Canada Brand is Canada Brand is Canada Brand: The problem with #humanrights based lens.

The Justice and Corporate Accountability Project’s report is titled, “The ‘Canada Brand’: Violence and Canadian Mining Companies in Latin America.” Though an entire post can be written about the “Canada Brand” in mining, this post is about the human rights focus in the report.[1]

The report is a refreshing start to the discussion on violence around natural resource extraction sites. It is also nice that the report acknowledges its own limitations throughout the report. While the report adopts a corporate law perspective through a human rights based lens, the continued focus on a human rights-based framework is limiting.

In the report, the term violence covers a range of targeted activities but does not include unreported violence or violence not supported by two independent sources.[2] The individuals affected by violence range from community leaders to police officers to members of the press to women and youth, just to name a few.[3]

The report outlines that protests are a site of criminalization as well as violence[4]—something that Indigenous peoples in Canada know all too well (Canada Brand, anyone?). Criminalization is defined by the activities targeted and the focus of criminalization is protests and other related activities.[5]

The report is careful not to draw any links between criminalization and violence.[6] The report also views violence separately from criminalization but criminalization may include violence.[7] However, the report employs two terms to assist in drawing some inference of connection between the criminalization and violence: complicity and proximity.[8] While the report is cautious in its approach, the report expects—at minimum—some sort of governmental response. The report writes,

However, the close proximity of Canadian mining operations in Latin America to violence and criminalization paired with the frequency with which such incidents occur demonstrate a significant problem that demands action by the Canadian government.[9]

The human rights focus is limiting because a human rights based approach to violence and criminalization assumes that the violence and criminalization has ended once an individual comes forward. The term victim on its own also has the same consequences: when a victim talks or reports incidences of violence, it is assumed that the violence has ended. Yet, as an Indigenous woman in colonial canada with ongoing and increasing violence and criminalization around natural resource extraction sites, I know all too well that human rights violations do not stop until the work stops or until death.

Overall, the report recommends changes to disclosure requirements as per securities law.[10] For instance, the report found that companies may incorporate in Canada but do business elsewhere. (When a corporation incorporates in Canada, it must follow laws governing disclosure requirements defined by securities law).

This recommendation is a good start but this does not address the fact that violence and criminalization can and will continue to happen. As the report acknowledges, violence is part of doing business[11], and assuming enhanced disclosure and reporting requirements will stop the violence and criminalization is ignoring the fact that the business will continue.

Another limitation to the human rights based approach to violence and criminalization is that the approach only addresses those stories of violence and criminalization of individuals willing to come forward. In discussions surrounding human rights based violations, we often rarely talk about what individuals need to come forward to tell their stories. We often demand that more people come forward without any analysis or discussion about the harms in coming forward.

An example of the kinds of demands we put on individuals experiencing human rights violations is part the report’s own limitations.

The report acknowledges its own limitations throughout, including removing stories from reporting that could not be “corroborated through two independent sources.”[12] From my perspective, as someone who has lived and worked around natural resource extraction sites, there is almost little to no benefit in telling a story about a human rights violation and to assume that these individuals require independent corroboration places the onus back onto the victim of the human rights violation to prove the violation. And, though it is not the only limitation of a human rights based lens, it is the most troublesome: Placing the onus back onto the victim to prove their story. Additionally, the human rights focus and this specific limitation (placing the onus onto the victim) negates the primary recommendation in the report: Amending securities law and its disclosure requirements. What is holding a corporation back from employing the same standards (two independent sources to provide corroboration)?

Third and final, a human rights based approach assumes that any person in any state can benefit from such rights. This is categorically untrue. While upholding the human rights based model is welcomed, larger conversations need to take place about the nuance and complexities of these models in the realities of those individuals experiencing the violence and criminalization.

Despite the human rights based perspective, the report, as noted, is a refreshing start. Still, I would like to see different lens adopted. Perhaps, a lens with an Indigenous feminist focus.

For a different perspective on natural resource extraction and violence around sites in Canada, check out, “Violence on the land, violence on our bodies: Building an Indigenous Response to Environmental Violence.”

Also, check out the following:

 

 

[1] Justice and Corporate Accountability Project, The Canada Brand: Violence and Canadian Mining Companies in Latin America, 24 October 2016, Toronto: Osgoode Hall Law School, online: https://justiceprojectdotorg1.files.wordpress.com/2016/10/the-canada-brand-report5.pdf.

[2] Ibid at 4-5.

[3] Ibid at 13.

[4] Ibid at 17.

[5] Ibid at 19.

[6] Ibid at 28.

[7] Ibid at 19-22; 43.

[8] Ibid at 28-29.

[9] Ibid at 28.

[10] Ibid at 24-40.

[11] Ibid at 21-22.

[12] Ibid at 3

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