Mining opponents fume at Canada's enterprise ombudsperson

Anti-mining activists are voicing disappointment at the employment in April of Sheri Meyerhoffer as Canada's ombudsperson for responsible enterprise (CORE), 15 months after the position was created by the federal liberal government.

The new Canadian ombudsperson for responsible enterprise, Sheri Meyerhoffer

The new Canadian ombudsperson for responsible enterprise, Sheri Meyerhoffer

The role is currently seen to lack 'teeth', since international trade diversification minister Jim Carr last month deferred a final decision on the watchdog's investigative powers until the end of a month-long legal review. No details of the review have been revealed.

According to MiningWatch Canada, Meyerhoffer is a former lobbyist with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, reason enough apparently to spark disappointment and outrage across the anti-mining lobby.

"This is a classic bait-and-switch by the government - promise one thing, deliver another. It is pathetic that in 2019, not only do Canadian companies continue to export human rights and environmental abuses, but worse, the Canadian government refuses to do anything that will actually address the problem," said Klippensteins lawyer Cory Wanless.

Wanless is representing the Mayan Qʼeqchiʼ people in Guatemala against Canadian base metals miner Hudbay Minerals and its subsidiary HMI Nickel.

"If this government wants to validate its feminist claims, it would champion corporate accountability and appoint an ombudsperson who is not only a woman, but is independent and empowered to investigate the allegations of egregious human rights violations and environmental abuse that are being brought forward by Indigenous women who are impacted by Canadian mining companies," faith-based coalition KAIROS' Rachel Warden said.

MiningWatch added the CORE would potentially make things worse for communities and organisations by giving companies a new avenue to target them.

"This new watchdog's mandate includes language that allows companies to submit complaints against communities and NGOs. As we have always said, it is not companies who need avenues, the deck is already heavily stacked in their favour," Kirsten Francescone said.

"This move is dangerous and needs to be denounced for what it is: an industry initiative that will further tip the scales of power against communities who are defending their lands and resources."

The CORE could not immediately be reached for comment.

From 2000-2015, Canadian mining companies operating in Latin America were involved in 44 deaths, 30 of which were considered ‘targeted' and 403 injuries, 363 of which occurred in during protests and confrontations, according to data from the Justice and Corporate Accountability Project, a legal clinic under the direction of law professors at York University and Thompson Rivers University.

The clinic also found 709 cases of ‘criminalisation', including legal complaints, arrests, detentions and charges.

"Given the horrific nature of the abuses regularly reported at Canadian mine sites around the world, it is unbelievable how the government is capitulating to corporate interests to allow them to continue these abuses with no consequence or even investigation," Mining Injustice Solidarity Network organiser Sakura Saunders said.

Amnesty International added its voice to the chorus against the CORE.

"We're furious. The government has finally hired an ombudsperson to review allegations of human rights violations by Canadian companies in their operations abroad. But the office is merely advisory and has no independence or powers to make violators accountable for their actions. What good is a watchdog without teeth?"

The call for an ombudsperson was started in 2007 with the final report from the National Roundtables on Corporate Social Responsibility and the Canadian Extractive Sector in Developing Countries. These roundtables were initiated by a federal government steering committee and culminated with the release of a consensus report, authored by a multistakeholder advisory group that included representatives from industry, civil society, academia, labour and the socially responsible investment community.


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