Lawyers Without Borders Canada (LWBC) reacts positively to the announcement made today by the Canadian Minister of International Trade, François-Philippe Champagne, concerning the creation of the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE).
For more than a decade, Canadian civil society organisations have demanded the creation of an independent ombudsperson with a mandate to receive and investigate complaints against Canadian corporations for their complicity in human rights violations abroad.
“The creation of an ombudsperson is an important step towards ensuring that people that have been detrimentally impacted by Canadian corporate activities – both in the extractive and the textile sectors - can obtain redress for the harm they have experienced, and that corporations are held accountable for their behaviour”, highlights Pascal Paradis, Executive Director of LWBC.
A critical situation that needs to be addressed
Credible allegations from around the world describe corporate involvement in a range of human rights violations, including forced displacement, violence committed by security personnel, criminalization and persecution of human rights defenders, environmental contamination, and enslavement. Allegations involving transnational corporations based in Canada are numerous and serious.
Affected communities face often-insurmountable access to justice challenges. In their own country, obtaining justice may be difficult or impossible. In corporate “home” countries such as Canada, judges have often refused to hear cases involving harms committed extraterritorially, notably for jurisdictional reasons. Even in cases that do move forward to trial, obtaining justice is slow and costly.
As an organization that works to increase access to justice for marginalized groups in several Latin American and African countries, LWBC is well acquainted with the risks and challenges human rights defenders face in their efforts to access justice and obtain remedies.
A new institution with new powers
According to available information, the CORE will have the power to investigate situations, even when there has not been a formal complaint, and its findings are to be made public. It will also have the power to make public recommendations, including with respect to compensation, corporate and governmental policy changes, and the withdrawal of Canadian government support. A multi-stakeholder Advisory Body composed of civil society and industry representatives will advise the Minister of International Trade on the CORE's operating procedures and future direction, and provide additional advice on responsible business conduct.
LWBC encourages the Government to ensure that the CORE is appointed as soon as possible, and to invest sufficient resources for the CORE to effectively carry out its work. LWBC also looks forward to further clarification with regard to the mandate of the CORE, notably with respect to its ability to ensure compliance with its investigations, including the power to compel the production of documents from companies, and to ensure the implementation of its recommendations. These factors are critical to ensuring that the CORE is an effective mechanism of corporate accountability.
For more information, see LWBC’s report to the United Nations Human Rights Council for Canada’s upcoming Universal Periodic Review, calling for Canada to establish an effective, independent ombudsperson.
Lawyers Without Borders Canada is a non-governmental international cooperation organisation with the mission of contributing to the protection of human rights of vulnerable populations through the reinforcement of access to justice and legal representation.