Rights and Democracy to Be Shut Down

April 4, 2012 Updated: April 4, 2012

After years of controversy, Rights and Democracy, the federally funded human rights agency, will be shut down.

The agency, which was created by an act of Parliament and operated at arm’s length from the government, has been plagued by years of infighting within its board and tension with the government.

The agency’s website has already been effectively shut down, containing only a single message: “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.”

The International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, a national coalition of 40 civil society organizations, issued a statement decrying the move.

“It is the final step in the government’s record of emasculating Rights and Democracy itself, and a further attempt to suppress honest and expert voices in Canada who speak for human and civil rights,” said Dominique Peschard, co-chair of the coalition.

Among other things, Rights and Democracy had been working with the Chinese Communist Party’s top school for training future Party leaders, a move controversial within its board due to concerns it was legitimizing an entity central to the regime and its escalating human rights abuses.

The move has been decried by opposition parties. Liberal MP Irwin Cotler decried the move as a step back.

“It is troubling, indeed shocking, that the Government did not even deign to propose an alternative mechanism for defending human rights and democracy worldwide – this is a sad day for the promotion and protection of human rights and international justice,” he said.

The government says it will move the work of promoting democracy and human rights into the Department of Foreign Affairs.