Rights and Democracy: Everybody had a busy weekend

On Saturday friends and associates gathered for the Ottawa funeral of Rémy Beauregard, president of Rights and Democracy

On Saturday friends and associates gathered for the Ottawa funeral of Rémy Beauregard, who was the president of Rights and Democracy, whose internal conflict I chronicled here. Already word was spreading among them that the organization’s board had met on Friday to choose a new interim replacement for Beauregard. The board chose Jacques Gauthier, who already serves as the board’s vice-chairman.

Careful observers of this story will recognize Gauthier as one of three board members, with chairman Aurel Braun and Elliot Tepper, whose resignation or replacement has been demanded by the centre’s staff in the wake of Beauregard’s death. That’s right: All 47 staffers (a figure Braun and his board allies dispute) call for these three to be removed from the board, and instead one of them becomes their boss. (Here’s Gauthier’s impressive bio.) (UPDATE: Turns out he published a doctoral thesis two years ago arguing that “Jerusalem belongs to the Jews by international law.”)

So we have the ingredients of a stand-off. If the staff wants Gauthier gone and he becomes their boss, and they meant what they said in that letter, then I don’t see a lot of different ways they can respond. Either the departure of Braun, Gauthier and Tepper was a condition of the employees’ continued service at Rights and Democracy, or they were bluffing and the new board faction has now called their bluff. (I am now hearing that at least one staff member has already handed in a resignation; I will try to get more information soon. UPDATE: I’m told this resignation predates Gauthier’s appointment. I apologize for the confusion.)

Meanwhile, David Matas has written an analysis of all this. He’s a Rights and Democracy board member too, and has been an ally of Braun’s, though he is not one of the ones the staff wants to see gone. Matas is the executive legal counsel for B’Nai Brith Canada. Since I stuck my nose into this mess, I’ve also heard Matas referred to, here and there, as a “Liberal” or a “two-time Liberal candidate.” I’ve only just learned he ran for the Liberals during the federal elections of… 1979 and 1980. By some definitions, that does indeed make him a Liberal. (UPPERDATE: A reader is concerned that I omit to mention Matas’s previous term on the Rights and Democracy board, when Jean Chrétien was prime minister. So now I’m not omitting it.)

Anyway, in 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.

Here, I should point out that Matas’s essay compresses the timeline of things a bit. When he writes that “the President nonetheless obtained a copy of the evaluation,” he neglects to mention that this was after months of legal wrangling and two board meetings at which he was told that he would never be shown the evaluation of his own work. I’m also told that the fabulous, useless legal opinion that all of this was “a confidence of the Privy Council” was obtained after the decision not to show the evaluation to Beauregard, and at some cost to Rights and Democracy in legal fees.

So Matas’s account portrays as a harmless disagreement among friends what was in fact a protracted legal dispute in which the board committee lost its side of the argument and finally began, in the last days of Beauregard’s life, to change its tune.

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.