A number of Osgoode Hall Law School professors have been working for years on transnational corporate accountability for human rights and environmental violations by Canadian companies in other countries. This includes, most recently, the work of Professor Emeritus Shin Imai and the students who have worked with him for several years in the Justice and Corporate Accountability Project (JCAP), the work of which the Nathanson Centre on Transnational Human Rights, Crime and Security is proud to have funded and otherwise supported.
JCAP’s recent “The Canada Brand: Violence and Canadian Mining Companies in Latin America” report has done much to push awareness and the national debate. It also includes the work Osgoode students have gone on to do in their post-Osgoode careers, for example, Osgoode alumnus James Yap who has been central to major breakthrough cases in British Columbia courts. (For more information, see the case involving Canadian corporate activity in Eritrea, just decided in 2017 by the BC Court of Appeal.) And current Osgoode students are working with law firm Klippensteins on the groundbreaking cases brought against Hudbay in Ontario for alleged harms in Guatemala.
JCAP was asked to present the Canada Brand report to members of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights when they were in Toronto, to the Parliamentary Sub-Committee on International Human Rights in Ottawa, and to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington.
All of this work – and considerably more, including scholarly publications – has made a major contribution to laying the ground for the new Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE) office announced by the Liberal government last week.
The current government’s initiative drew inspiration from a private member’s Bill C-584 sponsored in the last Parliament by former New Democratic Party MP Ève Péclet as well as from almost a decade of pressing for similar changes by Liberal MP John McKay starting with his Bill C-300 that was defeated in Parliament.
There are of course many ways the new mechanism can end up more as façade than a change driver, and much will depend on the person who is appointed as Ombudsperson and on the resources available to hire a strong staff. But the signs are hopeful, especially if the recent breakthroughs in access to Canadian courts in tort cases against Canadian companies for human rights harms abroad continue to make inroads so as to complement the softer approach of an Ombudsperson.
This article was submitted by Osgoode Professor Craig Scott who served as director of the Nathanson Centre from 2006 to 2011. He is overseeing the work of the centre this year while its current director is on sabbatical.