Thirty-six Canadian organizations and over 6,000 individual Canadians signed a petition in June 2019, denouncing a major government backtrack on human rights and corporate accountability. The government had made an explicit commitment to create an independent ombudsperson office with the tools and robust mandate required to investigate and publicly report on allegations of abuse tied to Canadian companies operating around the world. Instead, the government revealed another powerless advisory post, little different from what had existed for years.
The petition states:
Dear Minister Carr: In January 2018, the government of Canada announced the creation of a Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE) to investigate allegations of human rights abuses by Canadian companies operating overseas. But the post sat vacant for 15 months. Now, you have appointed a watchdog without independence or investigatory powers and with a narrow mandate. I am deeply disappointed and worried about what this announcement means for people and communities harmed by Canadian extractives and garment industries. I call on you to grant the CORE, under the Inquiries Act, the power to:
- undertake full and independent investigations of allegations of human rights abuse by Canadian extractive and garment companies,
- report publicly and
- make recommendations to remedy the harms caused by Canadian companies overseas.
The CORE must have the power to compel documents and witnesses in order to be effective. Anything less is a setback for corporate accountability in Canada and undermines respect for human rights.
On June 4th 2019, civil society organizations symbolically presented the petition to the Minister of International Trade Diversification, Jim Carr, while calling on him to scrap the powerless special advisory post that the government had revealed and, instead, fully implement all of the commitments made and create an independent ombudsperson’s office.
The symbolic presentation was done on the steps of Ottawa’s human rights monument, which features Article 1 of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” In the previous three years, at least four UN bodies called on Canada to hold Canadian companies to account for their actions. In June 2018, the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights called for the creation of an ombudsperson’s office in Canada to help stop abuses.
Meanwhile, Canadian companies continue to be tied to serious human rights abuses at their overseas operations, facing allegations as serious as murder, rape, forced labour, and slavery. Impacted people often have nowhere to go to seek redress.
Unfortunately, with this backtrack, the Canadian government showed itself unwilling to take meaningful action to address human rights abuses.
Endorsing organizations for the Petition:
- Amnesty International Canada
- Amnistie internationale Canada francophone
- KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives
- Mining Injustice Solidarity Network
- Development and Peace-Caritas Canada
- MiningWatch Canada
- Inter Pares
- Nobel Women’s Initiative
- Canadian Jesuits International
- Mining Justice Action Committee
- Oxfam Canada
- Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network (BTS)
- Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC)
- Committee for Human Rights in Latin America (CDHAL)
- British Columbia Teachers’ Federation
- Maritimes Justice, Mission and Outreach Committees, United Church of Canada
- Maquila Solidarity Network
- Grandmothers Advocacy Network
- Friends of the Earth Canada
- Council of Canadians
- United for Mining Justice
- United Steelworkers
- Social Justice Connection
- Projet Accompagnement Québec-Guatemala (PAQG)
- Association québécoise des organismes de coopération internationale (AQOCI)
- United Church of Canada
- Canadian Labour Congress
- OPIRG – Toronto
- Mining Justice Alliance
- CoDevelopment Canada
- Peace Brigades International – Canada
- Atlantic Regional Solidarity Network (ARSN)
- Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)
- Solidarité Montérégie Amérique Centrale (SMAC)
- Above Ground
- Editorial Team, Franciscan Voice Canada
- “Canada’s ‘toothless’ new corporate watchdog is a broken promise and a major setback for human rights” by CNCA Policy Director Emily Dwyer, the Business and Human Rights Resource Center, 15 May 2019.
- Full bilingual petition (PDF), signed by 36 organizations and approximately 6,000 Canadians.
Note: This post was originally published as: [“We need a corporate watchdog with teeth!” Thousands of Canadians call on the government to fulfill its commitment to an independent ombudsperson] on 5 June 2019. This post was updated on 10 August 2023.