Turmoil and Meddling at the Foundation for Canadian Studies in the UK

Since the new year began, just six-and-a-half weeks ago, considerable changes have been made to the direction of the Foundation for Canadian Studies in the UK. Earlier in the month, the High Commission, which collaborates with this UK charity, added four new members to the board, signalling that problems were afoot. Last week, another four members of the board resigned as a faction of the board (bolstered by the new members) motioned (successfully) towards the removal of Rachel Killick, an emeritus professor of Canadian and French studies. These board members are well known to Canadian academics: historian Margaret MacMillan, Canada 2020 advisor Diana Carney, and UK-based Canadian Studies professors Steve Hewitt and Susan Hodgett. The details of the trouble at the Foundation for Canadian Studies can be found on The Globe and MailThe National Post, and Christopher Moore’s History NewsIn an effort to better understand this situation, below we repost the notice that Steve Hewitt distributed on Facebook explaining his decision to leave the board:

Dear friends (especially those working on Canada in the UK.)

Last June I became a trustee on the board for the Foundation for Canadian Studies in the UK. It is a charity established in the 1970s to provide support for those dedicated to educating the British public about Canada. As such, the Foundation has played a crucial role in supporting Canadian studies in Canada over these decades. Unfortunately, that role may now be at an end (see the story below).

What has occurred over the last few months has been an effort at redirecting the Foundation toward supporting activities with more “impact” or “influence.” This has been encouraged by business members of the board, but especially driven forward by the Canadian High Commission and, specifically, the Canadian High Commissioner, Gordon Campbell. Most of the academics on the board have been resisting this shift which, in effect, would see the Foundation become the funder of neo-liberal talking shops on the part of London–based business elites. Both Prof. Rachel Killick and Dr. Susan Hodgett have been leading a courageous struggle in the face of intense pressure from the High Commission, the High Commissioner, and the business board members.

Things reached a crisis point in December when on short notice before a scheduled meeting in London, we were sent a letter signed by Gordon Campbell informing us that the High Commission was exercising its right to appoint additional trustees to the Foundation board. This it did in January as it appointed 4 new members, 3 of who work at the High Commission. Since the Foundation no longer has charitable status in Canada, this means the Canadian government is playing a leading role in the running of a private British charity. Under UK charity rules, non-UK taxpayers, which applies to 2 of the High Commission appointees, are not allowed to be trustees for British charities.

Despite now having a clear majority of votes on the board, the High Commission apparently felt things were moving too slowly toward a new, and still largely undefined, future for the Foundation. On 4 February, Mark Richardson, the Foundation’s acting chair and a Trade Counsellor with Foreign Affairs, met Rachel Killick in Leeds to give her an ultimatum that he said came from Gordon Campbell: resign or a motion would be introduced at an emergency board meeting to have her removed. He told her she was too “legalistic” as a justification for her removal. Rachel refused to resign and on 6 February the resolution, proposed by 1 High Commission employee and seconded by 2 others, was introduced and the emergency meeting called for 13 February. That led directly on Saturday to the resignation from the board of Prof. Margaret MacMillan of Oxford University and Diana Carney, think-tank advisor and wife of the Governor of the Bank of England. I resigned on Sunday (see my resignation letter below) and Susan Hodgett resigned on Monday. The meeting still went ahead and, as promised, Rachel was removed, leaving only 1 academic, a professor of Veterinary Science, remaining on the board and the future direction of the Foundation uncertain and unconnected to its past support of Canadian studies. The potential loss of the Foundation coupled with the cancelling of the Understanding Canada programme by the Harper government is one more nail in the coffin of Canadian studies in the UK.

Dear Mark Richardson,

Regretfully, I am writing to you to inform you of my resignation as a trustee with the Foundation for Canadian Studies in the United Kingdom. I feel that I have no choice but to take this step in response to the bullying way that a fellow trustee, Rachel Killick, has been treated. Rachel has had a long and distinguished academic career and has been a crucial champion for Canadian and Quebec studies in the United Kingdom. Furthermore, she has been a hard-working and dedicated trustee for the Foundation. To see then such a person be given an ultimatum to resign or be removed from the Board not because of any malfeasance on her part but because she has been a strong advocate for the Foundation living up to its charitable mandate, its rules, and its past practices is shocking, insulting, and completely unacceptable. Such an approach, alongside similar incidents such as the decision in December to cancel a scheduled meeting at short notice without consulting the Board, speaks to a lack of democracy around the operations of the Foundation and raises concerns about its current and future governance.

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