The interim president who headed troubled agency Rights & Democracy for two months spent almost $400,000 of taxpayers' money hiring lawyers, private investigators and consultants in an internal battle between board members and staff, according to his successor.
Jacques Gauthier, the Toronto lawyer who headed the agency for just over two months, spent the money on an internal inquiry and efforts to fire three senior managers, and now is accused of using public money to further a factional dispute inside the federally funded arm's-length agency.
That internal war broke into the open when the Montreal-based agency's former president, Rémy Beauregard, died on Jan. 7 after a tense board meeting.
Staff members then made an unprecedented public call for three board members, including Mr. Gauthier and chairman Aurel Braun, to resign, claiming they had harassed Mr. Beauregard. Instead, the board made Mr. Gauthier the agency's interim president.
On Thursday, the new president of Rights & Democracy, Gérard Latulippe, revealed to the Commons foreign affairs committee that Mr. Gauthier racked up hefty bills as he launched investigations of staff members.
Mr. Gauthier spent $237,000 for legal work from two separate law firms, Ogilvy Renault and Borden Ladner Gervais. He hired a public-relations firm that has billed about $10,000, Mr. Latulippe said. An accounting firm, Deloitte, was paid $68,000 to look into how the agency's money was spent. And the private investigation firm SIRCO was paid $66,261.
"He was declaring war on the staff and using public funds to do that," New Democratic MP Paul Dewar said.
Mr. Gauthier said in an interview that the agency was in a crisis, and lawyers were needed to deal with many staff grievances and the dismissal of the employees. The private investigators were needed to look into a burglary, but also to investigate whether the three employees should be dismissed, he said. And Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon suggested it would be wise to ask an accounting firm to get involved.
Mr. Gauthier was an ally of Mr. Braun, who led a faction on the board that criticized Mr. Beauregard for approving three small grants for Middle East rights groups they considered biased against Israel.
Mr. Gauthier also defended the hiring of a board ally, Marco Navarro-Genie, for a brief period at $325 a day, totalling just under $3,000. Mr. Gauthier said he assisted when he took over as president, and paying directors for assistance was a regular practice at the agency.
Mr. Dewar said it is still inappropriate: "It's an entire conflict of interest."
Opposition MPs called Mr. Latulippe's appointment an effort by the Conservative government to put a friend in charge of the agency. Mr. Latulippe was a senior adviser to Stockwell Day when he was Canadian Alliance leader, and ran for the Alliance in 2000.
In an interview, he argued that his political past helps in promoting democracy abroad and refused to comment on charges that his past statements reveal an anti-Muslim bias. He said in a brief to Quebec's Bouchard-Taylor commission on integrating immigrants that the concentration of Muslim immigrants in Montreal raised the risk of domestic terrorism.
Mr. Latulippe said he has been misunderstood, that he has worked in the Muslim world and understands Muslim culture, and that his personal views have nothing to do with his work at Rights & Democracy.