Rights and Democracy: The twilight struggle of transparency and accountability - Macleans.ca

Rights and Democracy: The twilight struggle of transparency and accountability

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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.