By Doug Specht
Doug is the manager of The Violence of Development website and a senior lecturer at the University of Westminster. He developed a mining information app for the Environmental Network for Central America (ENCA) which can be found at: https://enca.org.uk/blog/2012/03/20/newsletter-55-march-2012/
Key words: Canadian companies; human rights abuses; environmental due diligence; corporate accountability.
As has been widely covered by The Violence of Development book, and across this website, one of the worst perpetrators of environmental damage in Central America is Canada. Often centring around the extractive industries, Canadian companies have been responsible for permanent land and water contamination, alongside human rights abuses – including rape, destruction of homes, forced relocation, and murder.
While Canadian mining companies meet resistance almost anywhere they go, their crimes against humans and the planet have largely gone unchallenged in courts due to protective laws in Canada that make it near impossible for activities taking place outside of the country to be tried. This might be about to change, however, as two new Bills (C-262 and C-263) are soon to be put to the house with the aim of reining in the unfettered power of Canadian companies operating abroad.
Bill C-262 seeks to prevent, address and remedy adverse impacts on human rights occurring in relation to business activities conducted abroad. If passed this bill would require companies to review all their business activities, identify actual and potential risks to people and the planet, take steps to mitigate the risks, and ensure remedy for those harmed. Simply put, if this bill is passed and a company causes harm or fails to comply with human rights and environmental due diligence, those affected would have the statutory right to bring a civil lawsuit against that company in a Canadian court to seek justice and remedy.
Connected to this, Bill C-263, which was tabled alongside C262, would establish the Office of the Commissioner for Responsible Business Conduct Abroad (CORE). While the Canadian government created CORE some time ago, it was in name only, without powers to order the production of documents and compel witness testimony under oath, meaning that the office was largely ineffective. Bill C-263 seeks to give this role more power and resources, which in turn will support the enforcing of C-262.
Canada has long lagged behind other countries in attempting to bring in such laws and bills. Several European countries have already put in place or are developing similar, for example in France, Germany and Norway. It should be noted though that while these laws are certainly a step in the right direction, they are not a silver bullet to solve, reduce or remedy the damage done by Canadian mining operations in Central America.
These Bills will make it easier to take Canadian companies to court and to seek damages, but the costs of such actions will remain prohibitively high for many communities and even countries. And while much of Canadian economic policy is tied up in mining, there is likely to continue to be little appetite for pushing regulation where issues are out of sight. So while these bills (should they be passed) are very much welcomed, material change in Central America is likely to be little, and slow coming.
“The responsibility to address corporate abuse cannot be left to companies. These bills are crucial for Canada to shift its approach, tackle corporate impunity and fulfill its international human rights obligations. They must be supported.” Ketty Nivyabandi, Amnesty International Canada
“I urge the Canadian government to do what it should have done years ago. To do what millions of women, Indigenous and other racialized communities worldwide have been calling for – to finally put an end to weak corporate accountability oversight in this country. It is high time that Canada establish a people and planet first approach to business.” Aisha Francis, KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives
“Unaccountable exploitation and greed drive the climate crisis, biodiversity loss and pollution all of which are linked to escalating violence against land and environmental defenders. Environmental justice will only be served by binding legislation to hold corporations accountable for their actions and their profits. The two bills introduced today in Canada’s Parliament can deliver on this accountability and deserve all party support.” Beatrice Olivastri, FOE Canada