Guest writer for this reflection is Ian Thomson, Resources and Rights Partnerships Coordinator, for KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives. Mennonite Central Committee is a member of KAIROS.
Today, on May 14, supporters of the “Open for Justice” campaign will be rallying on Parliament Hill to call for the creation of an Ombudman to investigate complaints related to the international operations of Canadian extractive sector companies. Over 80,000 Canadians have signed postcards or written to their MPs to support the campaign. During the rally, MPs will receive these messages from their constituents, which have been gathered through the grassroots networks of KAIROS Canada, Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, the United Steelworkers, Inter Pares and Amnesty International Canada.
Canada is home to more than 60 percent of the world’s mining and exploration companies. Canada is uniquely positioned to raise industry practices in the mining sector. At KAIROS, we are repeatedly reminded by our partners in the global South that Canadian mining companies are operating in over 100 countries and face little or no requirements under Canadian law to respect human rights or the environment in their international operations.
The timing for this campaign couldn’t be better. Corporate accountability is gaining momentum in Canada, despite the federal government’s reluctance to show leadership. Last year, an Ontario court ruled that three civil lawsuits concerning alleged human rights abuses at a Canadian mine in Guatemala will proceed to trial. Last October the government’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Counsellor resigned prematurely, and the position remains vacant to this day. In both instances, the status quo is no longer an option. Companies are learning that Canadian courts are willing to exercise jurisdiction in cases where companies are complicit in serious harms abroad. And the ongoing controversies faced by mining, oil and gas companies abroad is evidence of the need for a stronger Ombudsman office to investigate complaints and recommend appropriate remedial action.
In 2009, the federal government adopted a CSR Strategy for the Canadian extractive sector operating internationally, but the four pillars of the strategy have been largely a dismal failure.
- The CSR Counsellor appointed to resolve disputes in the extractive sector has failed to resolve any of the six cases brought before the office. In fact, in three of the six cases, companies involved simply walked away and thereby terminated the review process.
- A CSR Centre for Excellence has virtually ground to a halt.
- The voluntary standards endorsed by the government have been adopted by few junior mining companies.
- And the controversial partnerships between mining companies and NGOs, funded with Canada’s official development assistance funds, have generated much criticism from academics and development practitioners alike.
As the global hub for the mining sector, Canada can do more to ensure that resource extraction projects are developed responsibly and that mining companies are held accountable when people are harmed. Canadian churches are hearing more and more accounts from our church counterparts and other partners in developing countries about the impact of mining companies on the land and on communities. Communities and workers want to know if Canada will be open for justice when people are denied justice in their own countries.
Please take action today to make the mining industry more accountable: www.kairoscanada.org/openforjustice