Sunday, October 19, 2008

Peter Julian, MP, on Corporate Accountability

This was passed on to me through Amnesty Canada's BHR listserv:
On December 10, 2007, I introduced a private member's bill to make
international standards of accountability applicable to grave humanrights
offenses committed by Canadians abroad. Bill C-492 would allow foreign
citizens to bring lawsuits against Canadian corporations or citizens in
Federal Court for violations of basic human rights committed outside of our
country. If my bill becomes law, corporations who abuse the human, labour,
or environmental rights of persons in other countries could face hefty
claims in Canadian courts for their illegal behaviour.

This is a continuing problem, which received extensive national attention in
2007 with the release of the Advisory Report from the National Roundtables
on Corporate Social Responsibility. The Report's recommendations to enhance
Canada's corporate social responsibility standards were inevitable, given
the disturbing accounts by roundtable participants of human-rights abuses
allegedly perpetrated by Canadian companies while operating overseas. Over
one year later, the federal government has yet to adopt the Advisory
Report's recommendations designed to prevent such injustice. The failure of
the Conservative government in Ottawa to take action on corporate
accountability is disturbing for a number of reasons.

Our legal system has failed to keep pace with the realities of globalized
commerce in the twenty-first century. As Canadian corporations moved beyond
our market to operate internationally, some of our corporations have engaged
in what I, together with Canadians, would consider detestable practices. For
example, Goldcorp Inc., one of the world's largest gold-mining companies,
headquartered in my own province of British Columbia, faces international
criticism for environmentally destructive mining practices that have
allegedly poisoned local water sources in Latin America. Canadian companies
would never dream of poisoning local Canadian water sources, because they
know that, if they ever did, they would face heavy legal penalties. Why
should we as Canadians take strong stand against corporations that pollute
Canadian water, and then turn around and give carte blanche to those same
corporations to take advantage of weak local governments and to pollute and
poison abroad? Our government washes its hands of these matters because it
claims it is helpless legally to prohibit the activities of corporations in
other sovereign countries. This absurd predicament allows international
human-rights violations to go on unabated.

How bad are the allegations against some Canadian corporations? You be the
judge. In 2001 the Presbyterian Church of Sudan, filed suit in U.S. Federal
Court against Talisman Energy Inc., a $12-billion company headquartered in
Calgary. Among other things, this suit alleged that Talisman aided the
Sudanese military in attacking local populations in an effort to depopulate
areas and allow for its oil exploration. The suit claimed that Talisman
conspired to commit genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The
question for Canadian lawmakers is: Why did this suit have to be brought in
the U.S.?

The lawsuit against Talisman was made possible because of a unique American
statute known as the Alien Tort Claims Act. Similar to my proposed Bill
C-492, the Alien Tort Claims Act provides that noncitizens can bring a civil
action in U.S. district courts for an alleged violation of the law of
nations or a treaty of the United States. The fact that Sudanese villagers
had to use an American forum in order to hold a Canadian corporation
accountable for its alleged behaviour is a clear signal that there are
crucial mechanisms lacking in the Canadian legal system. In fact, as the
Talisman lawsuit itself points out, "there has never to date been a
successful lawsuit alleging a civil wrong grounded in an extraterritorial
violation of human rights" in Canada.

The proposal that governments can and should provide a forum for
enforcing basic standards of human decency when violations occur beyond the
confines of territorial borders is not a new concept. The international
community has long agreed that some wrongs are simply so offensive that
every state can prohibit these acts without regard to where and by whom they
are committed. In fact, according to Amnesty International, there are at
least 125 countries that permit extraterritorial criminal application of
their statutes, and many states also allow civil claims to be made in these

The Canadian government traditionally promotes itself as a defender of human
rights on the international stage. Canada has been at the forefront of the
creation of many human-rights institutions at the U.N. and elsewhere. In
2000, Canada became the first country in the world to incorporate the treaty
obligations establishing the International Criminal Court into its national

Yet, the previous Liberal government intervened in support of Talisman
before the U.S. courts, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper has not changed
the government's direction. This demonstrates a key problem with the present
system of enforcing international human-rights law in Canada. Criminal cases
on both the domestic and international levels require the cooperation and
action of government officials. All too frequently, political considerations
prevent criminal prosecutions of alleged violators from going forward.
Talisman may rest assured that the Harper government will not refer this
matter to the R.C.M.P., or any other competent legal authority, for a
criminal investigation into its activities in Sudan.

The creation of a legal regime that could hold corporations civilly liable
for acts committed outside Canadian boundaries would obviate the need of our
government to involve itself in "sensitive" international human-rights
cases. Bill C-492 will not require official government approval before cases
are launched, as the proposed statute allows individuals direct control over
initiating their own lawsuits. As a result, this bill will allow victims of
human-rights abuses to eliminate their dependence on states to raise these
matters on their behalf in court. Canada protects its own citizens from
abusive conduct by corporations because it has been deeply committed to the
inherent dignity of persons. It is hypocritical and antithetical to Canada's
international treaty obligations to allow Canadian corporations to go abroad
and violate the basic human rights of foreign nationals. Bill C-492 is an
important step to ending corporate impunity in this area of the law.

By Peter Julian, M.P.


janfromthebruce said...

Peter Julian is a great MP, hardworking and caring. Thanks for posting that. It's good see MPs working on behalf of Canadians and their values of human rights.

geovani said...

During the lawsuit, the Falun Gong conducted very malevolent action. Some law workers find it unreasonable and believe that this can be used as a mean to push the respondents to a dead end. There is also a possibility that they intend to get rid of all the voices of opposition.During the inquisition, altogether over 200 Falun Gong practitioners participate in the lawsuit and demand a compensation of 100,000 Canadian dollars for each, which totals over 20, 000, 000 dollars.

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