By Douglas Quan | National Post | November 27, 2017
Breakthrough reported in efforts to make Canadian-based mining companies accountable on home turf for violations they’re accused of abroad.
A trio of civil cases winding through the courts signal a breakthrough in efforts to hold Canadian-based mining companies accountable on home turf when they’re accused of violations abroad, human rights and legal observers say.
Historically, Canadian judges have been inclined to send such cases back to the jurisdictions where the alleged abuses occurred. But the three pending cases — two in British Columbia and one in Ontario — show that the legal landscape is shifting.
“Courts are now willing to hear these cases,” says Penelope Simons, a law professor at the University of Ottawa. “They’re not trying to punt them back to other places. That’s an important thing.”
Industry groups say they have taken steps to make sure members don’t run afoul of human rights and environmental laws when operating abroad. But several reports in recent years suggest more needs to be done in Canada, which is home to over half of the world’s mining companies reportedly worth $170 billion.
Last year, the Justice and Corporate Accountability Project at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School linked 28 Canadian mining companies to 44 deaths, 403 injuries and 709 arrests, detentions and legal complaints in Latin America from 2000 through 2015. The alleged targets were often anti-mining demonstrators.
The report also found that publicly listed companies disclosed only 24 per cent of the fatalities and 12 per cent of the injuries in their company-performance reports.
This past June, the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights noted that “cases of alleged human rights abuse by Canadian companies abroad … continue to be a cause for serious concern” and urged the federal government to do more to “set out clear expectations for Canadian companies operating overseas.”
Experts say increased exposure of the problem could be a reason why Canadian courts seem more willing now to take on these cases. Whatever the reason, the trend is welcomed by human rights watchers.
“It’s important that no company is above the rule of law,” said Amanda Ghahremani, legal director at the Canadian Centre for International Justice.
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