The Canadian government is not upholding its obligations to protect women against human rights abuses, according to a report submitted yesterday by EarthRights International (ERI), MiningWatch Canada and the Human Rights Research and Education Centre Human Rights Clinic at the University of Ottawa. The report, submitted to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), charges that Canada has been supporting and financing mining companies involved in discrimination, rape, and violence against women in their operations abroad, when it should be holding those companies accountable for the abuse.
A majority of the world’s mining companies, operating at over 8000 sites in over 100 countries, are headquartered in Canada. Many of these mines are also sites of serious human rights violations, including direct violence against local women and environmental degradation that destroys women’s ability to support their families. One recent study found that Canada’s mining companies are involved in such abuses and conflict more than any other country’s.
At Papua New Guinea’s Porgera gold mine, operated for years by Canadian miner Barrick Gold, local women have accused mine security personnel of a decades-long campaign of violations including systemic sexual violence and brutal gang rape.
“The allegations against Canadian corporations are not isolated incidents,” says Marco Simons, General Counsel at ERI. “There is a systemic pattern of reported abuses associated with Canadian extractive sector companies operating outside Canada.” While some women have received remedies, or are pursuing litigation in Canada, most women have not. Women face barriers in accessing justice in both their home countries and Canada.
Under CEDAW, Canada is obligated to take appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination of any women by national corporations operating in other countries, and is required to do so by taking measures to prevent, prohibit and punish violations by those corporations. It also requires them to provide effective remedies to victims of such violations.
“Despite calls from civil society, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, individual Members of Parliament, and numerous U.N. treaty bodies to take proper legislative action to regulate its corporations, ensure accountability for involvement in harm and access to a remedy for victims of corporate related abuse,” said Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada, “Canada has failed to do so.”
Canada’s current approach is failing to stop and remedy abuse. Instead of regulating its corporations and preventing them from discriminating against women, Canada supports its mining companies. Export Development Canada provides financial loans to companies associated with alleged human rights violations; and Canadian development aid is used to expand the extractive industries’ operations abroad.
Canada is actively trying to take a leadership role at the UN. In announcing that Canada will compete for a seat on the Security Council, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, “it’s time for Canada to step up once again.” But Canada has not shown leadership in protecting women from abuses by its mining companies.
“With this submission, our organizations hope that Canada and other home States implement mechanisms to assure that private extractive companies respect environmental standards and the human rights of women,” says Salvador Herencia-Carrasco, Director of the Human Rights Clinic at the Human Rights Research and Education Centre.