UN urges Canada to probe mining abuses abroad

Date of publication: 
24 July 2015

Committee voices concern about ‘allegations of human rights abuses by Canadian companies operating abroad.’

A United Nations watchdog urged Canada on Thursday to investigate alleged human rights abuses by its mining companies abroad and launch an inquiry into the high number of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.

The U.N. Human Rights Committee examined Canada’s record in upholding civil and political freedoms as part of a regular review of seven countries during its four-week session.

The committee of 18 independent experts voiced concern about “allegations of human rights abuses by Canadian companies operating abroad, in particular mining corporations, and about the inaccessibility to remedies by victims of such violations”.

It gave no specific examples, but Canadian companies are active across the globe from Papua New Guinea to Eritrea and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The U.N. body urged Canadian authorities to “consider establishing an independent mechanism with powers to investigate human rights abuses by such corporations abroad”.

“One major concern by the committee was the murdered and missing indigenous females, women and children,” committee vice-chair Anja Seibert-Fohr told a news briefing.

“We have found that these indigenous females are disproportionately affected by violence.”

Activist groups, in a paper submitted to the body, said: “Violence against Aboriginal women and girls in Canada is a problem of massive proportions, and its manifestation in British Columbia is particularly pronounced.”

Between 2005 and 2010, the Native Women’s Association of Canada documented more than 600 cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls throughout Canada over 30 years and more cases have been recorded since, they said. Yet police often dismissed reports of missing native women, some of whom were prostitutes or drug users with transient lifestyles.

“We are still missing information about real investigations and the prosecution,” Seibert-Fohr said.

“Therefore we asked (Canada) to urgently address this issue of these murdered and missing indigenous women and we proposed some measures, for example a national inquiry into this phenomenon but also a review of the relevant legislation.”

The committee voiced concern at reports of native people losing their land rights and the cost of litigation for indigenous peoples. It urged Canada to “resolve land and resources disputes with indigenous peoples and find ways and means to establish their titles over their lands with respect to their treaty rights.”


Scathing UN report a rallying cry for civil society, opposition

UN Human Rights Committee criticizes Canada’s record on asylum-seekers, missing and murdered Aboriginal women, mining companies and anti-terrorism legislation.

Marie-Danielle Smith, Embassy – http://www.embassynews.ca/news/2015/07/23/scathing-un-report-a-rallying-...

23 July 2015

Opposition parties vow they’ll do a better job of prioritizing human rights obligations if they come to power after the federal election expected Oct. 19.

Their assertions come after the UN’s Human Rights Committee issued a critical report Thursday after reviewing Canada’s implementation of international human rights commitments.

Major concerns raised by the report include Canada’s failure to conduct a national inquiry on missing and murdered Aboriginal women, a lack of safeguards governing Canada’s security and intelligence agencies, the conduct of Canadian mining companies abroad and the government’s treatment of asylum-seekers. Among more than a dozen recommendations, the committee suggests conducting a national inquiry on missing and murdered indigenous women and considering revising a new anti-terrorism law.

The report follows hearings July 7 and 8 that put Canada’s implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights under the microscope of 18 human rights experts nominated by countries.

The review is part of the committee’s regular oversight of countries that have ratified the covenant. It’s the first substantial chance for the committee to scrutinize the Canadian government under Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party, which won its first federal mandate in 2006.

For the most part, Canada is getting graded poorly.

Renu Mandhane, director of the international human rights program at the University of Toronto’s law school, said she was pleased with the committee’s recommendations and how strongly they were worded.

“I think when you read the whole report it really gives you a flavour of how far we have fallen in terms of human rights protections in this country.”

Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, called the recommendations “incredibly wide-ranging and important and timely.”

His was one of more than two dozen civil society organizations that presented evidence to the UN committee as part of its review.

In its report, the committee acknowledged a “level of apprehension” across Canadian civil society and said Canada should ensure that its implementation of the Income Tax Act “does not result in unnecessary restrictions on the activities of non-governmental organizations defending human rights.” Rules require that no more than 10 per cent of registered charities’ activities be non-partisan political work.

Canadian governments haven’t had great track records in implementing UN recommendations, Mr. Neve said. But the election campaign is an opportunity to turn things around.

“We need to hear from Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper and all of the leaders that they recognize how significant this UN review is,” he said.

As of Thursday afternoon, the federal government had not responded to Embassy’s questions about the committee report.

Canadian Heritage spokesman Charles Cardinal told Embassy ahead of the report’s release, however, that the government would be reviewing the recommendations. It would be up to federal departments and provincial and municipal governments to take actions they deemed appropriate to respond to the UN committee’s recommendations, he said.

“Canada is proud of its world leading human rights record,” he added.

Wayne Marston, human rights critic for the NDP, said the human rights lens is important to his party and finding ways to implement the recommendations in the report would be “very high on our leader’s agenda.”

“The last couple of governments in Canada have not done a wonderful job,” he said, in prioritizing international commitments within the UN framework. He mentioned the Liberal and Conservative governments both refused to sign on to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, something the NDP has committed to do.

Regarding Bill C-51, the new Anti-Terrorism Law, Mr. Marston said the NDP would repeal it entirely if the party formed government.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau went on the record in June defending his party’s support of Bill C-51 in the House of Commons but saying a Liberal government, if elected, would move quickly to change the bill and increase oversight for security and intelligence agencies.

The Liberals’ critic for international development and the status of women, Kirsty Duncan, said she’s happy to see the UN calling for action on issues she has raised as critic, including pay equity between men and women and “our national tragedy” of missing and murdered Aboriginal women.

“We’ve absolutely committed to having a national public inquiry, so we’ll start there,” she said.

The committee is asking Canada to report back in a year with an update on its implementation of recommendations related to missing and murdered indigenous women, the treatment of refugees and its handling of indigenous lands and titles.

The next full report on Canada’s implementation of the covenant is due in 2020.

Here’s a summary of several key issues from the UN committee’s concluding observations:

Missing and murdered indigenous women:

The committee urges Canada to prioritize the issue and to conduct a national inquiry, something the government has routinely said would be redundant, despite pressure from provincial premiers and human rights and indigenous organizations. The Conservative government has said that the issue has already been well studied and that it’s time for action.

The committee expresses concern that indigenous women and girls are disproportionately affected by violence.

It acknowledges that the British Columbia government published a report and adopted legislation on missing persons. It also notes the federal government published an Action Plan to Address Family Violence and Violent Crimes Against Aboriginal Women and Girls in 2014.

But this isn’t enough, the committee states. It is concerned about Canada’s “reported failure to provide adequate and effective responses to this issue” and “the lack of information on measures taken to investigate, prosecute and punish those responsible.”

Canada’s responses to the committee’s questions, dated June 19, state “Canada recognizes that there is significant international interest in this issue and has participated in and provided documentation for all special mechanisms looking into violence against Aboriginal women.”

Immigration detention and non-refoulement:

The report expresses concerns that Canada may detain some migrants or asylum-seekers for an unlimited period; that individuals from designated ‘safe’ countries are denied appeal hearings against rejected refugee claims, “thus increasing a risk that those individuals may be subjected to refoulement”; and that cuts made in 2012 to the Interim Federal Health Program have resulted in irregular migrants losing access to essential health care.

Non-refoulement is a principle of international law that says countries should not send migrants back to a country if they face persecution or danger there. But parts of Canada’s immigration legislation leave loopholes that could result in migrants being deported back to their countries of origin, even if it puts them at risk, according to the committee.

It’s a concern that was echoed by the Federal Court Thursday in a ruling that said treating refugee claimants differently depending on their country of origin is a clear case of discrimination.

The committee cites additional concerns about security certificates, used by the federal government to deport non-Canadians for national security reasons, which have come under Supreme Court scrutiny for potential rights violations.

“The principle of non-refoulement is a cornerstone of Canada’s refugee protection system,” the government said in its written response to committee questions. “Canada continues to offer eligible asylum claimants, regardless of their country of origin, a full fact-based, independent review of their application.”

The government also defended its decision to change the Interim Federal Health Program, saying rejected refugee claimants should not receive “taxpayer-funded benefits that are more generous than those provided to Canadian taxpayers.” After the Federal Court last year found that the health cuts went against the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the government appealed but also put in place temporary measures in November 2014 in a bid to comply with the court. The government says this mean the “vast majority” of beneficiaries can receive coverage similar to what Canadians receive under provincial health plans.


The committee report weighs in on Bill C-51, recently passed into law as the Anti-Terrorism Act.

Though it notes Canada’s need to fight acts of terrorism, it is concerned about the broad mandate and powers given to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, which could result in “mass surveillance and targeting activities that are protected under the Covenant without sufficient and clear legal safeguards.”

The Security of Canada Information Sharing Act created by Bill C-51 doesn’t ensure that inaccurate or irrelevant information isn’t shared among government departments and with foreign governments.

The committee says Canada should consider revising Bill C-51 “to ensure that it complies with the Covenant,” establish oversight mechanisms for security and intelligence agencies, provide for judicial involvement in authorizing surveillance measures and allow people who are on the no-fly list to be informed and to be able to challenge their inclusion on the list.

The government has defended Bill C-51 and its measures saying they’re necessary for national security. “We are providing police forces with the additional tools they need to prevent, detect, deny and respond to the threat of jihadi terrorism while fully protecting our civil liberties,” Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said in a press release June 18, the day the bill passed into law.

“Without security, there can be no liberty, and our government knows that these measures serve to protect both.”

A spokesperson for the minister defended the law to the Canadian Press in response to the committee report Thursday, saying that it contains “reasonable measures similar to those used by our close allies.”

Canadian mining companies:

The committee notes it is “concerned about allegations of human rights abuses by Canadian companies operating abroad, in particular mining corporations and about the inaccessibility to remedies by victims of such violations.”

It “regrets the absence of an effective independent mechanism with powers to investigate complaints alleging abuses by such corporations that adversely affect the enjoyment of the human rights of victims, and of a legal framework that would facilitate such complaints.”

Canadian-owned mining companies operate in a large number of developing countries, where laws and regulations surrounding human rights are often very different than those implemented in Canada.

The Foreign Affairs department told Embassy earlier this month that its revised Corporate Social Responsibility Strategy launched in November 2014, “makes clear the government’s expectation that Canadian extractive sector companies reflect Canadian values in all their activities abroad, including respect for human rights,” the department said. The government may bar a company from its support if the company refuses to participate in dispute resolution processes.

Covenant violations:

The UN committee identifies a Canadian “reluctance” to comply with the committee’s own recommendations to Canada.

In some cases, when other avenues have been exhausted, individuals can apply to the committee to review human rights-related decisions. The committee can ask states to suspend deportation plans, for example, while it reviews a case. Canada has not always co-operated with these requests.

“The committee regrets the lack of an appropriate mechanism in the state party to implement views of the committee, with a view…to providing victims with effective remedies,” the report states.

It asks Canada to “reconsider its position” and ensure the committee’s views aren’t ignored in decision-making processes.

Canada’s written answers to the committee acknowledged that the committee’s views are not legally binding but that Canada “works to respect its views” and sometimes considers them in assessing applications on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

msmith [at] embassynews [dot] ca