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FAAE Committee Report

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In January 2018, the Government of Canada announced the creation of a Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE), which, among other things, was mandated to investigate human rights abuses by Canadian companies operating abroad in the oil and gas, mining and garment sectors. The announcement was welcomed by civil society groups and academics who had been reporting the involvement of Canadian companies in human rights abuses abroad for decades. Three years later, however, the office is still in its infancy, with some of the organizations and individuals that initially supported its creation deeply worried that it is not equipped to fulfil its mandate.

As such, the Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development (the Subcommittee) undertook a study on the CORE between 23 February and 27 April 2021. During this time, the Subcommittee heard from 17 witnesses from various backgrounds, including the CORE, the Minister of International Trade, government officials, members of civil society, academics and industry representatives.

The Subcommittee learned that the Government of Canada undertakes a number of initiatives to promote responsible business conduct (RBC) in foreign operations. These efforts range from providing advice on the development of RBC policies, to withdrawing services or financial assistance when companies are found to be operating irresponsibly. Despite these mechanisms, some Canadian companies continue to be accused of human rights abuses abroad, and victims have few remedial mechanisms available to them to address their grievances.

It is for this reason that witnesses agreed on the importance of an independent body with the ability to investigate human rights abuses by Canadian companies operating abroad. Some witnesses, however, were adamant that to fulfil this function, the CORE needs the power to compel witnesses and documents – a power that was initially promised by the Government of Canada, but subsequently left out of the CORE’s mandate. The Subcommittee also learned that Canada’s RBC framework could be strengthened to prevent Canadian corporations operating abroad from abusing human rights in the first place.

It is with these conclusions in mind that the Subcommittee considered whether the CORE should be provided with the ability to compel witnesses and documents. Ultimately, the Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada enact due diligence legislation requiring Canadian companies operating abroad to conduct a thorough evaluation prior to beginning operations to ensure that their work will not adversely impact human rights.