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Open letter: Launch of Injustice Incorporated

    May 08, 2014

    The Right Honourable Stephen Harper
    Prime Minister of Canada
    80  Wellington Street
    Ottawa, Ontario
    K1A 0A2

    May 8, 2014

    Dear Prime Minister Harper,

    As an integral part of Amnesty International’s ongoing effort, within Canada and globally, to encourage businesses and governments to ensure that company operations promote strong human rights protection and do not lead to human rights abuses, our international office has recently published the enclosed book, Injustice Incorporated: Advancing the Right to Remedy for Corporate Abuses of Human Rights.  We are officially launching the book in Canada today at a conference at Ryerson University’s Institute for the Study of Corporate Social Responsibility.

       Read Introduction and Conclusions 

     Download full report

    Please find enclosed a copy of the book which we hope will help inform what we consider to be longstanding and sorely needed reforms in Canada to better ensure corporate accountability for human rights in general and access to effective remedies in particular.

    We are providing the book to you personally as we believe that the legal, institutional and policy reforms that are needed to ensure accountability for human rights in the overseas operations of Canadian companies, and to provide individuals and communities who may experience human rights abuses associated with those operations access to an effective remedy, involve a number of different government departments, including International Trade, Foreign Affairs, Industry Canada and Justice.  While we have engaged with various government departments with respect to these issues, and will continue to do so, we are of the view that the leadership of the Prime Minister is required to bring the required aspects together and move the necessary reforms forward, across government.

    The book underscores the critical importance of ensuring that individuals or communities who have experienced human rights abuses or violations associated with the operations of a company have meaningful access to an effective remedy for the harms they have endured.   Access to remedy is a fundamental component to the ‘protect, respect and remedy’ framework laid out in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, adopted by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2011 and supported by Canada.

    Amnesty International urges companies to ensure that they carry out business in conformity with their human rights responsibilities, as recognized under international law.  Amnesty International also urges governments to take action, including through legal, institutional and policy reforms, to fulfill their binding obligation to ensure that companies that are subject to their jurisdiction do not cause or contribute to human rights abuses and violations.

    With that in mind we are providing you with a copy of the book for two important reasons. 

    First, for several years Amnesty International and numerous other Canadian organizations and experts, have pointed to an urgent need for reforms to strengthen the accountability of Canadian corporations, particularly in the extractives sector, for human rights. Canadian mining, oil and gas companies operate around the world, often in countries facing grave human rights violations, armed conflict or extreme levels of poverty.  It has become clear that efforts taken to date to shore up the human rights accountability of Canadian firms operating overseas, largely reliant on a range of voluntary measures, have not been effective.  It has also become particularly clear that there are significant legal an and institutional obstacles in Canada that stand in the way of individuals and communities who seek redress for human rights harms which they allege have been caused by Canadian companies.

    Amnesty International is a member of the Canadian Network for Corporate Accountability.  The CNCA has recently launched a campaign, Open for Justice, calling for the establishment of an extractive-sector Ombudsman and for legislated access to Canadian courts for people who have experienced human rights harm due to the overseas operations of Canadian companies.  Amnesty International’s book, Injustice Incorporated, offers comprehensive analysis and recommendations consistent with the second plank in the CNCA campaign, access to courts.

    Second, we believe the book will be of interest to you as there are references to Canadian cases in which efforts by individuals and communities to pursue a remedy for corporate human rights harms were, unfortunately, unsuccessful.  The Canadian references are in relation to cyanide contamination following the rupture of the tailings dam at the Omai Gold Mine in Guyana in 1995, in which Cambior Inc had a majority interest; and killing carried out by Congolese forces  in Kilwa, Democratic Republic of Congo, in which logistical support from Anvil Mining has been implicated.  These case examples help illuminate the barriers that exist in the Canadian legal system and point to the necessary reforms.

    The book enumerates six key recommendations that governments should pursue in three principal areas in order to ensure the availability of effective remedies for corporate abuses of human rights:

    1. Make parent/controlling companies responsible for human rights abuses arising in their global operations.

    2. Eliminate in home State court the use of the forum non conveniens doctrine in cases concerning extraterritorial corporate-related human rights abuses.

    3. Develop guidance for judges and prosecutors, preferably in a multilateral forum, with respect to international assistance and cooperation to ensure effective remedy in cases concerning corporate-related human rights abuses.

    4. Increase access to relevant information concerning corporate-related human rights abuses including by requiring companies to generate and disclose information that is critical for the effective enjoyment of human rights, with regard to their domestic and foreign operations.

    5. Reform civil procedure laws on disclosure in cases of alleged corporate human rights abuses.

    6. Reduce corporate influence on the state, including through legislation that requires politicians and civil servant to disclose all meetings with corporate actors, including informal meetings, and the issues discussed.

    We would welcome an opportunity to meet with you or your officials to discuss the recommendations in the book and their implications for Canadian law and policy.  We would also welcome an opportunity to discuss the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability’s ongoing Open for Justice Campaign. 



    Alex Neve     
    Secretary General    
    Amnesty International Canada   
    (English branch)

    Béatrice Vaugrante
    Directrice Générale
    Amnistie internationale Canada francophone