Today January 17, 2019, marks exactly one year since the Canadian government announced it would create the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE), an office to independently investigate allegations of abuses by Canadian companies operating overseas. When that anouncement was made, I wrote a piece sharing my thoughts, hopes, and concerns about the ombudsperson announcement that had just been made.
“While the Trudeau government has launched this ombudsperson office, proclaiming lofty ideals “that Canada be second to none when it comes to business and human rights” and assuring that the ombudsperson will have “all the tools and resources to ensure compliance” it would be naive to take this government on its word, seeing as it has broken promise after promise since Trudeau’s election.”
Sure enough, a year later, the office remains unstaffed and Canada is no closer to making even a token effort towards addressing the legacy and ongoing practice of violence committed by its extractive industries around the world.
Ten years ago I first began visiting communities in Central America who have experienced enormous violence at the hands of Canadian mining companies, including gang rapes, targeted assassinations, illegal land theft, militarization, criminalization, and health impacts from poisoned land and waterways. This violence is not the result of a few “bad apple” companies, but is a problem endemic to the entire industry, an industry in which Canada is unquestionably the global leader. While robust and powerful movements at the site of nearly every large-scale Canadian mine are fighting back against the encroachment on their lives, lands, rights, and communities, these companies continue to operate with near complete impunity. Over the past decade I have been involved in various ways in the struggle to address this lack of corporate accountability here in Canada regarding the operations of our mining companies overseas.
The initial announcement of the ombudsperson office came as a direct result of over a decade of advocacy from dozens of organizations, thousands of Canadians, and many supporters from around the world, including from the communities that have suffered the most. The Canadian Network for Corporate Accountability and the 33 organizations it comprises has done much of the heavy lifting over the past few years to make it abundantly clear to the federal government that they need to take action.
Today we must reiterate that demand to ensure that this ombudsperson does not become another of Trudeau’s broken promises.
And even if an ombudsperson is hired, and the conditions that will make this office effective are met, it is clear that the struggle must continue. We need real justice for victims of violence. We need decision-makers in violent corporations to be held criminally accountable, in Canada and abroad. We need all communities to be assured free, prior and informed consent before new resource extraction projects go ahead. And we need Canada to no longer be the global leader for violent, coercive and destructive mining projects. Even in its most powerful and independent iteration, none of that is going to happen through this ombudsperson office.