Independence of the human rights organization, Rights and Democracy

Re: Independence of the human rights organization, Rights and Democracy

To: Prime Minister Stephen Harper

From: Catherine Morris, Gail Davidson, and Paul Copeland

Date: 2010-01-27

LRWC has become aware of a serious concern about the independence of the human rights organization, Rights and Democracy, a body created by the Canadian Parliament in 1988 to promote international human rights and democracy around the world. The International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development Act makes it clear that this body is intended to be independent of the government of the day. While board members are appointed by Governor in Council, the Statute states that all appointments to the Board are to be made “after consultation by the Minister with the Leader of the Opposition and the leader of every other recognized party in the House of Commons.” The organization is to report annually, not to the ruling political party, but to Parliament as a whole. Such processes are intended to ensure that appointments to the board are not political appointments and that the work of the organization remains independent from the ruling government’s policies and executive pressures.

LRWC is very concerned about reports of pressures on the organization to align its work with current government policies. We are extremely troubled by allegations that some influential members the Board of Directors may not be acting independently of current government policies or wishes. These allegations are of particular concern given that Rights and Democracy has,

over the years, enjoyed an excellent reputation for independence, non-partisanship and expertise. The effectiveness of human rights organizations relies on their real and perceived independence from executive branches of government and partisan politics.

We understand that no fewer than four former chairpersons of the board, Ed Broadbent, Warren Allmand, Jean-Louis Roy and Jean-Paul Hubert, have requested a full investigation of the role and conduct of the Rights and Democracy Board of Directors with a report to Parliament. In our view, the allegations of government pressure warrant an early and independent investigation to determine the facts.