An open pit gold mine is seen in the Congo’s Haut-Uele province Oct. 8, 2021. Canada’s ombudsman for responsible enterprise has not lived up to expectations, says Luke Stocking. CNS photo/Hereward Holland, Reuters

Justice will prevail over a hollow CORE

  • May 18, 2023

It is not a long road that leads us to justice — it is a mighty river that flows to a faraway sea. It flows more quickly at some times than at others. There are also twists and turns and perilous rapids. Roads and rivers are both long. But unlike a road — which we may or may not take — a river is inevitable. Resistance against it is impossible. 

I first came across this idea in a 2018 New York Times op-ed by Michelle Alexander entitled, “We Are Not the Resistance.” In it she wrote, “…if we pause long enough and consider where we stand in relationship to the centuries-long quest to create a truly equitable democracy, we may be able to see that the revolutionary river that brought us this far just might be the only thing that could possibly carry us to a place where we all belong.”

Recently I found myself reflecting on the idea again not because of American politics but due to an article that was recently published in the Globe & Mail. Written by investigative reporter Tavia Grant, the article is a well-researched critique of the ineffective Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE). Development & Peace – Caritas Canada has long worked to promote greater accountability for our Canadian extractive sector, something that CORE was supposed to help deliver. 

Grant quotes a man named Pedro Landa from Honduras who said, “We believe that the CORE is more of a decorative instrument that has no capacity to address the magnitude of the conflicts generated by Canadian mining, much less answer for the human-rights violations generated throughout the continent.”

I first met Pedro in 2008. We were in the second year of our campaign on the mining issue. The goal of the campaign that year was to create an ombudsperson for communities in the Global South affected by Canadian mining companies. Pedro was working for one of our Caritas counterparts in Honduras at the time and was in Canada for a speaking tour during Lent that I was coordinating. I didn’t speak much Spanish and he didn’t speak much English. Our desire for a more just world was our common language.

During our time together, I noticed that he did not wear a wedding ring. From our conversations and shared photos, though, I knew he was happily married with children. When I asked him about it, he said he and his wife had melted down their gold wedding bands and sold them to use the money to support their cause. He explained that because of what open-pit mining had done to the communities he worked with (including forced displacement and poisoned water sources), he and his wife could no longer see the bands as a sacramental sign of their marriage. 

It touched me so much that it is a story I still often tell people. 2008 was 15 years ago. It seems far past, but this is what it is to be in the revolutionary river.

On Jan. 17, 2018, the federal government announced the creation of the CORE. Our press release responded, “After 10 years of mobilizing, Development and Peace – Caritas Canada celebrates the creation of an ombudsperson for mining and other sectors.” It was a rare moment of directly achieving a concrete campaign objective.

It took the government 15 months to actually put the CORE in place. By the time it did, the CORE mandate had been significantly watered down under pressure from corporate lobbyists.  We had major concerns about its ability to have any positive impact in the lives of the mining affected communities. In September of 2019 we published a piece with the title, “Will the new ombudsperson be a voice for justice?”

So far, the answer to the question of this last headline seems to be no. Grant reports that the CORE has an annual budget of $4.9 million but has yet to complete a single investigation.  A big reason why was at the heart of our critique: CORE lacks both the independence and the necessary compliance mechanisms to be effective. 

Fifteen years is long enough to make anyone give up resisting the human rights and environmental abuses perpetrated by the rich and powerful. But we are not the resistance. We are in the revolutionary river, and the sea where justice reigns is our destiny.

(Stocking is director of public engagement for Development and Peace – Caritas Canada.) 

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