Last June, Rémy Beauregard, the president of a federal government-funded human rights organization called Rights and Democracy, read aloud to his fellow board members from a long memo he had written. The memo was his response to an evaluation of his job performance written by two members of the federal government-appointed board, Jacques Gauthier and Elliot Tepper. The board’s chairman, Aurel Braun, had sent along his own note endorsing the evaluation, which was highly critical of Beauregard.
Beauregard was responding now, in June, because it had taken three months for him to get his hands on the evaluation. Braun, Gauthier and Tepper had sent it to the federal government without showing it to Beauregard. They had fought his attempts to get a copy of his own job evaluation for months, incurring hefty legal bills. Finally, Beauregard submitted a request to the Foreign Affairs Department for his personal information under the Privacy Act. Braun, Tepper and Gauthier were shocked when Beauregard showed up with a copy of their handiwork and started reading his response.
Beauregard’s written response to the performance evaluation, obtained by Maclean’s and revealed here for the first time, makes clear the extent to which this extraordinary controversy at Rights and Democracy was about the stance the organization, and by extension the government of Canada, should take with regard to Israel. Beauregard got into trouble with Braun and the others for disbursing grants that seemed to take sides in the Middle East conflict. Paradoxically, the Rights and Democracy board is now predominantly composed of people who have devoted much of their life to an unequivocal position: that no legal challenge to Israel’s human rights record is permissible, because any such challenge is part of a global harassment campaign against Israel’s right to exist.
For the longest time this wholesale transformation at Rights and Democracy seemed like it would escape public attention. Then came the astonishing events of January.
That’s when Rémy Beauregard died in his sleep after another deeply acrimonious meeting of the Rights and Democracy board, at which Braun’s faction for the first time held a voting majority. At that meeting, one member of the board who had been critical of Braun lost a vote to have his mandate renewed. Two more immediately quit in disgust.
Within days, the federal government received a letter signed by almost every member of the Rights and Democracy staff, calling for the removal of Braun, Gauthier and Tepper from the board. The letter was leaked to reporters, forcing the internal dispute into the open. But the three board members remained in place. Matching the staff’s act of defiance with its own, the board met again and appointed Gauthier as interim president. The next day, while most Rights and Democracy employees were attending Beauregard’s funeral in Ottawa, there was a break-in at the Montreal office. Two laptop computers were stolen. Police are still investigating.
After the burglary, Braun, a University of Toronto professor of international relations who was named to the Rights and Democracy board in March 2009, told employees they could not speak publicly about the organization without prior written approval from him. A few days later, Gauthier arrived at the Rights and Democracy office and began questioning employees about their behaviour. He was accompanied by a man he identified as Claude Sarrazin, “a business associate.” It was only by looking on the Internet later that staff members were able to learn Sarrazin is a private investigator who specializes in computer crime. Gauthier told three members of the staff they were suspended with pay until further notice, pending an investigation into their role in the suddenly very public controversy.
But that’s January. Back in June, Beauregard still viewed Braun and his allies on the 13-member board as a minority. Only two members of the board, Gauthier and Tepper, had signed the evaluation, and only Braun had written a memo endorsing it. Another member of the evaluation committee—Donica Pottie, a senior Foreign Affairs bureaucrat who sat on the board as the federal government’s direct representative—“was left out completely,” Beauregard wrote. Three months later Pottie would resign from the Rights and Democracy board altogether. She did not return a reporter’s telephone call for comment and the government has not yet appointed anyone to replace her.
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