Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Canada Clashes with UN Rights Panel over Resource Company Behaviour Abroad

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Canada Clashes with UN Rights Panel over Resource Company Behaviour Abroad

Article excerpt

Canada clashes with UN panel over resources

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OTTAWA - The federal government clashed with a United Nations panel this week over whether a major international treaty applies to potential human rights violations by Canadian resources companies operating abroad.

The sharp difference of opinion was one of several flashpoints between Canada and the UN Human Rights Committee, which wrapped three days of hearings Wednesday in Geneva.

Canada had provided lengthy written answers last month to 24 questions on the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including how it monitors the human rights conduct of Canadian resource companies operating abroad, some of which face lawsuits alleging abuse.

In its written answers, Canada said it "strongly encourages" companies to implement corporate social responsibility measures, and if they don't the government will withhold "trade advocacy support in foreign markets."

But the committee pressed for more details on that and other subjects during the in-person appearance by the Canadian delegation, led by a senior Justice Department official.

In their testimony, the delegation appeared to shock the sensibilities of the 18-member committee when it evoked the principle of "extra-territoriality" for the employees of the 800 Canadian companies operating in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

That means that in the government's view the treaty applies to Canadians in Canada, but not those working in foreign countries.

"A country could not just provide corporate identity to a company and then be unperturbed by whatever the company could do around the world," a panel member told the Canadians, according to a UN document summarizing the proceedings.

The Canadian delegation pressed the issue saying, "individuals affected by the operation of Canadian companies abroad were thus not necessarily under Canadian jurisdiction."

But the head of the committee appeared to differ.

"The final arbiter for the interpreting the Covenant was the Committee, not individual States," said committee chair Fabian Omar Salvioli in his closing statement.

The Argentine human rights lawyer also noted that "activities of mining companies could affect many rights of local populations" and that "the issue of aboriginal peoples in Canada" was a major topic of inquiry during the hearings. …

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