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Ombudsperson could be a new tool for activists to help advance mining justice

Canadian capital is deeply invested in mining operations in Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, Colombia and other countries around the world.

Mexico

NOW Magazine has reported that, "Of the 293 mining companies operating in Mexico, 205 are backed by Canadian capital."

Vancouver-based Fortuna Silver operates the mine in the community of San José del Progreso where two of its outspoken opponents -- local resident Bernardo Méndez Vásquez and Indigenous Zapotec land defender Bernardo Vasquez Sánchez -- have been killed.

Honduras

In 2013, the Canadian Embassy in Honduras and the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs were involved in developing the new mining law in that country and ensuring that it would be satisfactory to Canadian industry.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams noted in the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, "in creating this new law, the Honduran government has bent over backwards to meet the needs of Canadian and other mining companies but has carried out almost no consultations with Honduran civil society and community organizations."

Williams noted the law accelerates the licencing process for new mines, reduces environmental standards, privileges water use by mining companies, and opens the door to foreign entities to become title owners of mining concessions.

Colombia

In Colombia, MiningWatch Canada has noted, "Canada provided technical support to the development of the current mining law that was instrumental in opening up the country's mining sector to foreign investment." It then highlighted, "Canadian investors have been key beneficiaries of these reforms."

MiningWatch has also argued that Canadian investors would benefit from the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement that became law in June 2010.

Guatemala

And in Guatemala, Aura Lolita Chávez Ixcaquic, a Maya K'iche human rights defender, commented in reference to mining operations, "Canadian companies are the main protagonists in this invasion that brings only death and destruction."

Report on Business editor Duncan Hood has written, "Most of us don't associate Canadian businesses with assault and murder. But between 2000 and 2015, 44 people died as a result of violence surrounding Canadian-owned mines in Latin America."

After years of public pressure, the Trudeau government announced in January 2018 that it would create the Canadian Ombudsperson for the Responsible Enterprise (CORE).

The government said the office would independently investigate allegations of abuses by Canadian-based corporations operating outside of the country.

One year later, the office remains unstaffed.

Last month, a spokesperson for International Trade Diversification Minister Jim Carr stated, "The mandate and associated responsibilities of the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise are subject to Governor in Council authority and will be outlined through a published Order in Council."

Journalist Jim Hodgson now comments, "Recently the Mining Association of Canada publicly rejected the ombudsperson having the power to compel documents and testimony. Clearly, Canadian companies alleged to have committed human rights violations won't volunteer to be held accountable."

Hodgson highlights that an ombudsperson without the power to investigate equals the status quo.

Numerous people are now tweeting, "The ombudsperson must have the power to compel documents and testimony" along with the hashtag #power2investigate.

Activist Rachel Small has cautioned, "Even if an ombudsperson is hired, and the conditions that will make this office effective are met, it is clear that the struggle must continue."

She notes, "We need real justice for victims of violence. We need decision-makers in violent corporations to be held criminally accountable in Canada and abroad. We need all communities to be assured free, prior and informed consent before new resource extraction projects go ahead."

And she states, "We need Canada to no longer be the global leader for violent, coercive and destructive mining projects."

Small concludes, "Even in its most powerful and independent iteration, none of that is going to happen through this ombudsperson office."

Hodgson has speculated that a human rights ombudsperson might be named soon. Numerous activists will be eagerly watching for the details in that announcement and to have a new (albeit likely limited) tool to constrain the impunity of Canadian mining operations.

Image: Brent Patterson

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