Public Values

Rights and Democracy shake-up an "extraordinarily serious scandal" - Broadbent

Public appointments process is used to pursue ultra-conservative political agenda.

Founding president Broadbent says events reveal political agenda, not human rightsby Ish Theilheimer

OTTAWA, February 1, 2010, Rights and Democracy, the agency that promotes democracy internationally and in Canada, is the latest victim of the Harper government's drive to stamp extreme conservative views on everything it can, says its founding president.

Ed Broadbent, founding president of the Montreal-based organization formally known as the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, calls recent developments there an "extraordinarily serious scandal."

Troubles there became public in early January. Rights and Democracy's president, Rémy Beauregard, died of a heart attack immediately after a turbulent board meeting in which he and the Centre's staff were viciously attacked by recent political appointees over grants to organizations working on social justice issues in the Middle East. Harper's recent appointees charged the grants were going to anti-Israeli organizations with terrorist connections, despite extensive vetting with Canadian and international authorities.

  "You have a government that has put people there not for their commitment to make independent judgments about human rights but to have a specific political agenda."

"This is a situation in which the government is using the appointment process to pursue a very specific political agenda that has resulted in an attack on the very integrity of Rights and Democracy," Broadbent told in a phone interview. Until now, the organization has always had political appointments, he said, "but it has never been subject to direct political influence."

Broadbent specifically requested people with political experience from all political parties to staff the organization. "I wanted people with political experience. The mandate was human rights and democratic development. There's nothing wrong with that. But never once did any cast a vote that had any political connection."

Now, he says, "you have a government that has put people there not for their commitment to make independent judgments about human rights but to have a specific political agenda, specifically about the Middle East. It's incredible."

The entire 47-member staff of Rights and Democracy has demanded that three board members, all recent political appointees, resign. They include David Matas, a lawyer with the pro-Israel B'nai Brith Canada; evangelist Michael Van Pelt of the think tank Cardus, and Jacques Gauthier, "who spent 20 years working on a doctoral thesis in which he argues that Jerusalem belongs to the Jews by international law" according to Paul Wells of Macleans, the reporter who has followed this story best and most closely.

"There has been an incredibly vicious assassination of the integrity of an institution established to be independent of the government of the day," said Broadbent. "It an attack on the internal work of the Centre's staff that has immense international credibility."

"What this does is it reflects on the ongoing interference of this government in so-called independent agencies." He cited the RCMP review, the firing of Linda Keen from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, and the recent attacks on diplomat Richard Colvin over detainee abuse as further examples. "This government either repudiates advice and attacks personally the people who give it, or they don't reappoint people who demonstrated ability and commitment to human rights and democracy."

Broadbent is alarmed by the ban that Gauthier, now President of Rights and Democracy, has put on staff talking to media, the confiscation of cell phones from top staff, and the suspicious disappearance, in a reported "break-in", of three laptop computers from top staff's offices, all located in an 11th floor office building.

"It's pretty appalling for an organization dedicated to human rights," he said.

Some news articles of interest include:

How the Harperites ambushed the rights agency, Haroon Siddiqui, Toronto Star

Rights and Democracy: Did the right hand know what the right hand was doing?, by Paul Wells, Macleans

Rights and Democracy rips itself apart, Paul Wells, Macleans

Posted: February 01, 2010

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