Former politician tabbed to take over troubled rights group

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OTTAWA - The federal government is trying to restore order at a troubled rights agency by appointing a former Quebec politician and respected international activist as its new head.
The opposition isn't buying it.
Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon has nominated Gerard Latulippe, a former Quebec Liberal who also ran for the Canadian Alliance federally in 2000, to take over at the tumultuous Rights and Democracy agency.
"I fully believe that Mr. Latulippe is the ideal candidate to return Rights and Democracy to the promotion of Canadian values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law," Cannon said.
The nomination hit political roadblocks within hours.
Cannon must consult the opposition parties on Latulippe's appointment. He said he hopes the new appointee can be in place by mid-March.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff dismissed the government's move, saying it had turned the agency upside down by stacking the board with conservative directors and now wants to compound the problem.
"Our view is that the Conservative government started this process of chaos by appointing a board of governors that basically waged war on the organization it was charged to look after," he said.
"Their solution is to appoint an ex-Alliance party candidate. Do you think that's going to solve the problem? I think it's going to make the problem worse."
Paul Dewar of the NDP said his party won't support the nomination.
"Until such time as we've been able to have an inquiry at the foreign affairs committee about what's happening at Rights and Democracy, it's premature to support any nomination," he said.
Ignatieff also wants the committee to look into the whole mess.
"We ought to have Lawrence Cannon before the parliamentary foreign affairs committee explaining what the heck's going on."
Latulippe is currently resident director for the National Democratic Institute in Haiti and has worked with the institute in countries across north and central Africa.
The institute is a Washington-based, non-profit, non-partisan organization with teams working in 79 countries to support and strengthen democratic institutions.
Latulippe is a 65-year-old lawyer and a former Quebec solicitor general and minister of public safety, who served in the provincial cabinet with Cannon.
Rights and Democracy has been in turmoil for months as factions on the board jockeyed for control and squabbled over the funding of rights groups critical of Israeli policies.
Some Tory-appointed board members clashed with Remy Beauregard, the body's president, accusing him of an anti-Israel bias.
After his sudden death from a heart attack, things fell apart.
The staff announced they had no confidence in the board. Three senior staffers, including one who has been with the agency since 1990, were suspended. Beauregard's family called for a public inquiry. Two board members quit.
Payam Akhavan, a McGill University law professor who was one of the directors who bailed out, wasn't enthusiastic about Cannon's move.
"The appointment may alleviate some of the problems, but there are still allegations of serious wrongdoing that need to be addressed," he said.
In the aftermath of the board uproar, a group of non-government organizations (NGOs) accused the Conservative government of trying to gag legitimate criticism of Israel by meddling in what is supposed to be an independent body.
Aurel Braun, the board chairman appointed by the Harper government in March, has called the one Israeli and two Palestinian rights groups whose funding was cut "toxic organizations that are at the forefront of demonizing and dehumanizing Israel."
A host of international NGOs signed a letter describing Braun's comments as a "public smear campaign."
Yet Cannon said he hasn't lost confidence in the board.
"The Canadian government has complete trust in the board of directors to manage the future of Rights and Democracy."
That, Dewar said, is part of what's wrong.
"The minister says he supports the board and that's a problem for him. It's a runaway board."

Organizations: Canadian Alliance, Democracy agency, NDP National Democratic Institute McGill University

Geographic location: Quebec, OTTAWA, Israel Haiti Africa

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