5 May 2016

Letter from Karyn Keenan, published Wednesday, May 4 in The Hill Times

Re: “Feds show little interest in tougher oversight of mining firms’ actions abroad,” (The Hill Times, April 20, p. 1). In March the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights slammed Canada on its failure to ensure that its mining, oil, and gas companies respect human rights in their work abroad.

It joined a growing chorus of international bodies decrying the lack of accountability regarding Canadian companies that work in countries where environmental and human rights protections are weak or non-existent. (Case in point: Honduras, which a UN expert warned in March was at risk of becoming “a lawless killing zone for human rights defenders.” More than 100 Hondurans speaking out against destructive mining, dam, logging, and agriculture projects have been killed since 2010.)

The committee pointed to the ineffectiveness of the Office of the Extractive Sector Corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor, a toothless mechanism created by the Harper government. It called on Canada to pass laws “requiring…corporations to conduct human rights impact assessments” before starting projects, create “effective mechanisms to investigate complaints,” and ensure “access to justice before domestic courts by victims of the conduct of those corporations.”

Last month, we learned that newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s ministers are collectively mute on the issue. Why the silence? We can only hope they’re working out the details of a real system of oversight, one that will finally create the corporate accountability that’s so urgently needed.

Karyn Keenan

Director, Above Ground