Long-Fought-For Ombudsperson Announced to Investigate International Complaints against Canadian Mining Companies

(Ottawa) Today, Canada’s International Trade Minister announced the creation of a Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise to investigate human rights complaints about the overseas operations of Canadian companies and recommend remedy for harm done.

The ombudsperson’s recommendations could include the withdrawal of Canadian government political support (such as Trade Councillor support) and financial support (such as funding or political risk insurance from Export Development Canada), as well as advice to the Government of Canada on policy and legislative changes needed to prevent mining-related harms before they occur. 

The ombudsperson will operate at arms-length from government. S/he will report to Parliament, and will have the power to compel documents and witnesses. Commented MiningWatch Canada spokesperson Catherine Coumans, “We have pushed hard for an Ombudsperson that will have robust powers to independently investigate complaints brought by people who have suffered human rights abuses as a result of the operations of Canadian mining companies abroad.”

MiningWatch has also called for a high level of transparency. “The Ombudsperson’s reports will be public and will provide their findings regarding the allegations that have been made,” said Coumans.     

“Our primary goal in working for the creation of this office has been to provide an avenue for remedy for the many mining-affected people we have been working with around the world since 1999, to investigate and validate their complaints, and to at least exclude those found to have violated human rights from Canadian government support,” said Coumans.

MiningWatch Canada started the lengthy process that led to this announcement in 2005, and together with other members of the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability, and – with the support of tens and hundreds of thousands of Canadians over the years – has continuously fought for a such an oversight body, as well as for legal accountability and respect for communities’ Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). Coumans promised, “We will continue to press the government to ensure that the Ombuds office is independent and effective, and has adequate resources to do its job, but we will also continue to push for legal accountability, FPIC, and other important elements of corporate accountability like effective anti-corruption laws.”

In 2005, MiningWatch held an international conference to find legal mechanisms to address human rights and environmental abuses by Canadian mining companies. MiningWatch also brought indigenous Subanon from Mindanao, in the Philippines, before a parliamentary committee where they pleaded for relief from the abuses they were suffering as the result of the operations of Canadian mining company TVI Pacific. That hearing led to a groundbreaking parliamentary report in 2005, which in turn led to the government establishing a “Corporate Social Responsibility Roundtables” process in 2006 and a final report in 2007 that called for the creation of an ombudsperson for the extractive sector. “It has been a long road but we are encouraged to finally see progress,” said Coumans.

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