Canada looks set to appoint an independent ombudsman to monitor alleged human rights abuses carried out overseas by its mining companies. But will it stop the rot?
Sometime early next year, the Canadian Government led by liberal Premier Justin Trudeau may finally honour its 2015 election pledge and appoint an independent human rights ombudsman to oversee the country’s international mining operations.
A decade ago, support for the office faced stiff opposition from much of Canada’s mining industry and the country’s then conservative government, under the premiership of Stephen Harper.
In 2009, Harper’s Government opted instead for an alternative corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy together with a series of national contact points (NCPs) which would operate without an ombudsman. In 2014, attempts were made to ‘strengthen’ the CSR, albeit without providing recourse to an independent ombudsman.
But the strategy’s ineffectiveness in protecting workers’ rights, the environment and curbing corruption has led to it come under fire from a wide variety of critics, and the Trudeau Government has been accused of dragging its feet on the issue since coming to power last October.
Supreme Court rules on Canada’s human rights
Now things look set to change. A landmark British Columbia Supreme Court ruling in November 2016, in the case of Araya v Nevsun Resources, struck a blow in favour of foreign claimants bringing human rights-related lawsuits in Canada, even when the alleged harm takes place in another country.
The judgment could have widespread repercussions for Canada’s overseas mining operations. Commenting on the decision, Michael Torrance, Janne Duncan and Guy White of law firm Norton Rose Fulbright Canada say this ruling is merely the latest in a number of decisions that have considered whether allegations related to the behaviour of foreign subsidiaries, or the contractors and subcontractors of foreign subsidiaries, can be litigated in Canadian courts.
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