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1 Apr 2023

Tavia Grant, The Globe and Mail

Canada: Investigation reveals Canadian Ombudsperson office meant to hold companies accountable for abuses has yet to fulfill that responsibility

"Investigation: Hollow core" 1 Apr. 2023

... In 2018, the government announced that it would create the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise, an office it said would have robust powers to demand answers and shame laggard companies operating abroad.

Canada is home to an outsized number of companies in the extractive sector ... and the CORE was touted by the Liberals as a watchdog befitting of the country’s standing in the global economy. But despite promises that the office would be given investigatory powers – such as the ability to compel the production of documents – that never happened.

... [I]n its four years in operation, The Globe found that the CORE, which has an annual budget of $4.9-million, has yet to complete a single investigation.

... The Globe has recorded more than 50 instances [of human rights abuses] in 30 countries in the last five years alone, based on media reports, NGOs, academic reports and legal documents. The majority involve the mining sector, but they are also in the oil and gas, manufacturing and apparel industries.

... [A]s a result of the CORE’s inadequacies, many of the human-rights groups that clamoured for the creation of such a watchdog have turned their backs on the project entirely.

... When parliamentarians held hearings in 2021 to consider the CORE’s mandate, in response to criticism about its effectiveness, it heard testimony from Aymara Leon Cepeda, an official from Puinamudt, an umbrella organization for various Indigenous groups of the Amazon. She specifically called out Frontera for not responding swiftly to spills and lamented the fact that the CORE – which she said had a “lack of power” – wasn’t an office worth approaching to address that inaction.

... In a two-paragraph statement in response to The Globe’s questions, Frontera – which also has operations in Colombia, Ecuador and Guyana – said it is committed to “conducting business safely and in a socially, environmentally and ethically responsible manner.” It noted that an abandonment plan for the block “has been coordinated with the government of Peru and with all the stakeholders involved, including local communities in the area.” The company “is honoring its contractual commitments and will continue to comply with its outstanding social and environmental obligations.”

... Indigenous leaders there also point a finger at the Canadian government. In their open letter to Frontera, they stated that the company still has obligations to address the contamination, and that Canada, as the home state for the company, is “responsible for the impacts that its subsidiaries are generating in our ancestral territories...We expect it will take measures to guarantee reparation and prevent the repetition of such actions.”

... In February [2023], ombudsperson Ms. Meyerhoffer told MPs that the CORE is currently handling 15 complaints. Thirteen of those are in the Xinjiang region in China, which were originally filed last year and relate to forced labour. Another complaint, filed in November, alleges abuse of the right to a living wage by two Canadian companies operating in Bangladesh.

... To date, not a single case has been completed, meaning there have been zero investigations or reviews finished in the CORE’s four years of operating. And though the organization can recommend sanctions to companies – such as the withdrawal of trade services or Export Development Canada financing – and it can “name and shame” companies that are refusing to co-operate or are found to have violated human rights, it appears it has not done so.