Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Rights and Democracy : Gonging the Gong Show

A witness appearing before the Foreign Affairs Committee on the Situation at Rights and Democracy today was simultaneously smeared in a Canwest editorial. (h/t Dr. Dawg)
After hearing his new allegations of financial irregularities on the part of the board below, as well as its ties to NGO Monitor, the rightwing Israeli think tank the HarperCons are currently getting their Mideast foreign policy from, you can see why someone might want to pre-empt his credibility.

Rather longish I'm afraid but as I haven't seen this covered anywhere else, here are my excerpted notes from the testimony of Payam Akhavan, Professor of International Law at McGill, and, before he quit in disgust in January, a former member of the R&D Board of Directors.

Akhavan : I was honoured to be appointed by this government as a director of R&D in Feb 2008. Faced with abuse of power in an organization devoted to human rights I cannot remain silent.

Remy Beauregard was appointed June 2008. The Aug 2008 five year review of R&D by Foreign Affairs was positive. Auditor General's June 2009 report also positive. Contrary to Braun's testimony, R&D was not dysfunctional but in the months that followed his appointment the organization disintegrated due to a hostile takeover of the board.

At Braun's first meeting as chair on March 26th, the board was highly satisfied with Beauregard's performance but the Chair instructed the secretary not to record this in the minutes. Braun and Gauthier were concerned about small grants to 3 orgs. As a compromise, Beauregard agreed not to provide further funds. Braun also insisted that he should have a veto over all future grants. Again we accepted a review procedure as a compromise.

Beauregard had already decided to boycott Durban with the unanimous support of the board. Their review of him attempted to paint him as anti-Israel on the very issues that had already been resolved to every body's satisfaction. The review looked to us like character assassination.
A law firm was retained at $17,000 to justify their decision to keep the review secret. When disclosed through Privacy Act at June 18 board meeting, we gave them the opportunity to amend it and they agreed. One board member resigned. On oct 19, Braun and allies cancelled board meeting on two days notice to avoid amending the report. On Nov 8 after two new board appointments, Braun called a meeting of board for Jan 7th. With a one-vote majority, the new board met with Beauregard in acrimonious meeting. Navarro-Genie referred to us in an email exchange as 'third worldists', comparing us to Robert Mugabe, and contrasted us to 'Her Majesties North American subjects'.

Sima Samar and I decided to walk out in protest. It was a moment of utter shame. Beauregard was distressed knowing he would probably have to resign. After his passing but before his funeral could be held, we were shocked to learn that internal documents were leaked to Ezra Levant and Gerald Steinberg to continue smearing his reputation. The call for resignations by the 45 staff was motivated by loyalty to the institution. An estimated half a million dollars is now being spent on private investigators to investigate staff without tender.

Unethical conduct cannot go without consequences. Gauthier wrote that Beauregard met with representatives of Hamas and Hezbollah, saying the legality of these meetings was questionable under the criminal code, punishable by 10 years imprisonment. Beauregard said the allegations were patently false and an attack on his reputation.
Recommendations : Remove smear review of Beauregard with an apology; call on Tepper, Gauthier, and Braun to resign; and reconstitute the entire board.

Bob Rae : I knew Beauregard and worked closely with him - a man of great intelligence and integrity.
In an article by Mr [Barry] Cooper in the Calgary Herald - Mr Cooper is a prof at the University of Calgary - he claims to have received information from board member Mr. Navarro-Genie in which he states between May 2009 and Jan 2010 :

"Beauregard managed to turn several "international" members of the board against the performance review committee by granting them favours, including travel perks, interns, and funding for projects in their home countries, according to Marco Navarro, an R&D board member."

Could you comment on any conflicts of interest you may have been under while a member of the board?

Akhaven : There were 3 distinguished international board members.
Astonishing to suggest that Dr. Sima Samar was bought by giving her an intern. In Canwest today I am accused of requesting a nomination to a UN position. Absolutely baseless. You have before you the email where I asked Mr Beauregard's advice in relation to a war crimes inquiry in Sri Lanka which was not established by the UN and which members of this government wanted me to participate in. I asked his advice regarding a nomination. They have hired private investigators to go through thousands of Beauregard's emails and this is the best accusation they can come up with?

Bob Rae : Do you have any idea how would Canwest have received that email? Presumably it is proprietorial to the investigation and the board.

Akhavan : Presumably the same way Ezra Levant and Gerald Steinberg got them.
Mr Navarro-Genie has been in Haiti on behalf of R&D and charged $1,400 to R&D for four extra days "for personal purposes".
Gauthier went on a 6 day trip to China, received 11 days of fee from R&D of $3,575 where other members received a $500 honorarium.
The Board's budget for $130,000 for the previous fiscal year was already approaching $300,000 when I left. A big part of that were honoraria paid to board members to come and speak here as if they are volunteers. The honoraria which were budgeted at $40,000 were approaching $80,000 by the time I left the board.

Rae : Board members are paid? How?

Akhavan : Board members are paid an honorarium for every full day of work that they do.

Rae : If they travel do they get permission if they go on a mission? And expenses?

Akhavan : Mr Navarro-Genie, who has been leaking info to the press was for a week at the office of R&D in a position as a senior advisor. We don't know what his mandate was, how much he was paid. The contract was given to him by acting president Gauthier. Was it to go through Beauregard's emails to find dirt about me and international board members to leak them to the media? Is this a good use of taxpayer's money? Astonishing.

Lalonde : Regarding the 3 grants to two Palestinian and one Israeli group.
On the weekend on Radio Canada there was a report on NGO Monitor and its influence in Canada. Is there any link between NGO Monitor and any board members?

Akhavan : There are legitimate concerns about the demonization of Israel at the UN. 80% of resolutions at the UN are against Israel while Sudan Iran etc escape scrutiny, but organizations like NGO Monitor have gone too far at suppressing all dissent. Mr. Braun had tried unsuccessfully against the opposition of the board to get Mr [Gerald] Steinberg to address the board and one of the first articles to come out after the death of Mr Beauregard was from Mr Steinberg in the Jerusalem Post and then the National Post. He had access to internal documents of the board. Matas' repudiation of the 3 grants is based entirely on NGO Monitor. The link is clearly there.

Yosi Alfer, former advisor to Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak says this about NGO Monitor :

"NGO Monitor seems dead set against human rights monitoring of Israel and smearing anyone who supports this vital activity."
Within Israel, NGO Monitor is seen as a far right political organization. I am baffled as to how such an institution can have so much influence over R&D. In describing B'Tselem, the chair says it is 'Israeli in name only'.
This is the language of the far right in Israel.
On Feb 13 2007, because of a libel lawsuit that was brought against NGO Monitor before the Israeli courts, Gerald Steinberg issued the following retraction : " I regret having called El Mizan an organization that justifies violence".
There are legitimate concerns about one-sided attacks against Israel but we are now more extreme in Canada than people are in Israel.

Jim Abbott : Should the staff be telling the board which direction to be going in?

Akhavan : One staff member did not sign the letter asking for the three board members' resignations and is the source of the allegation that a collective agreement was signed in exchange for signing the letter. On the day the Director of Communications Charles Vallerand was fired, Mr Gauthier tried to promote that staff member to the position of Director of Communications.

Paul Dewar : Board member Marco Navarro-Genie was awarded a contract by the board to work for the board?

Akhavan : While Mr Gauthier was acting president, Navarro-Genie was hired for a week as a senior advisor, for an unspecified sum and an unspecified mandate.

Note : Marco Navarro-Genie wrote an editorial in the National Post on March 30 : The Rights & Democracy gong show arrives in Ottawa
in which he described the Foreign Affairs committee's investigation into the situation at R&D as "a kangaroo court" orchestrated by "the coalition-government- wanabees (Bloc-Liberal-NDP)" to "try and then convict good Canadian citizens whose only crime is to do their duty to look out for Canadian taxpayers".


Dr.Dawg said...

Just an excellent job, Alison.

My mea culpa is here.

skdadl said...

Astonishing. Alison, were any of the Conservative members of the committee present? If so, did they have anything to say/ask?

Alison said...

Tah, Dr.D.

Skdadl : See one post down - mercifully a much shorter post.

thwap said...

Sadly though, these assholes will get away with it. Just like they're getting away with torture.

It was a worthwhile institution, but, like Canada itself, the harpercons are turning it into shit.

Holly Stick said...

So the private investigation firm is SIRCO, according to this CBC report from Feb 22 (which includes some of the questions about how the new guys are spending money).

It's apparently based in Montreal; I wonder if there's any connection with the PI who apparently reported to the Conservatives in the Guergis/Jaffer affair?

Alison said...

Holly Stick : The Foreign Affairs ommittee via Paul Dewar has asked R&D to submit their contracts with 1)the law firm Borden Ladner Gervais, 2)the security firm Groupe Sirco, 3)the auditing firm Deloitte and Touche, and as of yesterday 4)the board's one to hire board member Marco Navarre-Genie. So far R&D has not coughed up any of them.

Would be a remarkable coincidence if the PI firm hired by R&D was the same one, given that they are leaking bits to the noosemedia.

Thwap : Yeah. Both Lalonde and Rae raised Trepanier and Akhavean's recommendations in the House yesterday and asked for "a public inquiry into the important questions asked by the witnesses today."
Peter Kent responded twice :
"The government has every confidence in the board and its new president."

Alison said...

On Wednesday Paul Dewar raised in the House the patronnage appointments and "out of control" spending at R&D in the last few months.

Lawrence Cannon, the minister in charge of R&D, replied :
"Mr. Speaker, I will remind my hon. colleague that as of October 29, 2009, the organization got a clean bill of health. The committee, indeed, had the opportunity of hearing the members of the board of directors, and they all said that the job that was being completed by Rights & Democracy was a fine job."

Holly Stick said...

The PI in the Guergis/Jaffer affair is a Toronto one, Derek Snowdy. He said he tried to tell the OPP and RCMP:

"...After the Star published a story last Thursday detailing the Harbour 60 dinner, Snowdy said he realized he should contact the Tory party. Snowdy describes himself as a committed member of that party..."


So no connection to SIRCO apparently.

Holly Stick said...

Oh yes, a new post by Paul Wells:


thwap said...

re: Lawrence Cannon's "clean bill of health for R & D as of October, 2009": This is what I mean by the harpercons' attempts at cleverness having to rely on bullying.

Cannon is lying to our faces. Spitting on us. And he's basically asking "what are you going to do about it?"

I so much want to see harper, MacKay, and Cannon in prison for war crimes. And then Cannon can grovel before a judge who has power over HIS life, to try to account for his denying Abdelrazik of his Charter rights.

Alison said...

Yesterday in Macleans Paul Wells described Cannon as "the hapless salaryman who sits in the office normally reserved for foreign ministers" and "the radiantly obtuse person of Lawrence Cannon".

Pretty strong words for Wells, but I agree, Thwap, they're all war criminals. What kind of government tries to weasel out of paying reparations to a man they persecuted because another country waterboarded his name out of a halfwit? Abu Zubaydah is now being airbrushed out of all the cases built on his testimony in hopes we will forget how all this came about.

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