During the past year, a broad coalition of Canadian civil society organizations have called for the creation of an independent ombudsman for the extractive sector who is able to make justice more accessible for communities from the Global South affected by Canadian mining operations. As part of this ever-growing movement, Development and Peace has repeatedly insisted on the need for this mechanism, through the Voice for Justice campaign, as well as in previous campaigns. Last year alone, more than 80,000 people expressed their support for our call.
On Wednesday, October 1, during the vote at second reading of Bill C-584, the Parliament of Canada had a unique opportunity to take a first step towards the creation of an independent ombudsman mechanism. A favourable vote would have opened the door for the bill on the creation of an ombudsman for the Canadian extractive sector to be studied by a House of Commons committee. Despite the support of all opposition parties, the project was defeated by a vote of 150 to 127.
Development and Peace sees this result as a missed opportunity to bring to light the impacts of Canadian mining operations abroad and to respond to the need for greater justice for affected communities. The committee stage would have given MPs the opportunity to consult with experts and witnesses from different backgrounds, whose contributions might have helped improve the bill.
The situation is particularly worrisome because this failure occurred shortly after the defeat in the House of another corporate social responsibility bill focusing on conflict minerals: Bill C-486, sponsored by NDP foreign affairs critic, Paul Dewar.
In light of these various considerations, it can only be hoped that the review by the Canadian government of its Corporate Social Responsibility Strategy for the Canadian International Extractive Sector will fully incorporate the recommendations put forth by a network of civil society organizations, of which Development and Peace is a member. These recommendations include the creation of an independent ombudsman position, with the power to receive complaints, analyze them, conduct independent investigations, assess compliance with international standards, make its findings public, and recommend, if necessary, the imposition of sanctions by the Canadian government.
However, at this stage, the results of the votes that took place on bills C-584 and C-486 raise more concerns than hopes.