Media Release: KAIROS and overseas partners cautiously optimistic about new Canadian human rights watchdog
Minister of International Trade announces long-overdue human rights Ombudsperson
Spanish and French versions of this press release are available at the bottom of this page.
(Toronto, ON) – KAIROS and its overseas partners are greatly encouraged by the Honourable Minister of International Trade’s announcement today regarding the creation of the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Business Enterprise, billed as the first of its kind in the world. The position will hold Canadian mining companies and their subsidiaries, as well as the oil and gas and garment sectors, accountable for human rights violations at their overseas operations.
The human rights Ombudsperson will investigate complaints concerning the overseas operations of Canadian companies and will make public findings on allegations of harm. The office will make recommendations for redress regarding corporate eligibility for government services, and with respect to policy and law reform.
It is important that the Ombudsperson be fully independent from business and government with the power to compel documents. Working with the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability (CNCA), KAIROS will closely follow the development of this new position.
This announcement comes nearly a decade since industry and civil society leaders recommended such an office and three years after the CNCA, of which KAIROS is a member, launched the Open for Justice campaign. Since then, more than 100,000 Canadians and hundreds of civil society organizations from Canada and abroad have added their voice to the call for a human rights Ombudsperson.
For years, KAIROS and its international partners have called on Canada to hold its mining companies accountable for charges of violations that include contaminated water supplies, dispossession, intimidation, beatings, rapes, and murder from company security forces and military personal.
KAIROS has sponsored numerous delegations to impacted communities in the Global South to hear these accounts and to meet with mining officials. KAIROS has also hosted partner representatives and delegates from impacted areas, and arranged meetings with Canadians and Parliamentarians.
In March 2017, KAIROS organized a five-member delegation from the Philippines that included two Indigenous women leaders from mining affected communities in Mindanao. The delegation spoke of militarization and human rights violations in mining affected Indigenous communities, and the inaccessibility of the local judicial system to provide remedy.
KAIROS partners, particularly Indigenous women, have highlighted the unique impacts of large-scale resource extraction on women. Resource extraction is often associated with increases in
violence against women, and negative social, ecological, and economic impacts that women often feel first and most acutely. Canada has a responsibility to ensure gender-based violence is prevented. An Ombudsperson should help Canada meet this responsibility.
In officially adopting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), Canada also has a responsibility to ensure that Indigenous communities are properly consulted, and that their right to free, prior and informed consent regarding imining projects on their land is respected.
The Ombudsperson will replace the controversial Office of the Extractive Sector Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Counsellor, which the Canadian government established in 2010 and retained in 2014 after a lengthy review. According to the CNCA, Canadian mining companies did not cooperate with the CSR Counsellor’s grievance mechanism process, which had no teeth to hold them to account.
Independent investigation is the core function of an Ombudsperson. To effectively investigate allegations of human rights abuse, an Ombudsperson requires the authority to summon witnesses and compel the production of documents. An effective Ombudsperson must operate autonomously from Global Affairs Canada, including in the administration of its operational budget.
A Multi-Stakeholder Advisory Board (MSAB) has also been created and will provide advice to the Minister and Global Affairs Canada on matters related to the responsible business conduct and human rights due diligence of Canadian companies operating abroad. The MSAB will include members nominated by the CNCA and industry.
In addition to the Ombudsperson, KAIROS and other CNCA members urge the federal government to facilitate access to Canadian courts for overseas plaintiffs who claim harm by the actions of Canadian companies.
“No matter whether they’re in Canada, Guatemala, or the Philippines, Indigenous peoples share that common sense of commitment to the land.It forms who they are and so when that land is harmed, they feel it in their bodies, in their minds, and in their souls. It is a deep violation.” – Jennifer Henry, Executive Director, KAIROS Canada.
“An Ombudsperson must have within its mandate the capacity to prioritize and protect women who often raise their voices in concern about the impacts of mining on their families and communities, and who in doing so risk persecution and criminalization.” Rachel Warden, KAIROS’ Women of Courage & Latin America Partnerships Coordinator.
“The CNCA wants to ensure that the new human rights ombudsperson has the powers and independence necessary to secure its credibility with all stakeholders, including the overseas communities impacted by Canadian companies.” Emily Dywer of the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability.
“It is very important to allow people in communities displaced by Canadian mining companies to use some mechanism in Canada to make these companies accountable. The Philippines is still a country where the so-called rule of law is only for the elite and big business. For ordinary farmers and Indigenous people the rule of law is meaningless. To make mining companies accountable it is important to create the office of an independent Ombudsperson that can investigate and file cases against big mining companies.” – Carlos Zarate, a Member of Philippine Congress and Chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources.
“It’s not that men don’t live the impacts of mining, but women live it in a different way. We think it’s much more violent. When we see that women are sexually harassed, raped, persecuted in the community…. Research shows that when a mine or a big development comes in, that it’s usually women that are impacted.” – Natalia Atz Sunuc Honourary witness of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (2013), Maya Kaqchikel human rights defender, Guatemala.
“I support the creation of an Ombudsman to hold Canadian mining companies accountable. In the event that the rights of local people are not respected, the Ombudsperson should recommend that the Canadian government withdraw all economic and political support from such companies located here in the Democratic Republic of Congo.” Chantal Bilulu, Coordinator of the Women and Children’s Program Héritiers of Justice, Democratic Republic of Congo.
About KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives
KAIROS is a faith-based social justice organization of ten Canadian churches and religious organizations. We focus on Indigenous rights, international human rights, and ecological and gender justice. We deliberate on issues of common concern, advocate for social change and join with people of faith and goodwill in action for social transformation. Learn more: www.kairoscanada.org.
Cheryl McNamara, Media Coordinator, KAIROS Canada
877-403-8933 x 246, firstname.lastname@example.org