Environment Labour Media release

Press release: Canadian government reneges on promise to create independent human rights watchdog for corporations operating abroad

Ottawa, ON / Tatamagouche, NS / Guatemala City (April 8, 2019) – The Government of Canada failed today to appoint an independent Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE) with real powers to investigate abuses and redress the harm caused by Canadian companies operating abroad.

Since 2004, Breaking the Silence Maritimes-Guatemala Solidarity Network (BTS) has been providing human rights accompaniment to communities in Guatemala experiencing grave human rights abuses associated with Canadian mining projects. For years, BTS members throughout the Maritimes have joined calls by the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability for the creation of an effective Ombudsperson for the extractive sector.

Canadian companies operating overseas have been associated with widespread and egregious human rights abuses. In Guatemala alone, Canadian mining companies such as Hudbay Minerals, Goldcorp and Tahoe Resources (now Pan American Silver) have been denounced in Guatemala, Canada and internationally for grave human rights abuses committed around their projects, including murder, threats, intimidation, gang rape, contamination and scarcity of water. In fact, this week marks the 5th anniversary of the murder of Topacio Reynoso Pacheco, a 16 year old vocal opponent to the Escobal Mine, now owned by Pan American Silver. Her case remains in impunity to this day.

Fifteen months ago, the government announced that it would create an independent office with the power to investigate. Instead, it unveiled a powerless advisory post, little different from what has already existed for years. It is clear that Canada needs an ombudsperson to help prevent Canadian complicity in corporate abuse and help ensure Canadian mining and garment supply chains respect human rights.

“From our work in Guatemala, we see that human rights abuses associated with Canadian mining are actually are the norm, in contrast to what was shared by the new Ombudsperson at today’s press conference,” said Lisa Rankin, BTS Guatemala Coordinator. Rankin pointed to a 2017 report by the Justice and Corporate Accountability Project which documents many troubling incidents of violence associated with Canadian mining companies in Latin America.

An ombudsperson operates at arms-length from government and has the power to order those under investigation to produce documents and testimony under oath. The advisory position created today does neither.

“Individuals and communities harmed by Canadian mining companies still have no one to turn to for help,” said Emily Dwyer of the CNCA. “An ombudsperson in name only is not an ombudsperson. It is simply more of the same approach that has already been proven empty and ineffective.” The government announced that it has commissioned a review of the options of providing the advisor with investigatory powers.

“Fifteen months into this process, news of a review is outrageous. We don’t need more studies,” added Dwyer. “We need action.”

In the last three years, at least four United Nations bodies have called on Canada to hold Canadian companies to account for their actions. As recently as June 2018, the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights called for the creation of an ombudsperson’s office in Canada to help stop abuses.

“The advisory role announced today has no real powers and will not operate at arm’s length from government -free from any political or corporate interference,” said Dwyer. “The government must take decisive action to stop corporate abuse. That was the promise made in January 2018. That is the promise that must be kept.”

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Stacey Gomez

Maritimes Coordinator, Breaking the Silence Maritimes-Guatemala Solidarity Network

BTSMaritimesCoordinator [at] gmail.com

Emily Dwyer

Coordinator, Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability

About Breaking the Silence: BTS is a voluntary network of people in the Maritimes who began to organize in 1988 to support the efforts of Guatemalans struggling for political, social, and economic justice. Today, BTS has committees in Fredericton, Halifax, PEI, the North Shore, Fredericton, and Antigonish. BTS engages in human rights accompaniment, public education and political advocacy around key issues such as the following: defense of territory; gender justice; truth, justice and impunity; and security. BTS has been accompanying communities affected by Canadian mining since 2004. For updates on these communities and more, visit the Breaking the Silence blog. BTS is a member of the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability.