International Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne speaks at the opening plenary session of the World Trade Organization's Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Canadian mining operations Latin America will come under further scrutiny with establishment of ombudsperson to look into human rights abuses. Photo from WTO/Cuika Foto

New mining ombudsperson greeted with guarded optimism

By 
  • January 24, 2018
Church agencies in Latin America and the Philippines are cautiously welcoming Ottawa’s move to set up a Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise who will have power to investigate human rights abuses and environmental damage associated with Canadian-owned or operated mines abroad.

The key to success for the new office will be whether the Canadian ombudsperson will accept complaints directly from individuals and communities living next to the mines, said Fr. Dario Bossi, director of the ecumenical Latin American Churches and Mining Network.

“We are most hopeful that an ombudsperson in Canada will be sufficiently empowered to bring changes to Canadian companies starting from effective state oversight,” Bossi told the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace in a Spanish-language e-mail.

Global Affairs Canada told The Catholic Register a web portal will be set up to enable complaint submissions from affected parties, including allegations of human rights abuses by Canadian corporations. There will also be an option to submit complaints by mail.

The Jesuits in Honduras said they were giving Canada a second chance after the previous Office of the Corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor “proved ineffective and insufficient.”

The Office of the CSR Counsellor was set up in 2009 by the previous Conservative government, but it wasn’t able to complete a single investigation. Companies could shut down investigations simply by refusing to participate.

Rather than the voluntary co-operation of companies, an effective office must start with “the state obligation to defend and protect human rights, given their universal nature,” said Pedro Landa of the Jesuit-sponsored Reflection, Investigation and Communication Team of the Jesuits in Honduras.

The accusations against Canadian companies in Latin American have included

said they “hope and pray that the appointment of an Ombudperson for Responsible Enterprise will be an important step forward.”

The bishops, along with Development and Peace, have been calling for closer monitoring and regulation of Canadian mining for years.

The Catholic development agency welcomed the prospect of an ombudperson with independent investigatory powers.

“When we heard Minister Champagne saying all of the key words we had been asking for, we just really, really felt like it was a victory,” said Development and Peace advocacy officer Elana Wright.

Oil and gas projects and the garment industry will come under its purview in the first year, but the government expects the ombudsperson to expand its oversight of Canadian international business.

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