Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Rights and Democracy: investigations and agendas

I was going to leave this issue alone for awhile, but the news just keeps getting worse.

The new President of the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, Jacques Gauthier, was one of three Board members named in a unanimous staff letter demanding their resignations. The staff has, since Harper's A-Team arrived, been subjected, they say, to continual harassment, even racial profiling.

The top managerial echelon at Rights and Democracy has been suspended with pay. Now Gauthier has called in a private security firm, SIRCO, that specializes,
inter alia, in union-busting, stalking/infiltration (SIRCO's term), surveillance and computer forensics.* SIRCO's mission is not at this point clear, but staff believe this to be further evidence that the newcomers at ICHRDD are determined to root out dissent.

Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae says that some Board members are micromanaging the organization and imposing a “very narrow ideological enthusiasm” upon it. That's a well-wrought understatement. "Iron heel" might be a more accurate description.

But in any case, what is that "narrow ideological enthusiasm," imported into the agency by seven recent Harper appointments?

Let's begin with
Jacques Gauthier himself. He evidently demonstrated his chops to the PMO with a PhD thesis asserting that all of Jerusalem, including annexed East Jerusalem, belongs by right to Israel.

Then there's
Michael Van Pelt, the president of CARDUS, a fundamentalist Christian think-tank:

He has over 20 years of experience in public life, including advocacy with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Chamber of Commerce and serving as a municipal Councillor. He continues to consult widely, helping institutions connect their beliefs with their behaviours.

Brad Farquhar is an old Saskatchewan Party hand who ran (unsuccessfully) for the Conservatives in 2006, with the enthusiastic endorsement of the "pro-life" movement. His commitment to human rights is indicated by his opposition to same-sex marriage.

Aurel Braun, the current Chair of the Board, is a past national vice-president of B'nai Brith, an organization having its own problems at the moment. An uncritical cheerleader of Israeli foreign policy for years, he attacked Michael Ignatieff in 2008 for being insufficiently pro-Israel. **

Then we have David Matas, senior counsel to B'nai Brith. Somehow his writing on the current imbroglio, defending the conduct of the new appointees, only reached the public through the blog of far-right self-promoter Ezra Levant.

Marco Navarro-Génie did his thesis work at the University of Calgary--under former Harper Chief of Staff Tom Flanagan.

Elliot L. Tepper appears to have a less politically charged background. He is a specialist in Asian studies, with some apparent interest in--horrors!--multiculturalism. But he was also specifically named in the letter by the Rights and Democracy staff as one of the three new Board members who they say have been making working life at the agency intolerable.

Meanwhile, the Harper government denies any involvement in the current goings-on. That stretches credulity to the breaking-point--unless we parse that to mean that they simply sent in the clowns and stood back to let matters unfold.
Given the singlemindedness of the latter, in fact, that may well be the case.

UPDATE: More on the controversy on Power Play [via Paul Wells].

UPPERDATE: A number of NGOs have now weighed in. Oddly, the number of allegedly "toxic" human rights groups fingered by Aurel Braun a few days ago has shrunk to two. B'Tselem, the Israeli one, is not mentioned by Canadian Press any more, and Braun himself, on Power Play yesterday, has apparently dropped it from his enemies list.

Does this mean that B'Tselem will get its "repudiation" reversed? Or is Braun merely doing a little damage control, having found that his earlier denunciation of the group--calling it "Israeli in name only"--was hideously embarrassing to himself and his cause?
*Given the union-busting angle (and I would like to stress that I have at this point no information on precisely what SIRCO's investigatory mandate at Rights and Democracy is), I should declare interest: ICHRDD employees are members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, my old union.

**Ignatieff had called the 2006 bombing of Lebanese civilians in Qana a "war crime," but soon found out that it's not a war crime when Israel does it. In 2008, seeking support for his bid to become Prime Minister, he humbly had to beg pardon, saying that he should have stated instead that Israel "may have failed to comply with the Geneva Convention of the laws of war."

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