Rights and Democracy: The twilight struggle of transparency and accountability

by Paul Wells

On Nov. 4 I wrote to Stéphane Bourgon, the new communications director for Rights and Democracy, quoting his own words back to him. “In Le Devoir on Oct. 23,” I wrote, “you are quoted as saying, in regard to the Deloitte forensic audit of R&D: ‘The will of our president is to make the document public as rapidly as possible. As soon as the Foreign Affairs committee asks for it, we will send it to them.’” [I've since added the emphasis, for reasons that will soon become apparent.]

I told M. Bourgon his error lay in situating such a request in the future. The Foreign Affairs committee had already requested the document, and more than once. In this letter from R&D president Gérard Latulippe to the committee, dated May 27, Latulippe acknowledges the committee’s requests for the audit and for other documents and explains, in regard to the Deloitte audit, that it would be finalized “sometime in the month of June at which point it will be provided to the Committee.” [emphasis added, reasons soon to become apparent.]

So, taking phrases like “as soon” and “will” and “at which point” and “will” at face value, I asked Bourgon whether the audit had been delivered yet, and if not, why not. This was on Nov. 4.

A telephone conversation followed, which I recorded but won’t bother you with at this time. Bourgon told me the board of Rights and Democracy, featuring such colourful figures as Aurel Braun, Jacques Gauthier and Marco Navarro-Génie, had voted on Oct. 25 to release the audit to the Foreign Affairs committee. So the committee has it! Just kidding. No, in fact the R&D staff, in the person of Bourgon himself, was hoping to meet the committee’s clerk or chair to “discuss” releasing the audit.

What’s to discuss?

The board’s motion, which Bourgon was good enough to send me on Nov. 8, spells it out:

Moved that the Board instruct the President to comply with the request from the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs of October 22, 2010 subject to

1) legal obligations, including confidentiality, found in our contracts with them,

2) solicitor client privilege,

3) privacy concerns,

4) the Official Secrets Act,

5) confidences of the Privy Council,

6) libel law and

7) protection of information to be used in court for outstanding litigation

8) any other legal obligations,

taking into account the advice of the Centre’s lawyers.

That’s seven fairly broad reasons not to release anything, followed by an awesomely broad catch-all excuse (“any other legal obligations”) and some suspenders to go with all those belts (“taking into account the advice of the Centre’s lawyers.”) You could be forgiven for leaping to the conclusion that the words “it will be provided” will never be respected.

And so far, you would seem to be right.

On Nov. 17 I wrote to Bourgon asking what news he could offer. He replied: “I can confirm that I met with the Standing Committee’s Clerk on 10 November and that Mr. Latulippe has been in contact with the Standing Committee’s Chair.” So the audit is in the hands of the committee! Just kidding. “Consultations are ongoing. I will keep you informed of any development.”

So nearly a month after the board voted to release an audit it had ordered in February and promised to release in March, April, June, August and October, it hasn’t released a comma. The board, lately parsimonious in its public pronouncements, used to claim that “accountability and transparency are the true issues.”

What’s this audit, after all? It was intended to be the board’s proof of their repeated public claims that before he died, Rémy Beauregard was running a secretive and wasteful operation in defiance of the most elementary rules of, if I may abuse these poor words one more time, transparency and accountability. There has never been a stitch of evidence for these calumnies against a dead man. The Deloitte audit was supposed to be the evidence. As the intrepid Graeme Hamilton at the National Post has reported, pretending to go after Beauregard’s record has resulted in a tripling of fees paid to consultants in 2010, a tripling of expenses incurred by the board, and a doubling of administrative costs as a proportion of total agency spending. The Deloitte audit itself has cost more than a quarter of a million dollars. Braun and Co. used to complain about a few tens of thousands of dollars to some groups in the Middle East Braun doesn’t like, before later claiming that the dispute wasn’t about the Middle East.

But they’re going to release the audit! They’re talking to the committee! Right? Except we’ve seen this film before. In February, when the board was learning to enjoy the freedom of manoeuvre you get when the guy you’re insulting in public is dead and can’t defend himself, they wrote that they “gave the former president repeated opportunities to meet and discuss” their critical evaluation of him, of which he had obtained a copy only after they had tried for months to block him getting one, “in Toronto, Ottawa or Montreal. He chose not to avail himself of those opportunities.”

That’s what they wrote in February of 2010. But Beauregard had already responded to that bogus claim in a long letter to the board in October of 2009, while he was still inconveniently breathing. Here is how I have previously summed up Beauregard’s defense:

“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 [Beauregard] 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.” [emphases added]

The Foreign Affairs Committee of Parliament is being given the runaround by people who are better at it than you or I could ever imagine. I don’t know how much its members really care any more. When I email opposition MPs seeking comment, I don’t get much worth telling you about. The great thing about a runaround is that it almost always works. Without the Deloitte audit, there is no way to prove that everything Aurel Braun said was silly, and that Rémy Beauregard did not deserve the stain on his reputation that persisted to the minute of his death. It all just slips away.

Or at least that is the plan. Here are the members of the Commons committee on Foreign Affairs. You might want to drop one or more of them a line, reminding them that when they asked to see the Deloitte audit, they meant it and they have no right to forget about it. I know I won’t.




Browse

Rights and Democracy: The twilight struggle of transparency and accountability

  1. Well, as one of your biggest critics on this file, I was wondering when you would post this blog. And frankly, there is NO excuse for not releasing the audit report publicly at this time. Inexcusable.

  2. Thank you.

  3. Paul, how are they even legally permitted to refuse to hand over a report AS SOON as a committee of PARLIAMENT "requests" it?

  4. 'The great thing about a runaround is that it almost always works.'

    So true, and so depressing.

  5. I daresay one of my colleagues at another news organization will soon be posting an analysis on that very topic, and I'll link to it when that happens. The short answer is, that's a damned good question.

  6. Nothing worse than commissioning a witchhunt and then finding no witch and no witchcraft.

  7. The tail is wagging the dog here. Not all that long ago, new guys implied old guard engaged in a bit of malfeasance and now they are acting all coy when the public wants to see proof. Why is Rights/Democracy getting away with this? Since when can bureaucrats tell MPs to get stuffed?

    I wish more of your msm colleagues were as tenacious as you are, Wells. If more of msm cared about public admin as you have on this file, I bet our public servants would do a much better job.

    This has been great lesson on why I am Libertarian – bureaucrats and their nonsense make my blood boil like no other group of people.

  8. I will be emailing members of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development to express my concern about the Deloitte audit, which should have been provided to the committee months ago.

  9. Keep up the good work Paul. Looking forward to reading how this crazy depressing soap opera works out.

  10. Thanks for that contribution to the discussion Dot. Your comment, given all the history, really shows just how bad it is that they're still not releasing the audit.

  11. The current government no longer utters the phrase transparency and accountability. Thanks for your persistence on this file. I suspect they detest you for it.

  12. How do they have 'contracts' with a parliamentary committee?

    Solicitor client privlege can't apply. Delloite is not a law firm.

    The official secrets act was repealed decades ago.

    Why are the revealing cabinet confidences to an independent firm?

    Does the report contain untrue defamatory statements that would run afoul of libel laws?

    If information is going to be used in court, it will by definition be made public anyways.

  13. It's a sad tale indeed, but the R&D board are not strictly 'bureaucrats' but are political appointees of the present government.

  14. I have just completed doing the same. It's the broken window theory in my opinion: let them get away with little things, and the lies become more brazen, the flouting of law more overt. A line must be drawn, and perhaps this is the place.

  15. I don't in any way mean this against you, SamDavies, but I wonder how many readers view this as basically a soap opera that they cannot influence, and if that's precisely what the government is banking on? Hmm.

  16. For those wondering the official secrets act was changed to the 'Security of Information Act' in 2001 by the omnibus Anti-Terrorism Act.

  17. Be sure to cc Tony Clement; all it takes is one dissenting voice and he will leap into the fray and right this injustice

  18. Okay, we'll wait for Kady then.

  19. sad thing is, if one wasn't paying attention – PW could be tarred (unfairly and inappropriately) with that same brush….
    ie Why does Wells keep going on about this issue – when everyone has "moved on".

  20. I don't doubt your sincerity and idealism. But Harper laughed off an order to parliament to produce Afghn detainee docs. No way he's gonna be moved by something like this.

  21. So . . . what conclusions do you draw, Mr. Wells, about why these — ah, what's the word? — these liars were appointed to the Board? In spite of your command of the details, you're the one being given the runaround if you fail to return — what, a year later? — to the question of motive. Otherwise, this whole saga will be proof that you can hack & crash a government agency without anyone really noticing, your biggest critic himself bogged down in the details of audits, he-said's, and non-interest. Or do you need to be reminded that a story can be important even if (gasp!) Opposition MP's and the broader public don't give a damn?

  22. LOL, I'm sure they'll get right on it.

  23. Perhaps, but our obligation to remind them all of their responsibilities remains.

    My long-winded email has been added to the pile. Don't forget to add the committee secretary to your list…those people hold surprising power, sometimes.

  24. Wait a second. Rights and Democracy is based in Quebec. Does that mean I can write this whole thing off as simply more "Quebec bashing" from Wells?

  25. Yeah. They'll get a parliamentary bailiff right on that.

  26. Maybe we could all file Access to Information requests, while we are at it. That way this thing might see the light of day after way more than one person has passed away. I'll check my mailbox in 2145AD…

  27. So, my prediction was only a little off about why the Board Meeting would fail to lead to a release of the audit. But, at least it predicted there would not be a timely release of the audit.
    http://www2.macleans.ca/2010/10/19/democracy-dema

    Pity no one at R&D followed my pretty simple Google Map directions to the Bureau en Gros photocopier.

  28. And that is why we here who have been following Paul over the year on this story now must all send our little emails. One email, or twenty emails might not make a difference, but several hundred?

  29. "As the intrepid Graeme Hamilton at the National Post has reported, pretending to go after Beauregard's record has resulted in a tripling of fees paid to consultants in 2010, a tripling of expenses incurred by the board, and a doubling of administrative costs as a proportion of total agency spending. The Deloitte audit itself has cost more than a quarter of a million dollars."

    According to what passes for logic in Harperland we should soon be hearing that unfortunately, due to the need for spending cuts, R&D has had to be wound up due to its inability to stay within budget. overruns.

    No coal in Well's sack this xmas, or a seat in the senate. But you have our respect Paul. I'll be one of those e mailing you bet!

  30. And forking over a cool half mil for the privilege.

  31. Ahem…

    International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development
    Anne-Marie Lavoie
    Access to Information and Privacy Coordinator
    1001 de Maisonneuve East, Suite 1100
    Montreal, Quebec H2L 4P9
    Telephone: 514-283-6073 Ext.233
    Facsimile: 514-283-3792
    amlavoie@dd-rd.ca

  32. And an even more suspicious ahem:

    Communications Officers
    Louise Lavallée, Coordinator, Documentation Centre
    Vacant position, Assistant, Documentation Centre
    Vacant position, Webmaster
    Vacant positions (2), Communications Officers

    http://www.dd-rd.ca/site/who_we_are/index.php?sub
    You know who I did NOT find on the staff list on the R&D website? Anyone by the name of Lavoie. Although, perhaps like the 18 employees in the Kabul office, "Mme L" cannot be identified for security reasons.

  33. I'm sure there are plenty who feel powerless, and millions more who are oblivious.
    I just want to explain my comment more. And keep in mind, this is based on the learning experience,
    and has nothing to do with my thoughts on the implications of the whole mess.

    Indeed – I'm a sucker for sensationalism!

    This R&D circus has such little traction in the mainstream. Outside of the comments here throughout, I've had no one to talk to about it. But ever since PW started writing about this, I've been hooked. I feel like I've been reading a secret mystery novel that no one else knows about. And then, beyond the craziness of what has gone on, there was the play within the play – Dot VS PW. As much as I disagreed with Dot's take on things, I must admit that it did make things even more exciting, and it challenged me to rethink certain aspects.

    In short, and to quote the Grateful Dead, "what a long strange trip its been".

    And yet it is not over. How will it end?

    I hope no one interprets this the wrong way, as I do not believe my feelings about the experience should marginalize the bigger picture.

    Did any of this make sense, and can anyone relate?

  34. Did any of this make sense, and can anyone relate?

    Yeah,

    "It ain't over till it's over" -Yogi Berra

    And it ain't over.

  35. Moved that the Board instruct the President to comply with the request from the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs of October 22, 2010 subject to

    1) legal obligations, including confidentiality, found in our contracts with them,

    2) solicitor client privilege,

    3) privacy concerns,

    4) the Official Secrets Act,

    5) confidences of the Privy Council,

    6) libel law and

    7) protection of information to be used in court for outstanding litigation

    8) any other legal obligations,

    taking into account the advice of the Centre's lawyers

    9)Consultation with SH's astrologer, hairdresser, chauffeur,
    gardener, dentist…

    …And the cat…both of them.

    10) [Secret annexe]
    If all else fails refer to Minister Cannon for filing.

  36. Appreciate the stubbornness. Will contribute tiny email voice.

  37. No big mystery. She doesn't work there anymore.

  38. I suspect they detest you for it.

    A badge of honour

  39. Yes, I can definitely relate. It's like participating in a conspiracy theory guilt free because this one is real!

  40. Nancy Drew without the popcorn.

  41. Earth to entertainment buffs: A real man is dead and real, scarce (to put the adjective diplomatically) public wealth is being squandered.

  42. Silken lines and silver hooks.

    -William Sherwood Fox

  43. "I hope no one interprets this the wrong way, as I do not believe my feelings about the experience should marginalize the bigger picture."

    Sorry, MYL. Did we all have to put SamDavies' disclaimer in our comment responding to him? Because I kind of thought it was a given.

  44. Email sent to the committee members.

  45. Thank you for your apology. You are now obviously not an extreme left winger.

  46. Earth to MYL: Grow up, or learn to read. We're well aware of the serious nature of all of this. Some of us are capable of chewing bubble gum whilst walking, without losing stride. It does not take anything away from the seriousness of what is actually going on. Frankly, your insinuation is much more crass…

  47. Earth to Sam: I had (and have) no quarrel with your lengthy comment about being "hooked" by this story. I would assume most of the people following along with Paul's reporting are hooked. It was (and still is) the te-hee-isn't-this-Nancy-Drew-fun that had me wishing some among us would do the growing up. Good night.

  48. Apologies then. I think I was over defensive because I really do think it's a horrible situation. I erroneously assumed you were having a go at us all. My mistake. Once again – sorry.

  49. Hey, Paul!
    http://www2.macleans.ca/2010/06/16/rights-and-dem

    Something about Sheila Fraser "poking around" the benighted R&D? I could find no discussion of her findings in any of your subsequent posts tagged "Rights and Democracy," so I went poking for the 2009-10 annual report. Madam Fraser left us with a pretty wet firecracker:

    In my opinion, these consolidated financial statements present fairly, in all material respects, the financial position of the Centre as at March 31, 2010 and the results of its operations and its cash flows for the year then ended in accordance with Canadian generally accepted accounting principles.

  50. I'd prefer if they'd just disband R&D.

  51. HE'S RIGHT THERE ON T.V.!!!

  52. Wells, you're a national treasure. Thank you, and keep it up.

  53. You do understand the concept of sarcastic paraphrasing? Your melodramatic utterances make me wonder.

  54. That's a standard line on the part of the OAG when it looks at the annual financial statements of Crown corporations and other assorted doohickeys like R&D. It simply means that the money went where the statements say it went. There is no assessment of value for money in that OAG opinion.

  55. Na, it's totally more fun to watch Paul's blood pressure go through the roof, even better when you can see it on TV, minus the slouching.

  56. What do you mean 'CURRENT' government. Government as every level does everything in its power to fuzzify virtually everything from the real taxpayer. How many coverups have ben police been involved in over the last 10 years. Too many to count.

  57. So would the current board (that was the purpose of their appointment, apparently) and the government .

  58. Okay so I just sent R&D a nasty email, and told them I'm contacting my MP and all the members of the Foreign Affairs committee and that others are doing likewise. Are they smart enough to know they can't hide forever?

  59. Thanks for posting that!

  60. Emailed mine, too. As much as my cynicism leads me to think it doesn't matter, at least it gives me a sense of having done something!

    In case people aren't scrolling down far enough to see the email list for the committee, here it is again:

    Allison.D@parl.gc.ca
    Dorion.J@parl.gc.ca
    Patry.B@parl.gc.ca
    Abbott.J@parl.gc.ca
    Goldring.P@parl.gc.ca
    Deschamps.J@parl.gc.ca
    Lunney.J@parl.gc.ca
    Rae.B@parl.gc.ca
    Dewar.P@parl.gc.ca
    Obhrai.D@parl.gc.ca
    VanKesteren.D@parl.gc.ca
    Pearson.G@parl.gc.ca

  61. I sent a letter to the committee chair (who is a local MP) asking for some clarification and answers. Agreed 100% on the broken window theory – whether civil servants or political appointees, no one in the federal government should be defying a Commons committee without consequences.

  62. One of R and D's board members, Marco Navarro-Genie offers up some words of wisdom on t and a.

    "Transparency makes information available. Accountability, however is exercised in the good judgement of boards of directors, government representatives, and the voting public. No set of rules can replace that.
    http://tiny.cc/piyb4

  63. Except that they CAN, Derek. You seem to have forgotten that you live in Russia.

  64. I have emailed the FAAE , my MP Mr. Family Values Toews and Paul Dewar. Thanks for keeping this issue alive.

  65. Thanks for posting that. Just sent an email to all of them:

    "So… Are you going to demand the R&D audit? Are Braun and Co. going to be able to ignore an order of your committee? Are they going to continue to be able to vilify an upstanding — and now dead — public servant? Are they going to continue to destroy what was once an effective and respected Canadian institution http://www2.macleans.ca/2010/11/19/rights-and-dem

    Paul, a lot of people may not know the format of parliamentary emails. If you read this, would it be worthwhile to post in a main post to make it easy for people to help out?

  66. Don't worry, Dot, I'm sure that next time they make some promise or proposition you'll be 100% in favour of giving them the benefit of the doubt. Neoconservatives always get a fair shake from you, even after a decade of non-stop deceit.

  67. First you break the system, then disband it because the system doesn't work.

  68. "Maxime Longangué, former president of the Rights and Democracy employees' union, quit the centre this month to take a job with a non-governmental organization. In a letter sent last week to Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, Mr. Longangué said the continuing crisis at Rights and Democracy has led to a staff exodus. He said since the beginning of the year, 16 employees — one third of the staff — either quit, were laid off or were fired. “I am profoundly worried that the internationally recognized expertise of Rights and Democracy employees will be decimated,” he wrote"

    Yet another not so hidden cost to this dabacle. This is what happens when you permit idealogues and dogmatists of any political stripe anywhere near the reins of power.

  69. "In business, empire-building is demonstrated when an individual or small group attempts to gain control over key projects and initiatives in order to maximize their job security and promotability. Project leadership hoards potential credit and prestige the project can produce. Because this approach prevents other people in the organization from contributing in a meaningful manner, and alternative or competing projects to address the project's goals are destroyed regardless of their merit, the company suffers as a whole, the projects fail, and the goals of the project are achieved only partially, inadequately, or not at all. This sort of behaviour is supposed to be stopped by upper management, but is nevertheless very common.
    .
    In an organization, empire-building can also be demonstrated when an individual or small group eagerly and proactively suggests and pursues functions, activities or projects that are of questionable value, in an effort to enhance their legitimacy and future value. Pursuit of these activities is initially done at little or no marginal cost, but later the activities are used to justify increased resource allocation, being part of the organizational status quo, and thus the individual or group's overall command of resources, and influence, increases.
    . http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empire-building

  70. Yeah, I have suggested that before. I don't know why they don't have the cojones to do so. A lot better than wasting so much public money on an audit which proved nothing.

  71. And why is the Board permitted to hire lawyers (at sickening cost) to figure out ways not to hand it over RIGHT NOW? Is there no limit to how much taxpayers will end up paying to help this Board save face?

  72. Thanks for the email list. I sent a copy of the article to each of them and to the pm with a comment. Unfortunately this is just one of the many sordid incidents created by this reactionary government. The only thing they know is character assination.
    .

  73. Dot
    I also had a hard time getting on Paul's train on this issue, but it is getting a lot harder to believe that he hasn't been right from the beginning.

  74. "Mr. Allison,

    I write today to express my wish that the Foreign Affairs committee, which you chair, would request the immediate delivery of the overdue audit promised by Rights and Democracy. The current members of that organization persist in slandering the good name of a dead man – Remy Beauregard – without having offered any proof whatsoever. The hijacking of Rights and Democracy for reasons which have yet to be justified is a travesty and sheds very poor light upon the current federal government. I ask, also, that the audit, once obtained, be made public and available to the press as soon as practical. Many citizens of this nation are very eager to learn answers to the many questions this fiasco has raised."

  75. I'd have preferred they disbanded it before they broke it.

  76. That explains the Braun faction's actions perfectly! Thanks, Dot.

  77. So, you agree with this: "This sort of behaviour is supposed to be stopped by upper management"

    You're welcome.

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