Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, for the opportunity to speak to you today.
Having served abroad in Colombia, Switzerland, and Israel and as a Canadian ambassador to Panama and Costa Rica, I can tell you firsthand that corporate social responsibility, or CSR, is an issue of great relevance to Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, both at headquarters and in our diplomatic missions around the world. The department plays an active role in supporting Canadian companies to develop and implement CSR practices and in fostering uptake of these principles within Canadian corporate culture. As you are aware, our departmental priorities include advocating and supporting respect for freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. The Prime Minister has directly, and often, reiterated these priorities.
Another key departmental priority is promoting and achieving greater economic opportunity for Canada, with a focus on growing and emerging markets. The department pursues a global commerce strategy to secure Canada's growth and prosperity. This does not mean we promote Canadian companies at any cost. We believe strongly in a win-win approach and that Canadian investment can and should contribute to prosperity and sustainable development in other countries. Having 150 missions across Canada and around the world allows us to pursue this growth and prosperity for Canadians and the Canadian economy.
With respect to the role of the Government of Canada in the area of corporate social responsibility, the trade commissioner service performs several key roles, including advising and counselling companies on Canada's CSR expectations and referring clients to relevant and applicable information tools and guidelines.
Canada's approach to CSR is to encourage and expect Canadian firms operating abroad to respect all applicable laws and international standards and to reflect our values and international commitments. Canada also supports and encourages the Canadian business community to develop and implement CSR standards, tools, and best practices. There is, however, a limit to what companies can provide to support the social, health, environmental, and education concerns of the communities in the sovereign states within which they operate. Host governments are responsible for legislation and programs that meet the needs of their own citizens. Foreign corporations must operate within that domestic legal framework.
Canada also engages on CSR-related issues at a variety of multilateral fora, including the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development--the OECD; Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation--APEC; G-8; la Francophonie; the Organization of American States--the OAS; and the United Nations.
Through the engagement of DFAIT, Canada has supported the work of the special representative of the UN Secretary-General on business and human rights, Dr. John Ruggie, since 2005, and welcomed the release of his report, “Protect, Respect and Remedy: a Framework for Business and Human Rights”, in 2008.
In light of the importance of CSR, the Government of Canada continues to enhance the ability of our trade, political, and development officers in Canada and abroad so that they have the information and tools they need to provide timely and effective CSR counsel and advice to our companies operating abroad. To this end, DFAIT has
First, trained trade and political officers including departing Heads of Missions with respect to CSR policies, guidelines and standards.
Second, created an internal intranet website which is at the disposal of all missions abroad and regional offices in Canada as the primary vehicle for guidance on CSR.
Third, created a $180,000 CSR fund which is a resource for missions and regional offices to foster and promote CSR.
Fourth, issued CSR e-bulletins on a monthly basis from headquarters to all the missions with the latest CSR news from headquarters and around the world to keep the missions informed of the latest CSR developments.
And lastly, created an Internet CSR website which contains a significant amount of information about the department's activities and policies.
Most companies understand that CSR has become a critical part of doing business, and that in order to be credible, CSR principles must be embedded within core business strategies and corporate culture. This is reflected in the concept of "earning" the social licence to operate. We understand that it is also essential to obtaining financing.
The government's new CSR strategy, “Building the Canadian Advantage”, was developed through consultations undertaken with a number of stakeholders, including the national round tables as well as recommendations raised by the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade in its 2005 report entitled “Mining in Developing Countries--Corporate Social Responsibility”.
A number of federal departments and agencies contributed to its development, including Natural Resources Canada, the Canadian International Development Agency, Industry Canada, Environment Canada, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, Justice Canada, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, and Finance Canada, as well as Export Development Canada.
Canada's new CSR strategy builds on Canada's long-standing adherence to the OECD guidelines for multinational enterprises, which contain recommendations for voluntary performance standards for responsible business conduct.
Since 1999, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade has been home to Canada's national contact point, or NCP for short, which is responsible for promoting awareness of the OECD guidelines and reviewing reports of specific instances of non-compliance with these guidelines. The NCP provides a mechanism for dispute resolution. Canada's NCP is set up as an interdepartmental committee, which I presently chair.
With respect to Canada's new CSR strategy, it is founded on four key pillars. The first pillar calls for continuing assistance from CIDA for the governments of developing countries to enhance their capacity to manage natural resources in a sustainable and responsible manner. Resource governance, transparency, and accountability in developing countries are critical to ensuring that the extractive sector contributes to poverty reduction. These factors are also essential to creating a business environment that is conducive to responsible corporate conduct in countries where Canadian companies operate. This first pillar builds on existing initiatives where CIDA has played a key role. For example, in Peru, CIDA has worked extensively with the Peruvian government, mining companies, and affected communities to develop regulatory requirements for social and environmental management.
The second pillar of this strategy calls for the promotion of internationally recognized voluntary CSR performance and reporting guidelines. In addition to our continued support for the OECD guidelines, the government will promote the following international CSR performance guidelines.
First are the International Finance Corporation performance standards on social and environmental sustainability for extractive projects with potential adverse social or environmental impacts. These are the de facto performance benchmarks for projects in developing countries that require substantial financial investments.
Second are the voluntary principles on security and human rights for projects involving private or public security forces. At the 2009 plenary in Oslo, Canada was welcomed to this process as the first engaged government under the new participation framework.
Third is the global reporting initiative, or GRI, for CSR reporting by the extractive sector to enhance transparency and encourage market-based rewards for good CSR performance.
These widely recognized international standards will form the basis for Canada's commitment to supporting continuous improvement in the CSR performance of our extractive sector companies operating abroad.
The third pillar of this strategy involves support for the development of a new CSR centre of excellence. In order to address CSR in their operations, Canadian companies need information, education programs, and tools. This one-stop shop would provide information for companies, non-governmental organizations, and other relevant stakeholders. We're currently in discussion with the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum, CIM, in Montreal, to provide a home for the CSR centre of excellence, which will work with stakeholders to develop the centre.
Finally, the fourth pillar of this strategy calls for the creation of the office of the extractive sector CSR counsellor. This office would be responsible for providing assistance in the resolution of social and environmental issues related to Canadian extractive sector companies operating abroad. The counsellor will review and document the CSR practices of Canadian extractive companies operating abroad and advise stakeholders on the implementation of CSR performance guidelines. Requests for review by the counsellor may originate from an individual, group, or community, or their representatives, who reasonably believe that it or they may have been adversely affected by the activities of a Canadian extractive company outside Canada. The counsellor will undertake reviews with the consent of the involved parties.
This consensus-based approach will help facilitate constructive and meaningful engagement among stakeholders toward finding a sustainable resolution to CSR-related concerns.
The counsellor will issue a public statement after each review, including on requests that could not be completed because there was no agreement amongst the parties to proceed. The counsellor will also submit an annual report to be tabled in Parliament by the Minister of International Trade.
We anticipate that the advertisement for the counsellor's position will be published in the Canada Gazette in the next few weeks, and we are aiming to have the position filled by September 2009.
In conclusion, “Building the Canadian Advantage” strategy represents a comprehensive step in defining our role in supporting and promoting responsible corporate practice.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. We'd be pleased to answer the committee's questions.
If I may, I will answer your second question. Ms. Pottie can talk to you a bit more about consultations with civil society.
In many countries, when foreign investors arrive, it happens too often that local, even national governments will wash their hands of these regions. In other words, a company wants to invest, and all of a sudden it becomes responsible for building schools, roads, setting up health care services, and providing basic services that all governments must ensure their citizens. Countries, or local governments, often say that when a foreign company arrives on the scene, it has to act. I have even witnessed a case of a community that became completely and utterly dependent on a project because it provided basic services that had absolutely nothing to do with the project. In addition, the local governments located three provinces away claimed that their power plant had broken down, and since the company was present and providing electricity, it should build a new thermal plant.
We have clearly seen that there are companies that choose to invest in certain communities, fulfil their duties and provide what they are obliged to provide, but they must not replace local governments. Everyone knows that one day a project must come to an end—fortunately the most serious companies will always have an exit strategy—but when that happens, there will no longer be a school, there will no longer be a clinic, there will be nothing. We advise our companies to carefully choose the projects and initiatives that a community will benefit from. We also advise them to be careful and to not replace local governments.
A very large number of additional consultations were held in a more targeted manner. I myself took part in some of these consultations at the end of the round table, and many associations were consulted. Some companies were consulted more extensively. Our people working abroad were consulted, and we asked them what the local governments' and foreign governments' expectations were. There was that aspect as well. I know that this committee has undertaken additional consultations with civil society. We can therefore involve the same groups that have been participating since the beginning, but proceed in a more in-depth manner.
Beginning with some of the definitions, we did start on some of them. In subclause 2(1), under “Interpretation”, you talk about a “corporation” including “any company or legal person incorporated by or under an Act of Parliament or of any province.” We're not clear about whether this means Canadian companies that are incorporated in the host country or whether they are Canadian companies that may be partnered with or under joint venture with another company in another country.
Again under “Interpretation”, when you go into “developing countries”, it refers to a “list of countries and territories eligible for Canadian development assistance” as “established by the Minister of International Cooperation.” CIDA has informed us that there is no such list, and it's not clear to us whether this bill purports that the minister is to create such a list. This would also have foreign policy implications if we were to create such a list. There is a list of countries that currently receive ODA, but that list changes each year, so there is no list of countries that are “eligible” to receive ODA.
We understand, when you talk about “international human rights standards” means standards that are based on international human rights conventions to which Canada is a party and on international customary law”, that this is referring to treaties and obligations that are obligations on states and are written, to quote Dr. Ruggie, “by states for states” and are not easily translatable for corporations. In fact, Dr. Ruggie, who is the special representative of the Secretary-General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, has reported on April 22 to the Human Rights Council exactly what I said, that these are treaties that are written by states for states, and even the experts on human rights do not clearly understand their meaning for business. We would have some difficulty there, I think, in establishing those kinds of guidelines.
As is mentioned under “mineral resources”, there is a non-exhaustive list of those that are not included here, but it needs some clarification.
When the bill refers to “mining, oil or gas activities” including the transportation of the product out of a developing country or on the high seas controlled directly or indirectly by a Canadian company, this is a very broad definition. There could be unforeseen consequences up and downstream, companies that are related, so we're not entirely sure of the full extent of the impact there. Would it include soil remediation companies that maybe would be called in after the fact by a mining operation for cleanups? It's very broad.
When we get to the interchangeable use of...the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of International Trade are used interchangeably in this. The interchangeable nature is somewhat confusing and could lead to a duplication of efforts and resources. It also leaves the accountability somewhat unclear to us.
When we turn to the “Purpose”, clause 3 talks about “corporations engaged in mining, oil or gas activities and receiving support from the Government of Canada”. That support would probably need to be defined better for us. We're not entirely sure what the extent of that support would be, although there are obviously hints of it in the consequential amendments.
There's also a reference here to “environmental best practices”. We're not sure which environmental best practices are being referred to here. There's no body or standard cited in the rest of the bill. Generally, we refer to CSR best practice where there are internationally recognized standards out there.
In other words, to put a ribbon on it, the minister can provide the travel document to Mr. Abdelrazik.
I would just ask for the indulgence of the committee for a second. I have here letters, which I think are important, from both the RCMP and Jim Judd, who state the following:
||This correspondence is in response to your letter dated October 24, 2007, requesting assessment of the RCMP information as it pertains to Mr. Abousfian Abdelrazik. Your letter outlined the guidelines established by the UN Al Qaida and Taliban Sanctions Committee for listing an entity/individual. As Mr. Abdelrazik is currently a listed individual, you further requested whether the RCMP had any current and substantive information to support the continued listing.
||Please be advised that the RCMP conducted a review of its files and was unable to locate any current and substantive information that indicates Mr. Abdelrazik is involved in criminal activity.
Similarly, another letter to Mark Moher, the senior coordinator of International Crime and Terrorism, from Jim Judd, says:
||This letter refers to your correspondence dated October 24, 2007 concerning the petition for the de-listing of a Canadian citizen, Mr. Abousfian Abdelrazik, who is included in the United Nations Al Qaida and Taliban Sanctions Committee Consolidated List. Mr. Abdelrazik voluntarily
—and this is important—
||departed Canada for the Sudan in March 2003. The Service has no current substantial
—I'm reading because it's photocopied and it's rather dark—
||information regarding Mr. Abdelrazik.
I have a document here regarding Mr. Abdelrazik that I received through an ATI from the government. It basically says in the talking points--and I don't usually hear from the parliamentary secretary--that the response we have for Mr. Abdelrazik is that:
|| Canada remains ready to provide Mr. Abdelrazik with the necessary consular and financial assistance should be allowed to board a flight and return to Canada.
And finally, I do have a similar document from the minister, from DFAIT, and it says with regard to Abousfian Abdelrazik:
|| DFAIT's position has always been that a travel document can be issued to Mr. Abdelrazik.
I'm simply submitting, maybe not for your edification but perhaps for the record, that we have the Department of Foreign Affairs stating to the minister of the day--granted, it was a different minister--that DFAIT's position is that a travel document can be issued, and that we have the RCMP and CSIS declaring, after there was a request to provide information on Mr. Abdelrazik, that they have no evidence of any concerns in terms of criminal activity.
I note, under section 10.1, which you referenced, that the minister can refuse. I guess the question that's outstanding, which neither you nor I can answer right now, is, based on what evidence, since we have DFAIT, we have the RCMP, and we have CSIS all saying they don't have anything, and this gentleman left on his own for Sudan and has been stranded there since 2003?
So, Chair, I'm at the point where, unless there's any evidence, and I'd like to know.... Certainly from our research and from your statement in your letter, the minister can provide a travel document to a witness that we've asked—I'd just like to ask you, as the chair, to formally request from Mr. Cannon a travel document so that the witness can come before committee. That has not been done. As a member of this committee, I would request you do that, to facilitate a witness to be able to come before committee. We've scheduled that for June 15.
I thank you, Mr. Walsh, for your help on that, but I make a request to you, Chair, to have correspondence written to the minister to provide Mr. Abdelrazik with the necessary travel documents so that he may come before committee on June 15. It can be a motion, but I note, Chair, that we did have a motion that was passed by this committee, a unanimous motion, to have Mr. Abdelrazik appear. Because of abstentions, it was the unanimous consent of the committee.
I'm simply requesting that you write to the Minister of Foreign Affairs to provide Abousfian Abdelrazik with the necessary travel documents so that he might appear before committee.
That's helpful. But I think Mr. Walsh has also underlined that it's not a matter of whether or not we can; it's what would happen if Mr. Abdelrazik appeared and the conduct that would happen. I think there are many things this committee would like to know.
Does it not trouble anyone on the government side that we've had a Canadian citizen stranded in a far-off country since 2003? Does it not concern the government? I guess I direct this through you, Chair, to Mr. Goldring. He was concerned that maybe there's information we don't have access to. Well, this is the part that is the most disconcerting. We have CSIS, the RCMP, and indeed the Government of Sudan who have all said they don't have any information on this gentleman. There are no charges against him. None. Zero. There is nothing against this gentleman. I think it's incumbent upon this committee that we deal with this Canadian citizen who is stranded in one of our embassies. To do that I would like to have him before committee, and I would simply like to follow process here.
My asking a question, and it didn't get the back and forth that I was able to follow through with, with respect, at committee, last time we had the minister here—I won't go through all that. I want due process, where, as chair, you write to the minister to ask for the requisite documents so he can appear. That's without prejudice. We have a witness, the witness needs travel documents, and we ask the minister. It's pretty straightforward. It's just like that.
I think when you consider what I've read into the record today and the fact of that one other item I received through access to information from the government, that indeed the reason—and this is new for a lot of people—he was put on the list was that the U.S. at the time requested it.... We have no idea, based on what information. We know in the past that the U.S. has been given certain information from our sources. And in the case of Arar, there is a similarity, because the information that was passed to them was not accurate and it cost him dearly, and it cost Canadians, actually, financially.
In the case of Mr. Abdelrazik, I don't know how much more probing one does beyond CSIS and the RCMP. I think it's important for us to understand what happened to him. And I think it's important for us to at least go through the process of asking the minister to provide the travel documents.
So I leave it there. The motion is there, and I appreciate the support of all my colleagues on this motion.