Trudeau Government Drops Writ and Publishes Revised Ombudsperson Mandate, Again Fails to Provide Necessary Powers to Investigate Corporate Abuse of Human Rights

(Ottawa) In the final days of the Trudeau government it quietly published a revision of the mandate of the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE) – once again failing to address the main concerns raised by MiningWatch Canada and many other civil society members.

The original Order-in-Council mandate was published in April of this year when the government announced the appointment of Sheri Meyerhoffer as the office’s first ombudsperson. Since then MiningWatch, other members of the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability, and Professor Surya Deva of the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights  have repeatedly pointed out that the Ombuds’ mandate fails to provide the most critical characteristics of an ombudsperson tasked with investigating allegations of human rights abuses by Canadian corporations operating overseas: independence and the powers to compel witnesses and documents.

The Government of Canada’s question and answer page on the ombudsperson still commits the government to providing the office with “all the tools required to ensure compliance with information requests – including the compelling of witnesses and documents – in the hopefully very rare circumstances where a company is not fully and appropriately cooperating.”

Minister Carr announced on April 8, 2019, that the government had commissioned a legal brief to advise the government on “the appropriateness of the Inquiries Act as a tool to provide the CORE with powers to compel witnesses and documents on an ongoing basis.” It was to be completed by early June. The legal advice has been in the government’s hands for months now and we have every reason to believe that it confirms that the CORE can be provided the necessary investigative powers through the Inquiries Act.

“We need answers,” says MiningWatch spokesperson Catherine Coumans. She asks, “Why has the government failed to release the legal study it commissioned? Why has the government revised the ombudsperson’s Order-in-Council in the dying days of its mandate, but again failed to give her the necessary powers to compel evidence?”

The ongoing failure by Minister Carr to answer these questions leads to only one conclusion; once again, in the face of a massive mining industry lobby, the government has failed to show the political will to hold Canadian companies to account for serious human rights abuses.

On August 19, MiningWatch Canada resigned from its position as an alternate on the government’s Multi-Stakeholder Advisory Body on Responsible Business Conduct Abroad (MSAB). “We have lost confidence that this government is at all serious about human rights when it comes to the activities of Canadian companies operating overseas,” says Coumans, adding, “If it will not empower the ombudsperson to do her job effectively, then what is the point in talking about other possible business and human rights initiatives?”

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