On Monday, Canada appeared before a UN human rights body to defend its record on protecting the rights of minority groups. ERI, MiningWatch Canada, and the University of Toronto International Human Rights Program issued a report calling on the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to denounce Canada’s ongoing failure to prevent Canadian mining and oil companies from violating human rights, especially of minorities and indigenous populations, abroad.
More than half of the world’s publicly traded mining corporations are Canadian, with 1500 companies operating 8000 properties in over 100 countries. Many of those operations are accused of fostering violence and environmental destruction, and those harmed have often had no access to a remedy.
This shouldn’t come as news to anyone—just this spring, women from communities in Papua New Guinea who say they were raped by security guards at a mine operated by successive Canadian corporations, traveled to Toronto to demand justice.
Ok…but what about discrimination?
By signing the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (“CERD”), Canada committed to eliminating direct and indirect discrimination by all persons in Canada—including legal persons like corporations.
The Committee has previously suggested that operations that disproportionately impair the rights of indigenous populations—including the right to free, prior and informed consent (i.e., to reject mining operations in their communities) violate the convention.
Take the Marlin Mine in San Miguel Ixtahuacán and Sipakapa, Guatemala, currently owned by the Canadian company GoldCorp. Large Maya Mam and Maya Sipakapense indigenous populations in the area of the mine overwhelmingly expressed their opposition to mining through a series of community consultations in 2005. This opposition was met with violence that led to the deaths of several activists.
What’s Canada doing now?
Reports of these violations have been making their way to Canada for many years, and this same committee urged Canada to do more to prevent such harms in 2012. Canada says it has a strategy for preventing and remedying such abuses, but when you look past the words on paper, what does this strategy boil down to?
The two pillars of Canadian oversight of foreign operations by its extractive sector are the National Contact Point and the Office of the Extractive Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Counsellor.
The National Contact Point receives complaints of violations of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. However, the Canadian NCP, unlike some other NCPs, chooses not to investigate complaints but only to conduct mediations. This is just not good enough when there is no trust between communities and companies, for example as between communities around the Marlin Mine and Goldcorp.
Similarly, the understaffed Office of the CSR Counsellor, tasked with advising and mediating complaints against Canadian mining companies, has only accepted six reported complaints since its creation in 2009 and none achieved a resolution, often because companies simply refused to appear. Those seeking to access the office face a range of impediments, from a lack of translation services to the knowledge that the office can only make non-binding recommendations.
Worse, Canada often actively assists companies implicated in human rights abuses. Rather than investigating and punishing these companies, the Canadian government has repeatedly provided financing from Export Development Canada and other forms of support for their operations abroad.
What should they do differently?
The UN Committee should recommend to the Canadian government that it establish an ombudsperson (a public official who represents the interests of the public by investigating and addressing violation of rights) for the extractive sector with powers to investigate alleged violations of human rights and business policies, sanction companies for non-appearance, and recommend the discontinuation of aid to companies found to be violating human rights.
The ruling Liberal Party promised to beef up enforcement of international human rights violations by Canadian companies during the 2015 campaign—now almost two years into office it has yet to make good on that promise. ERI and our partners call on the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to speak with moral clarity on this failure.