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 committee asked Canada to provide answers 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.
The Canadian delegation, led by a senior Justice Department official, 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.
“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.
But the head of the committee appeared to differ.
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.\
Shelagh Day, of the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action, a group that has advocated for aboriginal women, said she was disappointed by the Canadian response to a series of questions on missing and murdered aboriginal women, and other inequities involving First Nations.
“The comments of Canada regarding missing and murdered aboriginal women and Canada’s relationship with aboriginal peoples ring hollow,” she said.
“Canada is not engaged in a candid dialogue with the UN Human Rights Committee about its human rights performance, but in self-promotion.”
The panel also noted that Canada had not “abided by the views of the committee” in deporting a Somali citizen who faced persecution and a Jamaican who was exposed to police brutality after deportation.
“Despite recommendations to the contrary, information was allowed to be shared with a foreign country in security matters even if that would lead to torture,” the committee stated in the preamble to one question.
The Canadian delegation replied that “the committee’s views were not legally binding, but Canada had accepted its views in a majority of cases.”
The committee asked whether changes in the act that allow for the deportation of dual nationals convicted of terrorism, spying or treason could render someone stateless, but the government said they wouldn’t.
The Canadian delegation said it was committed to protecting the rights of Canadians while combating terrorism.
The committee will issue a final report in two weeks.