For weeks, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon stood on the sidelines, saying the deepening rift at Rights and Democracy was an internal matter at an arm's-length agency. On Thursday, he promised to intervene.
Speaking to reporters in Ottawa, Mr. Cannon said he will take steps this week to address the divisions at the government-funded human-rights agency, but declined to elaborate on his plans, or why he had taken so long to move on them.
"Action will be taken in the next few days," Mr. Cannon said.
The agency's interim president, Jacques Gauthier, said he welcomes the government's intervention. Staff are in open rebellion, three senior managers are suspended and under investigation, and there is deep suspicion on both sides. The problems began more than a year ago with a dispute over grants to three human-rights agencies in the Middle East, but spiralled into a battle for control of the agency, created by Brian Mulroney in 1988.
"There's no doubt the turmoil continues," Mr. Gauthier said. "I'm not going to speak for Mr. Cannon today and tell you exactly what he will do. All I know is that discussions have taken place. He wants things to be more stable. He wants to help end the crisis, and we do as well. This is not Mr. Cannon against the board or against any individual. We're trying to work together toward a solution."
The dispute at Rights and Democracy exploded into public view last month when the agency's president, Rémy Beauregard, died after an emotional board meeting that saw two members resign.
Mr. Beauregard's supporters accused the Conservative government of packing the board with new appointees loyal to the board's chair, Aurel Braun. After Mr. Beauregard's death, the agency's staff demanded Mr. Braun and his two vice-chairs resign, saying they had lost their confidence.
Opposition critics, and Mr. Beauregard's widow, demanded an inquiry. It's not clear whether Mr. Cannon plans to heed that call. Other options include structural changes at Rights and Democracy or a dissolution of the current board.
Payam Akhavan, a law professor and ally of Mr. Beauregard's who resigned from the board the day Mr. Beauregard died, said he was pleased to hear that Mr. Cannon had decided to step in.
"Mr. Cannon's intervention is a welcome gesture and hopefully the foreign ministry will manage the organization until this crisis can be resolved with a new board of directors," he said.
Mr. Gauthier said he hoped the appointment of a new president would calm the situation at the agency's Montreal office. Applications have been received and interviews are about to begin, he said.
"If the right person is chosen it could indeed help to put the train back on the rails," he said.