This article originally appeared in The Chronicle Herald here.
For years, people throughout the Maritimes have been advocating for the creation of an independent ombudsperson for the extractive sector with the powers needed to be effective. Despite the appointment of the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE) on April 8, we are still waiting for the government to fulfill its promise.
Since 2004, Breaking the Silence Maritimes-Guatemala Solidarity Network has been providing human rights accompaniment in communities throughout Guatemala suffering grave human rights abuses associated with Canadian mining projects. We’ve observed a severe lack of oversight for these projects and the results have been devastating.
For years, Canadian mining companies operating in the country, including Hudbay Minerals, Goldcorp and Tahoe Resources (now Pan American Silver), have been denounced for grave human rights abuses committed around their projects, including murder, threats, intimidation, gang rape, contamination and scarcity of water. In fact, April 13 marks the 5th anniversary of the murder of Topacio Reynoso Pacheco, a 16-year-old vocal opponent to the Escobal mine, at the time owned by Tahoe. Her family continues to seek justice for her death.
Knowing these realities, our members have been part of a growing movement demanding corporate accountability. As part of the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability, we have joined Canadians throughout the country in calling for the creation of an effective Ombudsperson for the extractive sector.
Fifteen months ago, the government announced that it would finally make good on a campaign promise from 2015, by creating an independent office with the power to investigate human rights complaints against Canadian companies operating abroad. This office would issue public recommendations to both companies found to have committed harm, as well as to the Canadian government on its support to such corporations.
Instead, this week we saw the government bow to corporate pressure by establishing a powerless advisory post, little different from what has already existed for years.
An effective ombudsperson should operate at arms-length from government and have the tools necessary to undertake investigations, including the power to compel documents and testimony under oath. However, that’s not the case with the Canadian ombudsperson for responsible enterprise (CORE).
The government has said that we’ll have to wait until early June to know the extent of the investigatory powers held by that office. However, with the elections looming, time is quickly running out.
An estimated 75 per cent of the world’s largest mining companies are based in Canada. Communities have waited far too long already for a mechanism to have their voices heard in Canada on abuses by the extractive sector, which operate under the banner of our flag.
Sadly, as we have seen with the SNC-Lavalin affair, the Canadian government is beholden to corporate interests. As our elected representatives, their first priority should be to us, their constituents. We continue to urge the Canadian government to provide this office with the investigatory powers required. Anything less is a broken promise.
Stacey Gomez is Maritimes Coordinator for Breaking the Silence Maritimes-Guatemala Solidarity Network, an organization that has been engaged in solidarity with Guatemala since the 1980s.