11 May 2016

Letter from Karyn Keenan, published May 11 in The Hill Times

Re: “Let courts, mediators decide on mining disputes abroad: Lobby group,” (The Hill Times, April 27, p. 1). It comes as a surprise to read that the president of Canada’s mining association is unclear on what role an ombudsman could play in the oversight of extractive companies’ impacts abroad.

As members of an advisory group to the national roundtable on this topic, he and I recommended the creation of an ombudsman office empowered to investigate complaints of human rights abuse, determine if the company in question violated standards, and make recommendations for remedy.

Those aspects are all missing from the dispute resolution mechanisms now in place.

When people living near a Canadian-owned mine in a country with next to no human rights protections say they’ve been shot or raped by the mine’s security guards, or they’re getting sick from polluted water, the Canadian government doesn’t concern itself with finding out if the claim is true.

Instead, it offers closed-door mediation processes. Complaints can be submitted to Canada’s corporate social responsibility counsellor or its national contact point tasked with promoting voluntary guidelines on business and human rights.

In either case, the grand result is that the complainant gets to sit down and talk to someone from the company, if the company agrees. The mediator encourages them to resolve their dispute. What happens if they don’t? Nothing. The company walks away and the case is closed.

This is unacceptable to Canadians who expect their government to uphold in practice the human rights principles it so often embraces in words.

The Liberal party pledged last fall to take the modest step of creating an independent ombudsman to investigate accusations of Canadian extractive companies harming people abroad. What are they waiting for?

Karyn Keenan
Director, Above Ground
Steering committee member, Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability