Canada creates independent Ombudsperson & multi-stakeholder advisory body to strengthen responsible business conduct abroad

In January 2018, Canada's Minister of International Trade announced two new responsible business initiatives for Canadian companies doing business and operating abroad. The first is the creation of an independent Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE) and the second is a multi-stakeholder Advisory Body to advise the Government and the CORE on responsible business conduct abroad.

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24 January 2019

Top court weighs precedent-setting case of human rights breaches at Canadian mine in Eritrea

Author: Kathleen Harris, CBC News

The Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments today in what could be a precedent-setting case for Canadian companies that do business abroad... B.C.-based mining company Nevsun Resources Ltd. is being sued for its alleged complicity in the forced labour, slavery and torture of workers at the Bisha gold, zinc and copper mine in Eritrea... Nevsun lawyer Mark Andrews said today it is "beyond debate" that the fundamental complaint is about the conduct of Eritrea, and warned of the dangers of having a Canadian court pass judgment on the acts of a foreign state.

... Last year, the Liberal government announced new initiatives to strengthen Canada's approach to responsible business conduct for Canadian companies operating abroad, including a new office of the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise. A year later, the position remains vacant... NDP MP Peter Julian has proposed a private member's bill that would give the Federal Court authority to hear civil cases involving alleged human rights abuses involving Canadian companies operating abroad.

... Paul Champ, a lawyer for Amnesty International Canada... said the case points to a "new problem" that has emerged in the last 20 years about corporate responsibility amid increased globalization. "Broadening activities by corporations have not been addressed thus far, and it's our submission that this is how the common law must evolve to address that problem," he said.

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22 January 2019

Canada: Human rights groups concerned about powers for long-delayed Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise

Author: Peter Mazereeuw, The Hill Times

"Human rights groups concerned about powers for long-delayed mining, textile ombudsman," 21 Jan 2019. Subscription only.

The government is getting ready to finally appoint its ombudsperson for responsible enterprise, a year after it announced a plan to do so, but some human rights advocates close to the file are concerned that it is under pressure to go back on its promise to give the new watchdog powers to compel documents and testimony... “We have not been given clear assurances that these will indeed be endowed upon the ombudsperson,” said Catherine Coumans, a research coordinator for Mining Watch Canada... The government committed, when it announced a year ago... to give the ombudsperson powers to compel documents and testimony if he or she launches a formal investigation of a Canadian company.

... The Mining Association of Canada has made clear to the government that it does not approve of giving the new ombudsperson the powers to compel documents and testimony. MAC president and CEO Pierre Gratton hold The Hill Times that doing so would set the ombudsperson up to be “adversarial” with industry, a role better suited to the court system... Mr. Carr told the House of Commons on Dec. 11 that he would be announcing the appointment “very soon.” The interview process for applicants to the job posting has been completed, said... John Ruggie... The ombudsperson’s office, as announced, will attempt to supervise the overseas work of companies in Canada’s textiles, oil and gas, and mining sectors, expanding to cover even more industries after its first year.

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17 December 2018

Letter from 240 activists & organizations from 56 countries expresses urgency of appointing the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise

Author: 240 activists & organizations

We are writing to express our support for the creation of a Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE) which was announced 10 months ago, and to express to you the critical urgency of appointing this ombudsperson. We, the 240 undersigned activists and organizations from 56 countries, have been working for many years defending the human rights of communities affected by the activities of natural resource extraction companies around the world. We welcome your government’s commitment to responsible business conduct abroad by Canadian companies. We ask you to take action quickly to name the ombudsperson, and to ensure that this office will have the power and resources to independently investigate, report, recommend remedies, and oversee the implementation of remedies for victims of human rights and environmental violations caused by the activities of Canadian mining companies abroad.

An effective ombudsperson would allow for people and communities that have been harmed by the activities of Canadian mining, oil and gas, and garment sectors to have access to justice, and could ensure that further abuses by Canadian companies would be prevented. Appointing the ombudsperson quickly will ensure that Canada’s progressive policy for business is concretely implemented, and would show your country’s leadership on business and human rights.

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17 December 2018

Over 200 organizations from 56 countries ask, “Where is Canada’s Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise?”

Author: Development and Peace

Today, on International Human Rights Day, over 200 organizations from 56 countries around the world have sent a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau asking, “Where is Canada’s Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise?” The Canadian government announced the creation of this office in January 2018, but has yet to appoint anyone to the position... “Canadians across the country, including thousands of our members, worked for over a decade to convince the Canadian government that a voice for justice for communities affected by Canadian mining companies was needed” said Serge Langlois, Executive Director of Development and Peace.  “An independent and effective Ombudsperson should be put in place urgently to ensure that Canadian companies are accountable to the people who have been harmed.”... The Canadian Ombudsperson will be empowered to independently investigate alleged human rights abuses arising from a Canadian company’s operations abroad, and to recommend sanctions, including the withdrawal of government services, such as trade advocacy and Export Development Canada support.

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3 December 2018

Mining affected communities denounce lack of progress by Canadian govt. to appoint Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise

Author: Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability, MiningWatch Canada & Amnesty International

"Press release: Mining affected communities ask, "Where is Canada's Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise?" 28 Nov 2018

2018 has been another dangerous year for human rights defenders seeking justice in cases involving large extraction companies, including Canadian companies. At the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights this week, mining affected communities from Guatemala and Papua New Guinea are asking “where is Canada’s Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise?” The Canadian government committed to create this mechanism more than ten months ago and has yet to appoint anyone to the post... [T]hirty-five Canadian civil society organizations, as well as overseas communities affected by Canadian mining companies, are denouncing the lack of action and progress. “Companies must live up to their responsibilities to respect human rights and must be held accountable when they harm people,” said Angelica Choc, a Maya-Q’eqchi’ human rights defender from Guatemala... “There are so many men and women in our place who have suffered from violent acts by the mine’s security and we have nowhere to turn for justice,” said Joycelyn Mandi, one of many women directly impacted by security forces of Barrick Gold’s mine in their community of Porgera, Papua New Guinea. “Our legal system is weak and it is very hard to go to court overseas. We have written to the Canadian government to create a strong Ombudsperson, but we are losing even that hope.”

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5 June 2018

Canada recruits first-ever Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise

Author: Government of Canada

The creation of an independent Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE) was announced in January 2018. The CORE will be mandated to investigate allegations of human rights abuses linked to Canadian corporate activity abroad. The CORE will seek to assist wherever possible in collaboratively resolving disputes or conflicts between impacted communities and Canadian companies. It will be empowered to independently investigate, report, recommend remedy and monitor its implementation... In addition to its ability to undertake collaborative and independent fact-finding, the Ombudsperson will promote respect for human rights and responsible business conduct, and the adoption and implementation of best practices by Canadian business.

... Review of applications will begin on June 26, 2018. Candidates must apply online via the Governor in Council Appointments website... Your cover letter should be addressed to the Deputy Director of Selection Processes, Senior Personnel Secretariat, Privy Council Office, and should be sent only through the online application. [More information about eligibility requirements and desirable qualifications is available here.]

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6 February 2018

Mexican activists call for investigation of Canadian diplomats' alleged support of mining co accused of rights abuses

Author: Bill Curry, The Globe and Mail

"Mexican activists ask Ottawa to investigate alleged support of mining firm," 6 February 2018

A delegation of activists from Mexico – including the son of a community leader who was murdered after raising concerns with the Canadian embassy – are calling for an investigation into the actions of diplomats who allegedly supported a Canadian mining company accused of human-rights abuses... The call for an investigation comes on the heels of a major announcement by International Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne that Canada will create a new watchdog position with a mandate to investigate human-rights complaints against Canadian companies operating in other countries... Advocates from Mexico expressed concern on Tuesday with the government's plan, noting that the new watchdog – officially known as the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise – will only investigate complaints after the fact. The advocates said Canada needs to set clearer rules to prevent embassies from supporting companies that are engaged in questionable activities. "Our concern with the new announcement of the ombudsperson is that it will fail to give communities and affected people access to justice," said Michel Mijangos, of the Mexican Network of Mining Affected People.

... MiningWatch Canada has been working with local human-rights advocates for several years, raising concerns over the relationship between Canadian diplomats in Mexico and Blackfire Exploration. The Calgary-based junior-mining company operated a barite mine in Chicomuselo, Chiapas from 2007-09, when it was shut down shortly after a local opponent of the mine, Mariano Abarca, was murdered in a drive-by shooting...The company, which is no longer active, has long denied any involvement in Mr. Abarca's death. [In 2010, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited Blackfire Exploration to respond to this allegation; the response is available here.]

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26 January 2018

Commentary: The promise and limitations of the new Canadian Business and Human Rights Ombudsperson

Author: Mora Johnson

... A key unanswered question in the Government’s announcement is how an Ombudsperson can be created without statutory powers, duties and safeguards... It is anticipated that a properly constituted Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise would offer a real public service in resolving human rights claims.  Three promising benefits [include that]... an Ombudsperson will be able to help parties expeditiously resolve claims... [and] can help bring fairness and credibility to a mutually-agreed-upon settlement... Second, when companies are accused of harms they have not committed or subject to exaggerated claims, it can be very difficult for them to effectively put the allegations to rest.  After an adequate fact-finding process, the Ombudsperson could issue a credible finding that a claim is unfounded... Third, the Ombudsperson can review and address systemic issues.  Where a number of situations are identified with similar or identical concerns, the Ombudsperson can review and issue broader recommendations with the aim of improving the performance of all Canadian companies.  

... Certain types of claims may be too multilayered and complex for an Ombudsperson process located in a different jurisdiction.  In the extractive sector context, there are cases where the denial of human rights goes back generations and the primary abusers are home state governments. There are examples of Indigenous groups, without formal recognition of land rights by their own governments, which have been slowly dispossessed of their ancestral property and other resources since colonial times. If the mining company is merely a recent player in a long drama of marginalization, a much broader process involving host states and local governments will be required to find resolution. 

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18 January 2018

Canadian miners welcome new federal business ethics ombudsman

Author: Henry Lazenby, Mining Weekly

...“It’s essential that our mines and businesses are operating in a way that is respectful of human rights. That does not only apply to mining, but to all businesses, and what we’ve advocated for this ombudsman to apply to our business,” Mining Association of Canada (MAC) VP for sustainable development Ben Chalmers told Mining Weekly Online...

Chalmers explains that the office will be another tool that the Canadian government now has at its disposal to enforce good business practice.

This also dovetails with the MAC’s efforts to promote its Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) initiative in other jurisdictions. To date, mining associations in FinlandArgentinaBotswana and the Philippines have also adopted versions of the TSM principles and Chalmers says it is working with several more jurisdictions to sign on to the programme, which is built around ethical best business practices...

Canadian precious metals company Tahoe Resources in a separate statement welcomed the creation of CORE.

"We applaud the government's announcement today to appoint a human rights ombudsperson to oversee Canadian mining and other industries abroad. Independent oversight will strengthen best practices, ensure transparency within the mining industry and promote safe and responsible mining operations in Canada and abroad. Today's action is a positive step forward for the Canadian mining and extractive industry and we look forward to working with the new ombudsperson,” Tahoe president and CEO Ron Claytonsays in a statement...

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17 January 2018

Barrick comments on creation of Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise

Author: Barrick Gold

At Barrick, we partner with host governments and communities to transform their natural resources into sustainable benefits and mutual prosperity. Relationships built on trust and respect are at the heart of our ability to operate successfully—relationships with host communities and governments, civil society, industry peers, our employees, and others.

Accountability and respect for human rights are central to our values as a Company, and are enshrined in robust policies and procedures that apply to all of our operations around the world. In addition, Canadian mining companies, including Barrick, are subject to a stringent framework of national and international standards and regulations that ensure strong accountability across the sector.

We support the Government of Canada’s announcement of an additional accountability mechanism for Canadian businesses operating overseas, focused on dialogue and conflict resolution. We look forward to engaging with the ombudsperson in a transparent and constructive manner, to assure Canadians that mining activities continue to generate economic and social benefits for host communities and governments, while respecting human rights.

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