An ombudsperson with teeth
Canada still needs an independent ombudsperson with the #power2investigate
In January 2018 the Government of Canada announced the creation of an independent ombudsperson office with robust powers to investigate allegations of human rights abuse tied to Canadian corporate activity overseas. It has still not delivered on that promise.
The Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability has spent over a decade advocating for a human rights ombudsperson with real powers to investigate abuses and redress the harms caused by Canadian companies operating abroad. The federal government finally announced the creation of such an independent watchdog in 2018, and pledged that the office would have the crucial powers to compel testimony and the production of documents from companies. This announcement was applauded by civil society and labour groups, including the CNCA.
“It was because of assurances that the CORE would have independence and real investigatory powers that we stood alongside the government in January 2018 and we promoted the announcement both nationally and internationally.”
– Alex Neve, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada
Despite its explicit and public commitment, the government subsequently bowed to industry pressure and gutted the office’s powers before it even got off the ground. In April 2019, the government created a powerless advisory post that differed little from the discredited offices that had come before it. Sheri Meyerhoffer was appointed as the Special Advisor to the Minister of International Trade Diversification, to be known as the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise. It remains an ombudsperson in name only, without the independence and powers that are the foundation of an effective office. Our analysis of the serious deficiencies of the CORE’s mandate are available here and here.
Will the CORE be transformed into the Ombudsperson that was promised?
During the 2019 federal election campaign, several political parties committed to making the CORE independent and giving it the investigatory powers it needs, including the power to compel documents and testimony. See the responses here.
In a September 2019 letter to the CNCA, Minister of International Trade Diversification Jim Carr acknowledged that the Ombudsperson needed investigatory powers to be effective, and committed to creating a “stand-alone legal framework for the office, including stipulating its powers to compel documents, witnesses, and other key testimony.” Ms. Meyerhoffer has publicly stated that she would also be pressing the government for these powers.
Canadians, civil society and impacted communities around the world continue to wait for Canada to get serious about its international human rights obligations and to put in place effective corporate accountability mechanisms. We expect the government to fulfill its commitments. We will not be waiting silently.
Take action today and write, call or visit
Criteria for an effective ombudsperson
Remind the Prime Minister and Minister Ng that Canada must keep its promise and immediately provide the CORE with the independence and powers she needs to do her job.
Ask MPs to take a stand and publicly support the immediate establishment of an effective ombudsperson.
Remind them that the ombudsperson we need is:
- Independent from government and big business;
- Has the tools and mandate to independently investigate, including the power to compel documents and testimony under oath from Canadian companies; and
- Is oriented around advancing human rights.