UN Experts Urge Canada to Step Up on Business-Related Rights Abuses

(Ottawa) MiningWatch Canada welcomes the June 1 news release from the United Nation Working Group on business and human rights, urging federal and provincial authorities, as well as the business sector, “to take a tougher line” to prevent and address adverse human rights impacts of the extractive sector both at home and abroad.

The UN working group notes that “Canada is home to more than half of the world’s mining companies, operating in Canada and across the globe, and is also a centre for extractive sector finance, with 57% of the world’s public mining companies” listed on Canadian securities exchanges. As such, the UN experts insist that “there is greater room for both federal and provincial governments, industry associations and companies, to consider their activities both domestically and overseas through a human rights lens...

MiningWatch presented to the UN Working Group on human rights abuses related to mining activities in Canada, and by Canadian mining companies operating overseas, during its ten-day fact-finding. The UN delegation’s June 1 full statement at the end of its visit contains recommendations to federal and provincial governments on issues raised by MiningWatch.

Indigenous Rights in Canada

“As noted by the UN experts, much more needs to be done in Canada to meet the ‘monumental task’ of reconciliation and building nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples,” states Ugo Lapointe, Canada program coordinator for MiningWatch Canada. He adds, “This relationship needs to go beyond simple ‘consultation’ in the context of resource extraction affecting indigenous lands and waters. It needs to be based on the principles set forth in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including the right to self-determination, autonomy, and free prior and informed consent.”

Lapointe adds: “As such, the UN experts took note of a significant structural problem about Canadian laws governing access to resources and lands: the ‘free entry’ system. This system allows for mining titles to be unilaterally acquired and for mining exploration work to be carried out on Indigenous lands without prior information, consultation and consent. It’s a relic from the 19th century colonial laws that needs to be changed.” The Algonquin Nation of Barriere Lake and many other Indigenous peoples have raised this issue to the UN working group and for over a decade in Canada.

Canada’s Extractive Industry Overseas

The UN Working Group refers to the multi-stakeholder roundtables held in 2006 on Corporate Social Responsibility and activities of Canada’s extractive industries operating overseas. MiningWatch participated on the Advisory Group to these roundtables that resulted in a consensus recommendation for the creation of a strong extractive sector Ombudsman.

“We have continued to advocate for the creation of an independent, well-resourced ombudsperson with the power to investigate allegations of abuse brought by people affected by our mining companies operating overseas” says Catherine Coumans, who presented to the UN Working Group. She says, “It is good to see that the UN experts support this recommendation and call for the Ombudsperson to have the power to ‘conduct fact finding, and enforce its orders’.”

MiningWatch also presented to the UN Working Group on findings based on years of human rights field assessments at Barrick Gold mines in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Tanzania. Our findings highlight serious problems with the design and implementation by Barrick Gold of operational-level grievance mechanisms for victims of criminal acts such as assault, killings, and sexual violence by mine security and police guarding these mines.

“It was good to see that the UN Working Group’s statement calls on the government of Canada to ‘use its leverage to encourage businesses to establish operational-level grievance mechanisms in conformity with the effectiveness criteria stipulated in the UN Guiding Principles’,” says Coumans. “The cases we have studied in PNG and Tanzania clearly fall far short in this regard, but the Working Group fails to address the problem of victims of abuse by mine security who have been further harmed by being subjected to company grievance mechanisms that fail to address the harm they have endured and force them to sign legal waivers in return for any remedy at all.”

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See MiningWatch “Remarks to the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights on Operational-Level Grievance Mechanisms” presented by Catherine Coumans on May 23, 2017.