Canada’s Systematic Failure to Fulfill its International Obligations to Human and Environmental Rights Defenders Abroad

Corporate accountability experts sent a 30-page submission to the UN Human Rights Council ahead of its April 2023 Universal Periodic Review of Canada, denouncing Canada for its continued diplomatic support of mining companies over the safety of human rights and environment defenders (HRDs). 

The submission draws on five well-documented case studies from Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, and Ecuador to illustrate key themes that define Canada’s diplomatic approach to mining conflicts abroad. The submission, authored by the Justice and Corporate Accountability Project (JCAP) with support from MiningWatch Canada, is endorsed by 27 Canadian civil society organizations and 39 professors, lawyers, and legal scholars. The Universal Periodic Review Working Group of the UN Human Rights Council will review Canada’s compliance with its human rights commitments, and make specific recommendations with the onus on Canada to implement changes. 

The submission explores ongoing problems with Canada’s Voices at Risk Guidelines on supporting human rights defenders, a set of guidelines that specify how Canadian embassies and other officials should support HRDs, including Canadian HRDs, and promote responsible conduct on the part of Canadian companies operating abroad. The submission identifies specific policy failures, including a lack of clarity regarding the concrete obligations of Canadian officials, lack of reporting and transparency on how the guidelines are implemented, and lack of independent oversight to ensure compliance. 

JCAP makes the following recommendations to the Working Group in its submission: 

  • Recommend that Canada reform its policy and legal approach to economic diplomacy and HRDs abroad to an approach that can ensure that the actions of Canadian officials comply with Canada’s international human and environmental rights obligations.
  • Recommend that such reforms be developed only after a fulsome and meaningful process of civil society engagement. This should include HRDs, Indigenous peoples, communities, and groups who are directly affected by industrial resource extraction abroad, with the support of the Canadian government and diplomatic missions.
  • Recommend that Canada conduct a comprehensive review of the failures of Canadian officials to uphold Canada’s international human and environmental rights obligations in the four case studies cited in this report. This review should identify the appropriate remedies owed to any individuals who were harmed directly or indirectly by Canada’s actions.