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A Palestinian woman holds up flags beside Israeli soldiers during a demonstration against the controversial barrier in the West Bank village of Ma'asarah, near Bethlehem, on March 27, 2009. (Ammar Awad/REUTERS)
A Palestinian woman holds up flags beside Israeli soldiers during a demonstration against the controversial barrier in the West Bank village of Ma'asarah, near Bethlehem, on March 27, 2009. (Ammar Awad/REUTERS)

Audit reveals no irregularities, just political meddling at rights agency Add to ...

A confidential forensic audit into an embattled federal human-rights agency bolsters the arguments of opposition critics who accuse the Harper government of trying to limit the organization’s work in the Middle East with groups that do not meet Ottawa’s pro-Israel outlook.

Obtained by The Globe and Mail, the report into Rights and Democracy shows that forensic auditors probed allegations of financial impropriety made earlier this year by the agency’s government-appointed board of directors and found no major irregularities.

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However, the report shows that Deloitte & Touche concluded the main problems at Rights and Democracy stemmed from the board of directors’ attempts to control the organization’s activities, especially in relation to Middle East issues.

The audit said that it was concerned by the organization’s governance, pointing to “several conflicts between certain members of the board of directors and certain management personnel.”

As a result, auditors called on Rights and Democracy to provide clear direction to its staff on “restrictions concerning the activities, projects and/or partnerships, or geographic areas with which Rights and Democracy should not be associated or to which it should not provide financial assistance.”

The report will fuel questions about the future of the embattled agency, which the Harper government shook up this year after the death of its president, Rémy Beauregard. As the agency took a new direction in the spring, it spent more than $400,000 to bring in private investigators, lawyers and auditors to complete a management overhaul, which included firing employees who resisted the change.

A parliamentary hearing into the matter was cancelled on Thursday as the House of Commons broke for the holidays, meaning that answers about the current state of the agency will come only in the New Year.

Still, critics said the audit confirms that the Harper government engaged in an “ideological hi-jacking” of the independent agency, which worked with left-leaning groups in the Middle East that are not in favour with the Harper government.

“They had a zealous agenda of their own and what they managed to do was to take an organization that had a solid reputation internationally and tarnished that reputation,” NDP MP Paul Dewar told reporters. “On top of that, they managed to spend almost half a million dollars looking for something that didn’t exist.”

Called in earlier this year after the death of the agency’s president, Deloitte & Touche looked into the board’s concerns about issues such as the use of a discretionary fund and monetary transfers between offices in Montreal and Geneva. The audit did not come to damning conclusions regarding the agency’s financial management, and concluded that there was not any evidence to support some of the allegations, such as $30,000 monthly transfers to the Geneva office. The report said that administrative practices were actually improving before the start of their work.

The current president of Rights and Democracy, Gérard Latulippe, and the chairman of the board, Aurel Braun, had been scheduled to discuss the audit before the foreign affairs committee of the House on Thursday afternoon. Still, little information would have filtered out of the hearing, which was to be held behind closed doors, with no plans to release the full Deloitte & Touche audit.

However, The Globe and Mail obtained a full version of the report earlier in the day and posted it on globeandmail.com.

The audit was launched after Rights and Democracy’s interim president Jacques Gauthier expressed concerns over the financial management of predecessor Rémy Beauregard, who died in January.

Among other things, Mr. Gauthier expressed concerns over financial transfers to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, saying the money could have gone to events that went against the federal government’s agenda, such as the Durban II conference on racism.

Auditors said there was no way to prove that. Still, the report called on the agency to “communicate clearly” to its partners exactly how it wants its funds to be spent.

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