Rights & Democracy chair snubs committee

Opposition MPs are crying foul after the chair of Rights & Democracy announced he was pulling out of a scheduled appearance before a parliamentary committee looking into internal turmoil at the federal human rights agency.

Opposition MPs are crying foul after the chair of Rights & Democracy announced he was pulling out of a scheduled appearance before a parliamentary committee looking into internal turmoil at the federal human rights agency.

Montreal-based Rights & Democracy was founded by the Conservative government under Brian Mulroney to encourage democracy and monitor human rights around the world. ((CBC))
During Monday's question period in the House of Commons, NDP MP Paul Dewar said the foreign affairs committee might have to subpoena Ariel Braun and other Rights & Democracy board members if they refuse to appear before April.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff told reporters that Braun "has a responsibility to attend."

Braun gave no reason for the last-minute cancellation of a planned Tuesday appearance before the foreign affairs committee — a commitment he had confirmed as recently as last week. 

But it comes on the very same day that an opinion piece under his name and those of other board members appeared in newspapers across the country. In the piece, Braun and the board members called on Parliament "to hold public hearings" into the state of affairs at the beleaguered organization "so that facts can replace fantasies."

Rights & Democracy, created under Brian Mulroney's Conservative government to encourage democracy and monitor human rights around the world, has been in upheaval since the Harper government appointed new board members last year. The new members challenged grants being made to three human rights organizations known to be critical of Israel's human rights record.

Opposition parties have accused the Conservatives of conducting political interference with the work of the at-arm's-length agency and have joined the family of former Rights & Democracy president Rémy Beauregard in calling for an independent inquiry into the organization.

Tories won't shut agency down: Baird

Since Beauregard's death in January, almost every staff member of Rights & Democracy has signed a letter of no-confidence in the interim president and two board members.

During Monday's question period, Ignatieff called on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to guarantee he would not use the "crisis of his own making" at the agency as an excuse to eliminate it.

Speaking for the government, Transport Minister John Baird replied that the recent appointment of a new president and chief executive officer shows its support for the "important institution."

"There's no view to closing the operation down," Baird told the House.

The Foreign Affairs committee has been embroiled in a battle between government and opposition members over whether it should hear testimony from Beauregard's widow, Suzanne Trepanier.