UPDATED: Rights and Democracy: The witness has rights

(UPDATE, Tuesday at noon: Jacques Gauthier replies to this post in the comments below. For readers’ convenience, I have reproduced Gauthier’s comment at the bottom of this post. — pw)

A letter arrived today at the Montreal office of Samson Bélair/ Deloitte et Touche, the financial-services firm hired by Rights and Democracy interim president Jacques Gauthier on Friday to conduct a forensic audit of the firm’s financial activities over the past five years. The letter is signed by several senior members of the Rights and Democracy staff. It is a blockbuster.

The letter’s authors — France-Isabelle Langlois, Michael Wodzicki, Dominic Tremblay, Nicholas Galetti — demand to know the details of Samson Bélair’s mandate as a condition of their cooperation in the audit.

And they level serious allegations of their own at Gauthier, arguing in effect that if Samson Bélair wants to investigate mismanagement at Rights and Democracy, they might as well start at the top.

Here are substantial excerpts from the letter, in my translation from the original French.

“With this letter, we want to assure you that at the right time and place, we intend to assist your audit to the best of our ability and knowledge,” the authors begin. They note that they are audited every year by the Office of the Auditor General and that, after a 2007 evaluation recommended better management practices, Rémy Beauregard implemented them. A 2008 evaluation by DFAIT found that “the general results flowing from this five-year organizational evalutation are positive.”

Why is the senior staff hesitating with a new audit, then? “There are important differences between the little that we have been told and what the media are reporting. So we demand satisfactory answers to all our questions without exception. These answers must be in writing.”

Hmm. Here are several of the questions, the ones that strike me as most pertinent and, frankly, bold.

“1. How is your mandate different from that of the Auditor-General of Canada?

“2. How does your investigation not call into question the professionalism, independance and competence of the Auditor-General of Canada?

“3. How is this investigation connected to the five-year evaluation undertaken by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, completed in 2008, as well as with Phase 1 of this evaluation, completed in 2007?

“7. What mandate has been given to Samson Bélair/ Deloitte et Touche?

“9. So that the process can be transparent, can you make public the contract and terms of reference of this audit? If the answer to this question is negative, how can you justify that?

“13. To whom do you answer: M. Gauthier? The Board of Rights and Democracy? The minister of foreign affairs, Mr. Cannon? Another person or persons?

“14. Will the management and staff of Rights and Democracy receive a complete copy of your report? If the answer to this question is negative, how can you justify that?

“15. How will the management and staff of Rights and Democracy have an opportunity to respond formally to your conclusions and recommendations before they are made public, as is usual under ‘best practices’ for such an audit? If the response to this question is negative, how do you justify that?

“17. What is the period (the years) under investigation by your audit? Is it from 2005 to 2009, as stated in a press release of Friday 19 February by the firm Prima Communication? Is it from 2005 to Feb. 15 2010 as an employee of Samson Bélair stated during a meeting on Feb. 18, 2010 with three managers of the institution? Or is it from 2007 to 2009 as another Samson Bélair employee said during a second meeting with a manager of the institution which took place on Feb. 19, 2010?

“20. Will your audit include all consulting contracts entered into from Jan. 8, 2010 to today?”

The last question is the most important. The Rights and Democracy staff is arguing that no investigation of mismanagement can stop with the death of Rémy Beauregard. Just in case this is not clear to the Samson Bélair people, the authors spell it all out.

“We, too, have concerns about the management of M. Jacques Gauthier,” the write, citing “a lack of transparency regarding spending practices and a lack of respect for the rules and procedures of the Centre.”

Since he replaced Beauregard at the end of January, they write, Gauthier has:

• hired the law firm Borden Ladner Gervais. “We do not know the true mandate that has been confided to them or what costs have been or will be incurred.”

• suspended three employees with pay and seized their work equipment. “The acts for which they are reproached are known to nobody.” Their lawyer, Julius Grey, has demanded they be returned to work.

• hired the private-eye firm Sirco. “So far we have seen neither the terms of reference nor the contract.”

• hired an office-manager type, Charles Auger. Here again the staff has never seen the terms of his employ. “Mr. Auger left after four days.” This is, I must admit, rather satisfying to me personally, because I have been told by multiple sources that Auger stormed out of the office within minutes after reading a synopsis in Le Devoir of my last big Maclean’s article on Rights and Democracy. Perhaps he did not know until then what he was getting into.

• hired Marco Navarro-Génie “as a consultant” without explaining his mandate or the term of his contract. “Nevertheless, M. Navarro-Génie has obtained signing authority on behalf of the Centre.”

• hired Samson Bélair, see above.

• hired a private communications firm, Prima Communication, with the now-habitual lack of explanations.

Some readers will regard all of this as stonewalling on the part of a staff that is afraid of what Aurel Braun, the Rights and Democracy board chair, likes to call “the light” when it is not shining on him. To that, perhaps the best response is that nobody would be more concerned about due process than those who watched their boss, Rémy Beauregard, spend half a year dealing with a job evaluation the R&D board would not permit him to see.

The staff letter finishes with one final zinger. They want to cooperate, they say, as soon as they receive answers to their questions. “However we must tell you it will be exceedingly difficult to respond adequately to your questions in the absence of Mme [Marie-France] Cloutier, the Director of Administration and Resources, who has worked for the Centre for 20 years and has a spotless record.” For the audit to begin, then, the staff are requiring that the suspension of Cloutier and her two colleagues be lifted.

(UPDATE, Tuesday at noon: Jacques Gauthier responded this morning, in the comments, to this post. Since one can never be sure about these things, I emailed Gauthier to check whether the comment is indeed his. He confirmed that it is. So here is Gauthier’s response: — pw)

“The question here is not the quality or even the nature of the questions. It is the conduct of managers. Managers manage. Their role is to loyally ensure the proper functioning of the organization as envisioned by the executive. They do not set non-negotiable conditions for their cooperation in carrying out the legal and ethical requirements of the organization. They do not seek to embarrass and bully the executive by making those demands public through the media. When managers refuse to manage as they are lawfully and ethically directed to manage, they cease to be managers. What would the consequences be in any organization if a manager refused to manage but insisted on continuing to collect a managerial-level pay cheque? The answer to that question is all that any fair-minded Canadian needs to understand the propriety of the restructuring initiatives undertaken by me as president, and by the board of Rights & Democracy, over the past months.”