Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise opens complaints process, Canadian civil society advises “approach with caution”

Published by Brent Patterson on

Photo: Sheri Meyerhoffer.

On March 15, this media release highlighted: “Sheri Meyerhoffer, the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE), announced today that her office is open to receive complaints of possible human rights abuses arising from the operations abroad of Canadian companies in mining, oil and gas, and garment sectors.”

The online form to file a complaint (in Spanish) can be found here.

In response, the Open for Justice campaign coordinated by the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability (CCNA) tweeted:

“As the @CORE_ombuds opens to receive complaints, it still lacks independence & #power2compel. The CNCA has had to advise its global partners & impacted communities to approach the office with caution.”

The “approach with caution” background can be read (in Spanish) here.

The fundamental concern is that without the ability to compel the cooperation of entities against which a complaint is made or others who may hold relevant information, the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise will need to rely on voluntary compliance which is seen to compromise its effectiveness.

A media release on UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s visit to Canada in June 2019 noted: “[Bachelet] encouraged the authorities to ensure the Ombudsperson will have sufficient powers to independently and effectively investigate allegations of human rights abuses under its mandate.”

Commenting on the opening of the complaints process, CNCA coordinator Emily Dwyer says: “Canada is failing to live up to its human rights commitments by refusing to act on its own legal advice and give the CORE real powers. Today, the world takes note: Canada is not the leader on human rights that it claims to be.”

Above Ground director Karyn Keenan has also stated: “The CORE, as it stands right now, is not a meaningful mechanism for people to seek justice.”

And former Amnesty International-Canada secretary-general Alex Neve noted yesterday in this series of tweets: “I so much want to wish Sheri Meyerhoffer well as the CORE opens its door to receive complaints and take action. But without those powers this feels so much like where we have been before. And that went nowhere other than letting down the frontline communities around the world who have experienced human rights abuse associated with the operations of Canadian extractive companies.”

That said, The Globe and Mail has reported: “John Packer, an associate professor of law and director of the Human Rights Research and Education Centre at the University of Ottawa, said while the power to compel witness testimony and documents would be useful for Ms. Meyerhoffer, it is not a silver-bullet solution.”

Packer says: “It would place her in a more adversarial position vis-à-vis commercial actors. She needs co-operation. That comes in various ways – not only through coercion.”

Two PBI accompanied organizations submitted a complaint to the CORE in May 2020 (a full year after Meyerhoffer was appointed to the position). They were informed that complaints were not being received at that time.

PBI-Canada and civil society allies recently participated in a virtual meeting with Meyerhoffer and Global Affairs Canada officials on this complaints mechanism as well as the annual human rights review process for the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

The CORE currently has 10 staff, who will be able to travel to investigate complaints, and a budget of $992,000 plus a one-time allocation of $650,000 for 2020-21.

The “Approach with caution” document in Spanish here.

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