Canada’s Systematic Failure to Fulfill its International Obligations to Human and Environmental Rights Defenders Abroad

Canada’s Systematic Failure to Fulfill its International Obligations to Human and Environmental Rights Defenders Abroad

Submission to the UPR Working Group of the United Nations Human Rights Council  In anticipation of the 2023 Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Canada

April 4, 2023

Submitted by: Professor Charis Kamphuis & Charlotte Connolly of JCAP

This submission begins in Part 1 by describing the human and environmental rights significance of Canadian economic diplomacy, as well as the direct relevance of this topic to the UPR process. Next in Part 2 it describes Canada’s current policy approach to providing state support to Canadian resource companies, as well as human and environmental rights defenders (HRDs) abroad. In Part 3, the submission cites a wide range of UN bodies and treaties to summarize Canada’s international obligations to support and protect HRDs who are impacted by the operations of Canadian companies abroad. It also cites international commentary that expresses concern specifically about Canada’s track record in this area.

Part 4 synthesizes the findings in four major case studies of Canadian economic diplomacy, with impacts on HRDs. These studies are based on events that took place between 2009 and 2017 in Mexico, Guatemala and Peru. This part identifies three main themes, present across all four studies, and illustrates each theme with examples from the case studies. These themes are: (1) Canada supports companies, despite notice of alleged human and environmental rights violations; (2) Canada systematically disregards its domestic and international obligations in this area; and (3) Canadian officials have contributed to the risk of harm for HRDs. Part 5 outlines a recent and very straightforward example, from 2021 in Ecuador, that illustrates how Canada’s failures in this area are ongoing.

Finally, Part 6 respectfully requests that the UPR Working Group make the following recommendations to Canada:

  1. Recommend that Canada reform its policy and legal approach to economic diplomacy and HRDs abroad to an approach that can ensure that the actions of Canadian officials comply with Canada’s international human and environmental rights obligations.
  1. Recommend that such reforms be developed only after a fulsome and meaningful process of civil society engagement. This should include HRDs, Indigenous peoples, communities, and groups who are directly impacted by industrial resource extraction abroad, with the support of the Canadian government and diplomatic missions.

This consultation should follow the principle that policy and law reforms should be informed by empirical research like that cited in this submission, as well as by the lived experience and perspectives of those who are directly impacted by the policies under discussion.

  1. Recommend that Canada conduct a comprehensive review of the failures of Canadian officials to uphold Canada’s international human and environmental rights obligations in the four case studies cited in this report. This review should identify the appropriate remedies owed to any individuals who were harmed directly or indirectly by Canada’s actions.

Read the full report here: