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NDP MP Paul Dewar rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Friday November 6, 2009. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
NDP MP Paul Dewar rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Friday November 6, 2009. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Audit clears rights agency, NDP says Add to ...

A financial audit of a federal agency that promotes human rights hasn't found the alleged mismanagement invoked earlier this year when the Harper government overhauled its senior leadership team, according to the opposition.

Pointing to a still unreleased Deloitte & Touche audit into Montreal-based Rights & Democracy, NDP MP Paul Dewar said it shows the government fabricated an alleged crisis in a bid to change the agency's political direction and put forward a more pro-Israel agenda.

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"They went on a witch hunt," Mr. Dewar told reporters. "They spent over $120,000 for this audit and they came up with nothing."

The audit has yet to be made public, and it is scheduled to be discussed on Thursday at a closed-door meeting of the foreign affairs committee of the House. A majority of committee members have decided to meet partly in camera with the current leadership of Rights & Democracy, given the agency is being sued by former employees who were fired earlier this year.

Mr. Dewar said he will fight to make the financial report available to all.

"I hope to have this audit made public as soon as possible and that I would like to see a meeting held in public as soon as possible. I think it's incumbent upon Canadians to know what happened to a board that's supposed to be promoting democracy and rights abroad," Mr. Dewar said.

An internal war at Rights & Democracy broke into the open when its former president, Rémy Beauregard, died on Jan. 7 after a tense board meeting.

Staff members made an unprecedented public call for three board members, including Jacques Gauthier and chairman Aurel Braun, to resign, claiming they had harassed Mr. Beauregard. Instead, the board made Mr. Gauthier the agency's interim president.

In that position, Mr. Gauthier said that he was concerned by discretionary spending inside the agency. "Numerous questions were raised about the way these funds were spent on the basis of individual decisions by employees of Rights & Democracy, and concerns about whether or not when the money was transferred overseas it was in fact spent the way it should have been spent," he said.

Mr. Gauthier racked up hefty bills as he launched investigations of staff members, including $237,000 for legal work from two separate law firms, Ogilvy Renault and Borden Ladner Gervais. He also hired a public relations firm that billed about $10,000, while accounting firm Deloitte & Touche was hired to look into how the agency's money was spent. Finally, Rights & Democracy hired private investigation firm SIRCO at a cost of $66,261 to look into a burglary at its offices.

While the Deloitte & Touche audit has already started circulating among members of the foreign affairs committee of the House, sources said that SIRCO's report is not yet available.

Mr. Braun led a faction on the board of Rights & Democracy that criticized Mr. Beauregard for approving three small grants for Middle East rights groups that they considered to be biased against Israel. Both Mr. Braun and the new president of Rights & Democracy, Gérard Latulippe, are scheduled to appear at committee before the House of Commons rises for its Christmas break.

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