Gerald Caplan wrote about Rights and Democracy last week under the headline " What every office needs to succeed in Harper's Canada." The piece is centred around this statement: "In a confidential evaluation of the organization's late executive director [Remy Beauregard] Mr. Gauthier pointedly noted the perhaps telltale absence of Jews on staff." Mr. Caplan launched from this observation a satirical attack on Mr. Gauthier and the government.
The opinion piece refers to Jacques Gauthier as one of three new appointees to the Board. But he was not. There was only one new appointee besides me, Michael Van Pelt. Jacques Gauthier is one of the oldest appointees on the board, along with three others, appointed February of 2008. However, that is the least of the problems with Mr. Caplan's article.
Since my appointment to the board on Nov. 13, 2009, I have sought out and read relevant documents that preceded my appointment. I have read from start to finish the performance evaluation of the late president, dated May 15, 2009, co-authored by Mr. Gauthier and Elliot Tepper. The statement Mr. Caplan says is in the evaluation is in fact not there. Nor is there anything in the evaluation resembling it. Nor is there anything there that could be mistaken for it.
I have also read a memorandum Mr. Gauthier wrote and sent to other members of the performance review committee dated May 21, 2009. One of these matters, in its entirety, is this:
"During a dinner that took place in the context of the Board of Directors meeting of March 2009 in Montreal, I was asked by one of the members of the management staff about my knowledge about certain Jewish customs and traditions in Europe. I was surprised by his question and I asked him why he thought I would be able to explain these customs and traditions. He replied that he thought I would know these things since he believed I was Jewish. Astonished by his statement, I indicated that I was not Jewish and that I was brought up in the Roman Catholic faith. He then assumed that my wife must be Jewish. I had to again correct him and told him my wife was not Jewish. This individual was quite stunned by my responses.
This exchange was very peculiar and deeply troubling. It seemed that this key staff member was referring to the belief of others in management staff as well. My only explanation for his inquiries related to a number of positions I took as interim Chair in respect to the Durban II Review Conference in Geneva and the conflict in the Gaza Strip.
I was also very surprised to be informed subsequently that there are no Jewish employees in the office of R&D in Montreal. I continue to be quite perplexed about the insinuations and meaning of the questions raised by this member of the management staff."
The former president prepared a written response dated Sept. 4 in which he commented not only on his evaluation but also on the Gauthier memo. He said: "This entire memo should be removed from the record."
One has to ask, what record? The Gauthier memo was marked "strictly confidential." It was not sent to the board nor to the Privy Council, the destination for the performance review report. It was sent only to other members of the performance review committee. As well, Mr. Gauthier prefaced the memo by writing that it referred to matters which "were deliberately excluded from the evaluation report" of the president.
The response that Mr. Beauregard wrote to this component of the Gauthier memorandum, again in its entirety, was this: "It is both forbidden and illegal to ask staff to disclose their religious affiliation. How Mr. Gauthier came across this information is a mystery."
After Mr. Beauregard's death, reporters indicated they had seen his reaction to his performance evaluation and to the Gauthier memorandum but had not seen the texts to which he was reacting. Abstracted from the original Gauthier memo, the response gives a misleading impression of what that memo contains.
There is nothing in the Gauthier memo to indicate that he had made any inquiries about Jews on staff. The memo shows only that he received information on that subject. It seems odd, to say the least, that Mr. Beauregard should inveigh against Mr. Gauthier for receiving information about religious affiliation but say nothing about a member of Mr. Beauregard's own staff, a person subject to Mr. Beauregard's direction and control, who went about eliciting from Mr. Gauthier information about his and his wife's religious affiliation.
The whole piece by Mr. Caplan then is constructed around a false premise. It is wrong to describe something deliberately excluded from an evaluation as part of an evaluation.
Moreover, though one can see that, in the Gauthier memo, there is something sort of resembling the comment to which Mr. Caplan refers, it is twisted and taken out of context. Mr. Gauthier came away from a discussion he had with a member of the management team with the impression that the management team believed that views a person held that were hostile to the Middle East activities of Rights and Democracy could be attributed to the fact the person was Jewish or that his wife was Jewish.
One form of prejudice against Jews is that they are suspected of disloyalty because they are Jewish. What Mr. Gauthier heard sounded very much like that. Mr. Gauthier wondered whether the attitude he heard expressed had had an impact on the hiring of Jewish staff.
Assuming that a person holds certain non-religious beliefs based on his religion or ethnic identity is a form of prejudice. Had the management team of Rights and Democracy adopted this form of prejudice?
In itself, the presence or absence of Jewish employees on the staff of a small organization means nothing. But once there are apparent prejudicial attitudes against not only Jews but those married to Jews, one can legitimately ask whether the absence of Jews on staff is linked to those prejudicial attitudes.
In the memo, Jacques Gauthier came to no conclusion. He merely expressed a concern. But it was a legitimate concern, at least in the terms in which it was framed. To turn it around the way Gerald Caplan has done in his opinion piece is most unfair.
David Matas is a Winnipeg-based international human-rights lawyer