Earlier this week, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird announced that the Canadian government is scrapping Rights and Democracy as part of its cost cutting measures. At first glance, the announcement seems to be a fit with the Harper government’s actions and policies, which have included:
- Misleading Parliament, more than once
- Undermining the democratic process by using control tactics, bullying, and misleading robocalls during the election campaign
- Muzzling government scientists
- Leading a war on environmentalists
- Banning the niqab during citizenship ceremonies
- Threatening to remove the charitable status of charities that advocate against government policies
But, alas, the Harper government wasn’t truly announcing that their government does not support human rights and democracy. Instead, they were announcing the closure of the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, also known as Rights and Democracy.
Rights and Democracy was founded in 1988 by the Mulroney government with a mission to “support the universal values of human rights and the promotion of democratic institutions and practices around the world”. But the agency has run into a lot of troubles in the past few years, including resignations, staff revolt, suspensions, break-ins, forensic audits and the President of the agency dying of a heart attack shortly after a contentious board meeting.
A short note on Rights and Democracy’s website publicizes its statement following the announcement:
We are aware of the intention to bring forward legislation repealing Rights & Democracy’s statute and we will act accordingly. We will not comment on the decision. We will respect it. If so directed by the Board, we will proceed with a timely and organized wind down of our operations. Our staff will be treated fairly and respectfully.
Minister Baird indicated that the function carried out by Rights and Democracy would be moved to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. NDP foreign affairs critic Hélène Laverdière, however, says that the department cannot replace the expertise found in this independent body. Liberal foreign affairs critic Dominic LeBlanc told the CBC:
This Conservative government has tried to use Rights and Democracy to advance its own ideological agenda. When that failed, they drove the organization into trouble and then killed it off as a ‘cost-cutting’ measure.
Liberal MP Carolyn Bennet told the Globe and Mail that this is in line with the Conservative government’s previous cuts of funding to the Canadian Council for International Cooperation and KAIROS.
Given the troubles at the agency, the decision to cut it may very well have been a good one. But with this government’s track record in partisan funding cuts and attacks on democratic process in this country, the motives for the decision certainly appear to be about more than simply saving money and putting a troubled organization out of its misery.
Photo credit: scazon on flickr