Canada faces questions from UN rights committee on mining industry


Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press –

Date of publication: 
7 July 2015

OTTAWA — The federal government is sidestepping a UN panel’s request to explain how Canadian mining and resource companies deal with human rights complaints.

Tuesday was the Canadian government’s first opportunity to address the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva, which is conducting the first review in 10 years of Canada’s compliance to a major international treaty.

The committee, comprised of 18 experts, heard repeated concerns about Canada’s extractives industry, the treatment of aboriginals and anti-terrorism measures from two dozen groups, including the Canadian Human Rights Commission and Amnesty International.

The committee asked Canada to provide answers to 24 separate questions about how it implements the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights — including how it monitors the human rights conduct of Canadian resource companies operating abroad, some of which face lawsuits alleging abuses.

“Please inform the committee of any measures taken or envisaged to monitor the human rights conduct of Canadian oil, mining and gas companies operating abroad,” said the list of issues given by the committee to Canada last fall in preparation for Tuesday’s testimony.

“Please also inform what the available legal venues are in the state party for victims of human rights abuses arising from overseas operations of Canadian extractive firms.”

Laurie Wright, the senior Justice Department official who led Canada’s delegation, did not address the issue in her six-page opening statement.

Instead, she highlighted four topics, two of them related to the treatment of aboriginal affairs, along with the terrorism and the treatment of immigrants.

“While challenges remain, we are committed to addressing them, and to our ongoing work in building an open, free and peaceful society where people from diverse backgrounds can live side by side and prosper,” Wright said in prepared remarks.

But at the hearing, the committee members persisted. They returned to the topic of Canada’s foreign-based resource companies and several other areas of questioning that were not addressed in Wright’s opening remarks.

Amnesty International, in its submission to the panel, argued that any human rights initiatives taken by companies are purely voluntary, and no enforceable code of conduct exists. It urged the committee to recommend a way for overseas litigants to pursue legal action in Canadian courts.

Alex Neve, the executive director of Amnesty International, pointed out that the federal government’s jurisdiction extends only to conduct within Canada’s borders.

Neve, who attended the hearing, said committee members pointed out that the UN treaty deals not only with what happens within the borders of a country, but also the general conduct of its citizens.

The committee also asked Canada to address a number of other areas that have sparked controversy, including:

— what measures had been taken to compensate Abdullah Almalki, Ahmed El-Maati and Muayyed Nureddin, who were tortured in Syrian prisons after Canadian officials were found partly to blame for sharing information about them.
— whether the government planned to reverse cuts to health services for refugee claimants, and “respond to allegations that such cuts may undermine their rights to life and freedom from ill-treatment.”
— asking the government to comment on allegations that it has taken punitive measures to limit the freedom of expression of “civil society organizations and human rights defenders that promote women’s equality, the rights of Palestinians, and environmental protection and corporate social responsibility . . .”

Wright did not specifically respond to those three issues in her opening address to the committee.

The panel will announce its findings in two weeks, after reviewing the performance of a series of countries, including Britain, France and Uzbekistan.


Canada clashes with UN rights panel over resource company behaviour abroad

By: Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press –

8 July 2015

OTTAWA – The federal government clashed with a United Nations panel this week over whether a major international treaty applies to potential human rights violations by Canadian resources companies operating abroad.

The sharp difference of opinion was one of several flashpoints between Canada and the UN Human Rights Committee, which wrapped three days of hearings Wednesday in Geneva.

Canada had provided lengthy written answers last month to 24 questions on the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including how it monitors the human rights conduct of Canadian resource companies operating abroad, some of which face lawsuits alleging abuse.

In its written answers, Canada said it “strongly encourages” companies to implement corporate social responsibility measures, and if they don’t the government will withhold “trade advocacy support in foreign markets.”

But the committee pressed for more details on that and other subjects during the in-person appearance by the Canadian delegation, led by a senior Justice Department official.

In their testimony, the delegation appeared to shock the sensibilities of the 18-member committee when it evoked the principle of “extra-territoriality” for the employees of the 800 Canadian companies operating in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

That means that in the government’s view the treaty applies to Canadians in Canada, but not those working in foreign countries.

“A country could not just provide corporate identity to a company and then be unperturbed by whatever the company could do around the world,” a panel member told the Canadians, according to a UN document summarizing the proceedings.

The Canadian delegation pressed the issue saying, “individuals affected by the operation of Canadian companies abroad were thus not necessarily under Canadian jurisdiction.”

But the head of the committee appeared to differ.

“The final arbiter for the interpreting the Covenant was the Committee, not individual States,” said committee chair Fabian Omar Salvioli in his closing statement.

The Argentine human rights lawyer also noted that “activities of mining companies could affect many rights of local populations” and that “the issue of aboriginal peoples in Canada” was a major topic of inquiry during the hearings.

Shelagh Day, of the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action, a group that has advocated for aboriginal women, said she was disappointed by the Canadian response to a series of questions on missing and murdered aboriginal women, and other inequities involving First Nations.

“The comments of Canada regarding missing and murdered aboriginal women and Canada’s relationship with aboriginal peoples ring hollow,” she said.

“Canada is not engaged in a candid dialogue with the UN Human Rights Committee about its human rights performance, but in self-promotion.”

The panel also noted that Canada had not “abided by the views of the committee” in deporting a Somali citizen who faced persecution and a Jamaican who was exposed to police brutality after deportation.

“Despite recommendations to the contrary, information was allowed to be shared with a foreign country in security matters even if that would lead to torture,” the committee stated in the preamble to one question.

The Canadian delegation replied that “the committee’s views were not legally binding, but Canada had accepted its views in a majority of cases.”

The government also defended its policy of not providing health care to refugees, saying it believed it was complaint with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and stood by the new Citizenship Act.

The committee asked whether changes in the act that allow for the deportation of dual nationals convicted of terrorism, spying or treason could render someone stateless, but the government said they wouldn’t.

The committee also asked for more details about new anti-terrorism legislation because “there were fears that it could lead to very wide surveillance.”

The Canadian delegation said it was committed to protecting the rights of Canadians while combating terrorism.

The committee will issue a final report in two weeks.


Pamela Palmater to United Nations: Canada must set right its relations with Indigenous peoples

By Pamela Palmater –

7 July 2015

Statement of Pamela Palmater to the 114th Human Rights Committee Session: Formal Briefing on Canada

(July 6, 2015 Geneva, Switzerland)

Kwe, n’in teluisi Pam Palmater. I am from the sovereign Indigenous Nation of the Mi’kmaq in Mi’kma’ki, Canada. I am here as an impacted Indigenous individual thanks to the support of Franciscans International. Today I would like to testify to three urgent situations related to Canada’s obligations under the Covenant which are also raised in the joint submission presented by the NGO Mining Working Group in response to the List of Issues which I fully support:

First, the criminalization of Indigenous peoples in Canada for our human rights advocacy and defense of our lands.

Federal and provincial laws and regulations have criminalized Indigenous peoples’ traditional occupations and trade economies by making it illegal to hunt, fish, gather or use our natural resources within our traditional, treaty, title, trapping or reserve lands. Engaging in Indigenous rights advocacy or defense of the environment to protect the health of our lands, waters, plants, animals and people also results in our public vilification, beatings, arrests, imprisonment, and/or deaths.

The incarceration rate for Indigenous peoples is 10 times higher than the national average. Since 2000, the Indigenous inmate population has increased by over 56 per cent and in some prisons, represent as much as 65 per cent of the inmate population. The government’s own studies have consistently concluded that it is the result of racism in Canada’s justice system.

The recently enacted Anti-Terrorism Act (C-51) threatens to treat peaceful Indigenous activists as potential terrorists. There are several examples in which Canada’s Ministers, military, and RCMP have already labelled First Nations as “insurgents”, “eco-terrorists” and “threats to national security.” Given this context, we feel that we will be targeted under this law if we continue our traditional practices.

Second, the Committee ought to emphasize the growing crisis of poverty and discriminatory treatment of Indigenous peoples.

Despite being less than four per cent of the population, Indigenous children make up nearly 50 per cent of all children in state care (90 per cent in Manitoba). 73 per cent of all water systems in First Nations are at high risk — for those that have running water. The majority of houses on reserve are in need of major repair and/or overcrowded (upwards of 25 people to a home). Indigenous peoples suffer higher rates of ill health, accidents, and injuries and have some of the highest suicide rates in the world. Indigenous women and girls are over-represented in those that are murdered or missing — 16 per cent nationally, but as high as 55 per cent in provinces like Saskatchewan. Indigenous peoples have lower rates of education and employment and live 7-20 years less than Canadians.

As different UN mechanisms have consistently found, this crisis is particularly jarring in a wealthy and highly developed country like Canada — especially since the majority of the wealth comes from Indigenous lands.The situation is aggravated by the Government’s failure to protect Indigenous peoples’ rights, to remedy harms, and to properly fund Indigenous institutions.

Third and finally, I emphasize Canada’s failure to consult with Indigenous peoples regarding legislation and actions impacting Indigenous lands and waters.

Despite decisions from the Supreme Court of Canada directing Canada to consult, accommodate, and obtain the consent of Indigenous peoples, Canada has unilaterally limited debate and refused to consult with Indigenous peoples on legislation which impacts our inherent, Aboriginal and treaty rights.

Peaceful civil actions by Indigenous peoples to protect lands and waters from clearcutting, mining, hydro-fracking or pipelines are met with heavy RCMP intervention. State law enforcement is used to protect state subsidized corporations to engage in the extraction of Indigenous lands, waters and resources without our consent, to our social and economic detriment, to the destruction of our lands and waters and in violation of our human rights.

Together with the NGO Mining Working Group, I urge the Committee to consider the following recommendations for Canada:

1. Repeal Bill C-51 Anti-Terrorism Act and all recent legislation unilaterally imposed on Indigenous peoples and start a comprehensive study and consultative process in partnership with Indigenous peoples; 2. Develop independent and more robust oversight, reporting, and redress mechanismsfor Canada’s national security activities, law enforcement, and surveillance of Indigenous peoples and other environmental and human rights defenders; 3. Take all measures necessary to ensure that all domestic and international extractive activities by Canadian corporations comply with human rights obligations, including obtaining the free, informed and prior consent of Indigenous peoples; 4. Provide adequate funding to Indigenous peoples to address the multiple, over-lapping crises in education, health, housing, food, water, infrastructure, flooding; 5. Take emergency action to address structural discrimination especially the over-representation of Indigenous children in care; murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls; and the over-incarceration of Indigenous peoples; and 6. Implement treaties, address outstanding claims of lands and resources; and develop a more equitable revenue sharing structure in partnership with Indigenous peoples.

Note: The Committee only allows three minutes to present. Therefore, all presenters had to pick only two or three core issues to discuss. I could not read the entirety of even this small submission, so I hit the highlights of the issue and read the recommendations. Sharon McIvor was there to make a submission on two issues: murdered and missing Indigenous women and sex discrimination against Indigenous women and their descendants in the Indian Act registration provisions. Art Manuel presented on self-determination and Canada’s failures in this regard. Amnesty International spoke on a variety of issues, one of which was Bill C-51 and recommending its repeal.