As the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights begins its country visit of Canada, Human rights activists staged a sit-in today at the North York constituency office of MP Michael Levitt, chair of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights. The sit-in participants held a banner exclaiming that “mining abuse is a human rights issue”, taking aim at comments from members of the subcommittee, including Levitt, that the harm caused overseas mining was a trade issue, not a human rights one. Activists also delivered 25 reports numbering over 1000 pages – authored by numerous NGOs as well as several committees within the United Nations and the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights – detailing the connection between the global mining industry and systemic human rights abuse. They asserted that Levitt should be a leader in the charge to create a human rights ombudsperson for the extractive sector, not a detractor.
Levitt was targeted for this action because his office has been particularly dismissive of human rights violations at Canadian mine sites overseas. In two previous meetings, including one with a Filipino delegation with Subanen and Lumad Indigenous leaders, Levitt failed to address their concerns and instead insisted that they should bring their complaints elsewhere.
“I was strongly slighted when Mr. Levitt, Chair of the SubCommittee on International Human Rights started talking about the great work the SubCommittee is doing in other countries and completely dismissive of the situation and cases presented by members of the Philippine delegation,” recounted Connie Sorio, Asia-Pacific Partnership Coordinator at KAIROS Canada, who arranged for the Filipino delegation to meet with various MPs.
Historically, the Subcommittee on Human Rights and International Development has advocated for oversight in Canadian mining operations overseas. A 2005 report drafted by the Subcommittee and adopted by the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade initiated the process that led to governmental calls for an ombudsperson. The report stated that they were “concerned that Canada does not yet have laws to ensure that the activities of Canadian mining companies in developing countries conform to human rights standards, including the rights of workers and of indigenous peoples.” Interestingly, it was the testimony of a Filipino delegation impacted by TVI Pacific that brought about the 2005 report.
From 2001 to 2016, there have been 101 alleged cases of political killings of environmental defenders. Within these murders, mining conflict was the most deadly, accounting for 75.2 percent of all recorded cases, according to environmental network Kalikasan. The Lumad and Subanen delegation also complained of forced displacement and the destruction of food sources as a result of mining activity. These harms are not isolated to the Philippines. A 2016 report of the Justice and Corporate Accountability Project at Osgoode Hall Law School documented 100 incidents of violence associated with Canadian extractive companies operating in Latin America between 2000 and 2015. This included 44 deaths, 30 of which the researchers described as “targeted”.
“We are appealing to Members of Parliament, the Canadian government and the public to put an end to human rights violations and other atrocities implicating Canadian owned mining companies operating in Mindanao,” explained Bishop Antonio Ablon of Zamboanga del Sur, who was also a part of the Filipino delegation. “We are supporting the call to hold these companies to account by creating an Ombudsman’s office on extractives.”
To date, more than 100,000 Canadians and over 100 organisations from Canada and around the world have called for the creation of an independent, human rights ombudsperson for the extractive sector. Most Canadian political parties, including the Liberal Party, NDP, Greens and Bloc Quebecois have promised to create such an ombudsperson. However, since the Liberals have taken office, they have dragged their feet on this commitment.
“I strongly support my MP, Michael Levitt, as co-chair of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights to lead the charge in developing an Ombudsperson for the extractive sector” said Reverend Susan Howard, Downsview United Church.