Canada’s Corporate Ambassadors

Canadian mining companies in South America, mineral companies in Africa or Asia, these entities have become de facto Canadian ambassadors, in some cases being the only Canadian representation that people in those countries will ever encounter, and the impressions they leave behind on the citizens is not always helpful to our country or theirs.

NDP MP from Burnaby-New Westminster Peter Julian currently has a Private Members’ Bill C323 before the house entitled “An Act to Amend the Federal Courts Act (International Promotion and Protection of Human Rights)”. It is an attempt to give the government some sort of regulatory control over Canadian companies working outside Canadian jurisdiction, particularly in cases of international law or when Canada has treaty obligations. Bill C323 seeks to institute a framework for holding these companies accountable for human rights and labour rights standards to be maintained at a level acceptable to all Canadians, regardless of the company’s operating jurisdiction.

We have seen previous attempts at this sort of legislation. In the previous Conservative minority government session of Parliament, Liberal MP for Scarborough-Guildwood John Mckay introduced Bill C-300 to put the accountability in the hands of the individual ministers of International Trade and Foreign Affairs. That bill fell short of support from the Conservatives and even from some Liberals and NDPers.

What this bill focuses on is primarily extending the jurisdiction of Canadian Federal Courts and Court of Appeals to all jurisdictions outside of Canada when violations of international law, particularly human rights, are involved. Additionally, this bill aims to allow citizens of other countries to file for legal redress in Canada when their tort perpetrator (alleged abuser) is a Canadian Corporation.

On Friday, March 16th there will be an all-day conference held on Parliament Hill, entitled Walking the Talk: Human Rights Abroad, Take II. The conference is organized by the team that put together Bill C323 and will be hosted, Centre Block, by Peter Julian, with over a dozen guest speakers and discussions.

Over the course of the day, attendees will hear direct testimonial of the specifics behind what Canadian companies are inflicting on people’s habitats in other countries, what some of the legal battles fought by the peoples in these countries have resulted in, and why there is the need here and now (as there was with previous efforts) for legislation keeping our companies accountable to be put in place.

Early in 2009, I became aware of the activities of the Copper Mesa Mining Company operating in the Intag region of Ecuador. Three Ecuadorian villagers and their Canadian lawyers were traveling the country to generate awareness about the lawsuit they were launching in Canadian Court, not just against the mining company, but against the entire Toronto Stock Exchange as well.

Early in 2010, the Toronto Stock Exchange de-listed the Copper Mesa Mining Company from the stock scrolls and the company lost 60% of its stock value over the next 48 hours. Today, the mining continues in the Intag region of Ecuador, only the name of the company has been changed — it is now the CODELCO mining company doing the drilling, no longer Copper Mesa.

The local people have been embroiled in disputing the credibility of studies being produced by the Ecuadorian Ministry of the Environment telling them that everything is OK with the drilling. This is what makes legislation like Bill C323 so necessary, for the sake of the affected citizens as well as for Canada’s reputation.

As Canada steps up its relationships with trading partners such as Colombia and Ecuador, maintaining our end of government-negotiated Free Trade Agreements is going to rely on Canadian government being able to hold Canadian Corporations accountable for their actions when representing all of us.

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