Follow up on the independence of the human rights organization, Rights and Democracy

Re: Follow up on the independence of the human rights organization, Rights and Democracy.

To: Prime Minister Stephen Harper

From: Catherine Morris, Gail Davidson, and Paul Copeland

Date: 2010-02-23

This is further to our letter of 27 January 2010. To date, we have not received a response. We remain very concerned about the independence of the human rights organization, Rights and Democracy. We understand that, in accordance with the federal legislation governing this agency, your government has consulted the leaders of opposition parties about your intention to appoint Mr. Gérard Latulippe to the board of Rights and Democracy. It is reported that Liberal Party of Canada, Mr. Michael Ignatieff, has expressed disappointment with this nomination. Mr. Paul Dewar, on behalf of the NDP, has stated that his party will not support this nomination. We also note that your government has asked opposition parties for their response by March 1 even though parliament does not resume after prorogation until March 3.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Laurence Cannon, has noted Mr. Latulippe’s qualifications for the Board. While substantive qualifications are certainly important, it is equally and crucially important to the credibility of this human rights organization that all appointments to the Board be non-partisan, not political. In the current circumstances of public controversy, we were disturbed to learn that Mr. Latulippe has longstanding political associations with key members of your government. He sat as a liberal Member of the Québec National Assembly with Mr. Laurence Cannon, the current Minister of Foreign Affairs. He also ran as a candidate for the Canadian Alliance Party under Mr. Stockwell Day, the current Minister of Public Safety. Thus, Mr. Latulippe’s proposed appointment appears to be a political appointment.

Political appointments to the board of any independent statutory organization are entirely inappropriate. Political appointments are particularly deleterious to the reputation and effectiveness of a human rights organization which relies on independence from governments and non-partisanship for successful advocacy of international human rights norms.

Therefore, we call upon your government to ensure that this organization’s board of directors is both independent from the executive and nonpartisan in composition. The International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development Act provides an appointment process that fosters independence and non-partisanship by requiring an all-party consultation on all appointments. In keeping with the spirit of this legislation, we urge and insist that your government not appoint anyone to this board without the express consent of leaders of all the opposition parties.

Given the concerns expressed publicly by the employees of Rights and Democracy, we also urge your government to ensure that all persons appointed to the Board of Rights and Democracy commit themselves to careful adherence to the principles of administrative fairness and good governance in all dealings with this organization’s employees.

Several former chairpersons of the Rights and Democracy have called for a full investigation of the conduct of the Rights and Democracy Board of Directors. We reiterate our call for an early and independent investigation to determine the facts. Given persistent allegations of high level executive pressure on this statutory organization to align its policies with the current political positions of the Conservative Party, we urge that an all-party Parliamentary investigation be convened as soon as possible after Parliament resumes on March 3. We urge that such a Committee be composed of MPs from all parties who have sound knowledge of international human rights norms and practices.