POLITICS
04/03/2012 01:45 EDT | Updated 06/03/2012 05:12 EDT

Conservatives announce plans to shut down divided rights and democracy agency

OTTAWA - The Conservative government announced Tuesday it will shut down a strife-torn organization created to promote human rights and support democratic institutions abroad.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said it was time to put the troubles that have bedevilled the Montreal-based Rights and Democracy agency since Stephen Harper's Conservative government replaced most of the members running the organization two years ago.

Rights and Democracy, which was created by Brian Mulroney's government in 1988, was hobbled over accusations of partisanship on its board and complaints about unfair treatment of staff, including its former president.

The former president, Remy Beauregard, suffered a heart attack and died after a contentious meeting of the group's board in January 2010. Resignations, a mysterious break-in and an audit that cleared Beauregard of any wrongdoing followed that meeting.

"There have been many, many problems at this agency for some time," Baird said Tuesday in the Commons. "These problems are very well known. What we’re simply doing is taking that important project of Rights and Democracy, of freedom, and bringing that within our department."

"It's high time to put those problems behind us and move forward."

Baird says the closure is part of the government's efforts to cut costs and eliminate the deficit.

"Legislation will be introduced in the near future to do so and its functions will be brought within Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada," he said in a statement.

"We would like to thank the staff and the board of directors for their service. Today's announcement gives us a clean slate to move forward."

Aurel Braun, the Conservative-appointed head of the organization, resigned from the agency last month. Rights and Democracy released its own statement Tuesday.

"We are aware of the intention to bring forward legislation repealing Rights and Democracy's statute and we will act accordingly," the statement said.

"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."

The agency's latest annual report shows it received about $11 million from the federal government in 2010-11.