real revolutionary agents of change.

    With its measly budget, it has outlived its usefulness, irrespective of any crisis, real or perceived.

    • So then why was the government so consumed with controlling an agency that had “outlived its usefulness”?

      • So then why was the government so consumed with controlling an agency that had “outlived its usefulness”?

        This is the assertion (bolded) that PW has made repeatedly, yet not proven, IMO. 

        Sure, I will concede that the Chair was/is probably a very bad manager/people person.  And he supports a certain view of the Middle East that is at odds with small discretionary grants made in the past. 

        But former Liberal candidate and Board member David Matas has made a strong argument that R&D has outlived its usefulness (especially its covert nature – not appearing to be a part of any gov’t). His argument prevailed.

        • What would constitite proof, in your opinion? The overt level of intereference, parliamentary committee silliness and obfuscation seems to be to be as much as a calling card, based on the seeming approval of the government in power at the time, The continued funding of the org is tantamount to approval of these tactics, no?

          • My view, from the peanut gallery, was that this was a media-made crisis, well blown out of proportion due to the death of an individual, and breach of privacy through disclosures of key R&D management that were in a conflict-of-interest (and appeared to have been protected by the former Pres. – they were in charge for some time when the original bad audit came down).

            The Board clumsily and without proper communications training/advice/oversight responded to these media allegations, which only added fuel to the fire – causing some to get personally and emotionally attached to the story.

            Let’s not forget, they (the gov’t) brought in a fairly highly regarded deputy minister to get to the bottom of it (allegations from all sides), and after a certain cooling off period with the new management, have reassessed under a supposedly tighter fiscal regiment.

            All the media attention/debate put the spotlight/target on its activities. Like others, I had never heard of it before all the kerfuffle, and once I understood its role, tended to question its ongoing effectiveness.

            The gov’t probably went through the same exercise. 

            Its demise is and will remain only a footnote.

  17. Saying the problems started when Braun arrived does not square with this former employee perspective:

    But one former employee, who left in 2006, had a different
    perspective. Lauryn Oates recalled the “heavy hostility permeating the
    organization” and said the union and management were constantly at each
    other’s throats.”The problems run so deep, and the history of a
    lack of transparency, conflicts and ineffectiveness go back so far, that
    it seems to me that something about the organization’s structure and
    its spirit just fundamentally does not work,” she said.


  18. Why do I predict that Aurel Braun will become the next Harper Senate appointee?

  19. Thanks for seeing this story through Paul, however sad and sordid it became.  Really appreciate your work on this.