A convenient fiction has been hiding a scandal that’s been quietly unfolding at the human rights agency for several years.
If you pay attention to Ottawa scandals, you will be familiar with the story of Rights and Democracy by now: a hostile Conservative takeover of the quasi-governmental agency has destroyed R&D’s spotless international reputation as a wellspring and global clarion for human rights. Sinister Zionists are behind the whole thing.
The story’s narrative arc was further entrenched in the public record last week when a House of Commons committee recommended the ousting of R&D board chairman Aurel Braun, so it must be true. After all, former R&D presidents Warren Allmand and Ed Broadbent read from that very script before the Foreign Affairs Committee during its hearings into R&D, and the New Democratic Party’s Paul Dewar last week proclaimed that Braun and his R&D board allies have “poisoned the well” and ruined R&D’s “stellar reputation.”
There is a small problem with the story: it’s a convenient fiction that has served to hide a real scandal that had been quietly unfolding at Rights and Democracy for several years now. The vanishing of staff computers during a mysterious break-in at R&D’s Montreal offices in January – were they stolen, or conveniently removed? – is just the beginning of the intrigue.
The story so far would have you believe that everything was just fine at R&D until last year when Braun was appointed chairman of the board. In that story, Braun and his Conservative-Zionist allies immediately proceeded to wield their newfound board majority to undertake a witch hunt for anyone at R&D insufficiently possessed of an affection for Israel.
As the putsch proceeded, R&D president Remy Beauregard suffered such stress that he died of a heart attack, the entire staff revolted, and Braun then fired key management officials Charles Vallerand, Marie-France Cloutier, and Razmik Panossian. The trio emerge as the story’s heroes, and hey presto, even the otherwise intelligent Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae piles on to defend R&D as “an internationally-recognized, non-partisan organization” with “decades of work promoting human and democratic rights around the world” at stake.
This is a neatly structured story, with a beginning, a middle, and what might even be something approaching an end. It is particularly gripping on account of its plot motif (Jews Behaving Badly), which is so wildly popular these days. Told this way, the story is delightfully intriguing. But it has meant that a number of rather important questions about the whole affair have gone unanswered.
Here’s just one question that the Foreign Affairs Committee might have put to R&D’s brave “dissident” managers, Cloutier and Panossian, but did not: What’s the deal with the payments you made not long ago to Donald McCleery, the infiltration-and-surveillance specialist perhaps best known for burning a barn in Quebec back in the 1970s while he was with the RCMP’s notorious and shadowy “G” Section?
Here’s a question we might all ask ourselves about the affair. Is it overweeningly Zionist to notice that for years prior to January’s management-engineered staff revolt, Cloutier and Panossian were overseeing a bully regime at R&D that former employees have described as “Nonrespect of staff, misallocation of resources, micro-management, arbitrary imposition of weakly developed policies designed with no consultation from staff, and even the appearance of systemic sexism”?
It’s all very well for 1990s-era R&D presidents Allmand and Broadbent to have happily allowed themselves to be conscripted in a tightly-orchestrated public-relations crusade aimed at dissuading Braun and the new R&D board members from inquiring too closely into R&D’s business. But it was a bit rich to see former R&D president Jean-Louis Roy joining them in their complaint about the “subversion of the independence and integrity of the institution” that started, we are expected to believe, only after Braun stumbled into this rat’s nest.
During his 2002-07 term as president, Roy’s contribution to R&D’s public credibility was to rack up outlandish expenses in overnight stays in Paris hotels, feasts in fancy Montreal restaurants, a rebuke from Parliament, and dozens of union grievances. Even before Roy showed up, R&D’s survival was in question. Back then, even Roy himself described “a lingering negative judgment” hanging over R&D, which – but of course! – required only Roy’s own firm hand to “re-establish it as a trustworthy and credible organization.”
Instead, R&D’s prominence in the exalted human-rights firmament was only further diminished by Roy’s custom of taking breakfast and lunch with R&D program director Panossian at swank Montreal eateries and taking $225 limousine rides from Montreal to Quebec City. The bar bill alone at one R&D banquet was $367.
Things got worse from there. Much of this is a matter of the thoroughly overlooked if otherwise public record. But there’s more.
While Braun has been vilified in the press for asking impertinent questions about how R&D spends the $11 million it gets every year from Ottawa, no one has reported that it was during Roy’s tenure, with program director Panossian in charge, that McCleery, the famous barn-burning Mountie spy, first starting cashing R&D cheques.
On Jan. 9, 2007, R&D issued a cheque to McCleery for the amount of $6,376.30. The cheque was directly authorized by the recently-dismissed Marie-France Cloutier, R&D’s director of administration and resources. It is precisely Cloutier’s supposed persecution alongside Panossian and Vallerand that we have all been summoned to lament and protest these past few months.
It isn’t clear how long McCleery continued to provide R&D with his services, or what they were for, exactly. But McCleery runs an “elite company” in Montreal that offers such services as “infiltration/internal investigation,” surveillance, and assistance in labour conflict. The company boasts “experienced investigators … schooled in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s purest tradition.”
Purest tradition? McCleery first came to notoriety in the late 1970s following disclosures about his involvement in the RCMP Security Service “dirty tricks” scandal. This involved zany counterintelligence and disruption operations against the outlawed armed group the Front de libération du Québec. Among other capers, the Security Service’s “G” Section authored a phony FLQ communiqué and engaged in break-ins, unauthorized eavesdropping, and theft of dynamite.
The most embarrassing revelation about the “G” Section was its frantic 1972 decision to burn down a barn at a farm retreat frequented by separatists, jazz musicians, and other such fashionably transgressive activists, in Ste-Anne-de-La-Rochelle, in the Eastern Townships. The Mountie spooks reckoned that they wouldn’t be able to properly wire the barn to listen in on an arms training session the radical Black Panthers organization was expected to put on for the FLQ. The “G” Section’s Mounties reckoned they needed to somehow get the session relocated to a more easily-bugged venue. It was McCleery who gave the order to burn down the barn.
Long before Aurel Braun started poking his nose into things, R&D was reduced to distributing toques emblazoned with its logo and spending $600,000 on a network of Canadian university campus clubs that included a hip-and-with-it online forum with a “general discussion” board that attracted a grand total of 21 postings over a two-year period. For perspective, it helps to remember that when R&D was established in 1988, its purpose was to promote, advocate, and defend the global advance of democracy and human rights, “principally in developing countries.”
Long before Braun came along, R&D had sunk to promoting a human rights T-shirt day at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick and sponsoring a Concordia University conference on how pop music “can contribute to social and political changes.” Around the same time, R&D entered into a three-year partnership with the Party School, the Communist Party of China’s academy for bureaucrats. The arrangement prompted disheartened former R&D worker Diana Bronson to notice the obvious: “It’s not the Communist Party of China that’s going to advance human rights in China.”
The RCMP “dirty tricks” drama in which McCleery played such a minor but emblematic role ultimately led to the downfall of the RCMP Security Service and the creation of the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS). This allowed the important and necessary work that had been assigned to the RCMP to be carried on in a less sordid and more professional, discreet, accountable, and credible fashion.
One can only hope that the story of Rights and Democracy will end in much the same way.