Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood is a senior researcher at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the co-author with Ben Smith of the new report Digging for Dividends
Canadian corporations are taking advantage of Canada’s free trade and investment agreements to undermine environmental policies in developing countries. And it’s putting the global fight against climate change – and Canada’s international reputation – at risk.
Using a little-known legal mechanism called investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), foreign investors can sue governments to claim compensation for alleged violations of an investment agreement. Canada has negotiated ISDS clauses into dozens of investment treaties with developing countries where there is or could soon be a Canadian mining presence.
Canadian mining companies operating overseas are already notorious for disregarding human rights and damaging the environment, especially in poor countries. Now, they’re increasingly turning to ISDS to directly challenge government measures taken in the public interest.
For example, after the Constitutional Court of Colombia enforced laws prohibiting mining in the sensitive high-altitude ecosystems that provide 70 per cent of the country’s drinking water, three separate Canadian mining firms launched ISDS cases with claims in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
If they win, Colombia will either be forced to backtrack on the policy or shoulder this massive cost of acting in the public interest.