State Duty to Protect Human Rights: How Canada’s Embassy Staff and Trade Commissioners Are Not Fulfilling Their Duty

This presentation was made by Catherine Coumans, Ph.D. at the Canadian Network for Corporate Accountability Symposium Taking Responsibility: Canada, Business, and Human Rights held in Ottawa on April 30, 2019.

Canada has a state duty to protect human rights.

Since at least 2002, UN bodies have repeatedly and explicitly emphasized that Canada’s duty to protect extends to Canada’s obligation to protect against human rights abuses caused, or contributed to, by Canadian corporations operating overseas.   

Canadian missions overseas, Embassies and High Commissions, are the face of Canada, the most visible presence of Canadian state agency, abroad.  

While there is ample evidence of the role that Canadian missions, in particular Ambassadors and trade commissioners, play in promoting and protecting the interests of Canadian companies operating overseas, the track record in regard to protecting people who have been harmed by Canadian companies, or who find themselves threatened because of their opposition to activities by Canadian companies, is at least as problematic.