Development and Peace dropped 80,000 signed cards on Parliament Hill calling for the creation of a mining ombudsman. Photo by Deborah Gyapong.

Development and Peace continues to press for mining ombudsman

By 
  • May 14, 2014

OTTAWA - The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace dropped 80,000 postcards off on Parliament Hill May 14, demanding an ombudsman for the mining industry.

“Our campaign will continue,” Josianne Gauthier, D&P director of in-Canada programs, told a crowd of several hundred supporters on the steps in front of Centre Block. “We are not going away. We have to keep this issue on the agenda.”

Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, a former Justice Minister, Attorney General of Canada and an expert in international law, spoke of the importance of transparency, accountability and real remedies for those in the global south facing human rights, indigenous rights or environmental violations by Canadian mining operations overseas.

“It has been an ongoing engagement in which you’ve been the foot soldiers for justice all these years,” Cotler told the crowd. “This has inspired my own work in regard to corporate social responsibility.

“Without an ombudsman, there will be no access to justice,” he said, calling for the need for protection against violations that include “environmental devastation, water pollution, poverty and inequitable distribution of the benefits” that come from mining.

D&P joined other civil society groups represented by the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability that includes KAIROS and Amnesty International in collecting signatures advocating accountability for Canadian mining and extractive industries operating overseas. The groups are urging the government to establish an office of an ombudsman who would hear complaints about human rights and environmental violations by Canadian companies in the developing world and have power to lay sanctions to ensure these companies exercise the same kind of corporate social responsibility as they are required to observe at home.

D&P’s tally of 80,000 postcards in the “Voice for Justice” campaign was by far the largest contribution, displayed in dozens of cardboard boxes on the steps of Parliament Hill for the rally which drew people from across the country.

In 2007, a series of rountables that included civil society groups and representatives from the mining and extractive industry recommended the creation of an ombudsman office. D&P has been campaigning for an ombudsman since 2006, Gauthier told a news conference before the rally.

The Harper government instead created a corporate social responsibility counsellor office that Gauthier told journalists is not effective because participation by the industry is voluntary.

“We believe that an ombudsman can be a real voice for justice for communities in the Global South that are experiencing the violation of their rights by Canadian mining companies,” she said.

D&P president Pat Kennedy told journalists the signatures were collected since last fall from across the country and from communities in Latin America.
Kennedy read a message from an organization in Peru, LABOR: “Open pits, contaminated soil, acidic waters, toxic waste, populations contaminated with heavy metals: this is the reality in Peru, but also in many parts of that world that are experiencing similar problems.”

Liberal MP John McKay was among several MPs that came out to show support, noting D&P had supported his responsible mining Bill C-300 which was defeated four years ago in the last Parliament. He recalled when D&P staked 450,000 signatures on the Hill for delivery to the Prime Minister’s Office.

“That should have been a clear statement to the Prime Minister of the will of the people of Canada which he simply ignored.”

Representatives from all parties were invited to the Hill. NDP Justice Critic Eve Peclet and Bloc Quebec MP Jean-Francois Fortin both addressed the crowd, as did a representative from the Green Party, Aboriginal Affairs critic Lorraine Rekmans. No Conservatives were present, but Gauthier said D&P would be meeting with Tory MPs on the issue.

Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada spokesperson Caitlin Workman responded in an e-mail following the rally: “The large majority of Canadian companies who operate abroad conduct themselves in a manner reflecting Canadian ethical standards and values.” The Government of Canada introduced a “formal corporate social responsibility strategy for Canada” for the first time in 2009, she said.

“That strategy is presently undergoing a five-year review which has involved broad consultations with all of the key stakeholders. We are confident that it will become even better as a result of the broad consultations we've undertaken,” she said. “We encourage Canadians not pre-judge the outcome of the review.”

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