Letter to Minister Carr: Canada must fulfill its commitment to an independent ombudsperson
10 June 2019
Honourable Jim Carr
Minister of International Trade Diversification
House of Commons
June 7, 2019
Dear Minister Carr,
I am writing to you on behalf of the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability.
Our members are highly concerned that your government is backtracking on its explicit commitment to create an independent ombudsperson with the powers needed to investigate allegations of human rights abuse linked to the overseas operations of Canadian mining, oil, gas and garment companies. On Saturday it will be two months since you announced a time-bound, external study to examine the provision of Inquiries Act powers. The results of that study have yet to be made public. Time is short.
Our network has engaged in good faith with your office for over three years. During that time, your staff made repeated assurances that they understand our concerns, and that your office shares our views and objectives. You personally communicated to us your intention to implement the January 2018 commitments of the government of Canada. Yet the order in council that establishes the CORE’s mandate represents a stark reversal from this position.
Our network represents the voices of millions of Canadians from diverse sectors. Many of us, who stood beside your predecessor, Minister Champagne, during the 2018 announcement of the CORE, feel betrayed by your government. We are deeply concerned that our partners around the world who are negatively impacted by Canadian business activities overseas will continue to have nowhere to turn for help.
While we await a response from your office to our request of May 10 for an urgent meeting with you, we would like to communicate the following messages. The CNCA will make these positions known publicly, both in national and international fora:
A CORE that does not have the powers and mandate to effectively investigate is a broken promise by your government.
The order in council establishing the CORE fails to deliver on the government of Canada’s explicit commitments of January 2018. Namely, to ensure the ombudsperson’s independence; to provide her with robust investigatory powers (including the power to compel documents and testimony); and to provide the office with a mandate explicitly focused on advancing human rights. These deficiencies fatally impair the office’s credibility and effectiveness. This reversal is a broken promise by the government of Canada.
Without investigatory powers under the Inquiries Act, the CORE resurrects the failed CSR Counsellor’s office. It will not be used.
The defining feature of an ombudsperson is its ability to undertake effective investigation. This is also one of several essential qualities that distinguish the CORE, as promised, from the now defunct CSR Counsellor. The latter, which was universally viewed as an abject failure, was eschewed by communities and organizations in the Global South. Absent effective investigatory powers, it will be evident to all that the CORE is no different than its predecessor.
Bringing a complaint against a multinational company carries significant risk. People will not be willing to assume such risk for a mechanism that does not work. Nor will we advise them to do so.
The risk to impacted communities has been greatly exacerbated by your government’s decision to allow companies to lodge complaints against community representatives and other human rights defenders.
Without meaningful investigatory powers, the office will not work, people will not use it, and we will not advise them to use it.
Without a credible ombudsperson office, the CNCA will withdraw from the MSAB.
Unless the government of Canada delivers on its explicit commitment to create an independent, effective ombudsperson, and without properly cementing in place this foundational component of a progressive Canadian framework for business and human rights, CNCA engagement in the Multi-Stakeholder Advisory Body on Responsible Business Conduct will become untenable. The CNCA will formally withdraw from the MSAB and make our reasons for doing so known in national and international fora.
If your government capitulates on its promise regarding the CORE, the world will understand that Canada cannot be trusted to stand up for human rights in the face of industry pressure.
Moreover, the communities and workers who desperately seek justice for allegations of murder, sexual violence, dispossession from their land, dangerous and exploitative working conditions, exploitation of children, poisoning of land and water, and other human rights abuses, will continue to be unable to have their voices heard in Canada.
Coordinator, Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability (CNCA)