Report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women
A coalition of civil society groups (“the Coalition”) submitted this shadow report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (“the Committee”) for consideration during its 65th session and review of Canada’s combined eighth and ninth periodic reviews.
The Committee’s list of issues sought information “on current and planned initiatives to address the challenges that indigenous women and girls face, including . . . their deteriorating health and living conditions, sometimes owing to the expansion of extractive industries into their territories; and the high rates of domestic and sexual violence against them.” Under the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and specifically Articles 2(e) and 14, Canada has extraterritorial obligations to regulate the activity of its corporations operating abroad and to provide effective remedies to individuals harmed by such activity. Canada is not meeting its obligations. Canadian extractive companies are regularly implicated in human rights violations in countries around the world. Despite knowledge of these allegations, Canada’s state report does not touch upon these obligations or the steps Canada is taking to ensure its corporations are not involved in conduct that discriminates against women. This submission focuses on the deteriorating health and living conditions of women affected by extractive corporations registered, headquartered, or conducting substantial business activity in Canada (“Canadian corporations”) and operating abroad to show that Canada is failing to uphold its obligations imposed by the Convention.
Allegations against Canadian extractive corporations involving discrimination against women include environmental degradation and exposure to toxic waste, and affecting the local communities’ ability to grow food, and use and drink the water, in violation of their right to health and right to enjoy adequate living conditions under Article 14 of the Convention. In many cases, advocates and victims have reported physical and sexual violence committed by the corporations’ security personnel, contractors and sometimes police, guarding mines under agreements with States, in violation of Articles 1 and 3.
Despite calls for the Canadian government to more aggressively regulate companies under its jurisdiction and ensure that victims of corporate-related human rights abuses have access to remedies in Canada, an accountability gap still exists. Rather than taking steps to prevent and remedy such abuses, the Canadian government supports the extractive industry, including companies accused of human rights abuses, through, amongst other things, economic diplomacy, development aid (Official Development Assistance (ODA)) or financial loans from Export Development Canada (EDC). Moreover, it is challenging to bring these cases in Canadian courts, which limits victims’ ability to hold Canadian companies accountable, and receive effective remedies.
In order for Canada to uphold its Convention obligations, the Coalition makes the following recommendations, which are further expanded upon in the Recommendations section:
- Ombudsperson – Canada should create an Ombudsperson office for the extractive industries.
- Access to judicial remedies – Canada should facilitate access to Canadian courts for women who have been harmed by the international operations of Canadian companies.
- Parent company liability – Canada should enact legislation establishing automatic parent company liability for the actions of their subsidiaries, with the purpose of avoiding human rights violations and ensuring accountability when violations occur. Canada should affirm, through legislation, corporations’ duties to respect the human rights of individuals and communities affected by their activities, including outside Canada.
- Investigate and prosecute – Canada must investigate credible allegations of gender-based violence connected with the operations Canadian corporations outside Canada, and prosecute cases where merited.
- Government support – Canada must implement binding legislation to ensure that all public agencies have a legal obligation to ensure human rights are respected prior to providing any kind of support, and support must be withdrawn from companies that do not respect these rights.
 U.N. CEDAW Com., List of issues in relation to the combined eighth and ninth periodic reports of Canada, ¶ 16, U.N. Doc. CEDAW/C/CAN/Q/8-9 (Mar. 16, 2016).
 U.N. CEDAW Com., Gen. Rec. No. 28 on the core obligations of States Parties under article 2 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, ¶¶ 36, 37(b), U.N. Doc. CEDAW/C/GC/28, (Oct. 19, 2010), http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cedaw/docs/CEDAW-C-2010-47-GC2.pdf [hereinafter GR No. 28]; U.N. CEDAW Com., Gen. Rec. No. 34 (2016) on the rights of rural women, ¶ 13, U.N. Doc. CEDAW/C/GC/34, (Mar. 7, 2016), https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N16/061/90/PDF/N1606190.pdf?OpenElement [hereinafter GR No. 34].
 References to human rights throughout this report are inclusive of environmental and indigenous rights.