Toronto MP John McKay speaks during a news conference in Ottawa on Wednesday, April 11, 2012. The veteran Liberal backbencher is taking a federal Liberal minister to task for failing to give real teeth to a new watchdog who is supposed to investigate human rights abuses by Canadian companies operating abroad. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Toronto MP John McKay speaks during a news conference in Ottawa on Wednesday, April 11, 2012. The veteran Liberal backbencher is taking a federal Liberal minister to task for failing to give real teeth to a new watchdog who is supposed to investigate human rights abuses by Canadian companies operating abroad. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Liberal MP confronts minister over new watchdog to oversee Canadian companies abroad

Toronto MP John McKay has for decades campaigned for watchdog

OTTAWA — A veteran Liberal backbencher took a Liberal cabinet minister to task Tuesday for failing to give real teeth to a new watchdog who is supposed to investigate human rights abuses by Canadian companies operating abroad.

Toronto MP John McKay has for decades campaigned for just such a watchdog.

But he believes the recently created position of Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise falls short of what’s needed because the watchdog has not been given the power to compel company executives to testify or to produce documents.

McKay took his criticism directly to Mary Ng, minister of small business, export promotion and international trade, during a House of Commons committee meeting Tuesday.

“You and I have exchanged correspondence and had quite a number of conversations about this issue and, to put it delicately, we don’t agree,” he told Ng.

While there have been some improvements in corporate social responsibility, McKay said some companies are “pretty bad actors” who aren’t going to voluntarily change their ways or co-operate with the ombudsperson, Sheri Meyerhoffer.

He raised as an example an ongoing court case involving Nevsun, a Canadian mining company that has been accused of using slave labour and other human rights violations at its mine in Eritrea.

Ng maintained that Meyerhoffer has sufficient tools to do her job effectively: she can investigate complaints, shame companies by publicly reporting her findings and recommend that they be cut off from government services, such as consular support or financial support from Export Development Canada.

Meyerhoffer herself has testified at committee that she has the tools to do the job effectively, including the power to initiate investigations, Ng argued.

“But you’d have to agree that it’s going to be a limited investigation because the key people, the key documents, the key executives cannot be compelled to come before the ombudsperson,” McKay countered, questioning how she would be able to produce a “useful report” under those circumstances.

“So we are in the unhappy situation of having the Canadian courts protect human rights abroad.”

If a company does not co-operate with an investigation, Ng said the ombudsperson can recommend to the government that it withdraw trade advocacy services for that company.

McKay’s criticism was echoed by opposition members of the committee.

New Democrat MP Heather McPherson, who has a background in international development, said she has seen “on the ground what Canadian mining companies have done in countries around the world and it’s quite devastating.”

She noted that a report commissioned by the government concluded: “it was vital that the ombudsperson have the powers to compel witnesses and documents.”

Ng pointed out that the ombudsperson is a new office and said the government “would be absolutely open to review” its powers after giving it some time to see how it functions.

“Let me be clear. I expect Canadian companies to uphold human rights, I expect Canadian companies to be good actors on the global stage,” Ng said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 23, 2021.

BusinessLiberals

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

House sales remain hot in central Alberta with first-quarter sales nearly double last year’s numbers. Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Central Alberta real estate market hot in 2021

Residential sales nearly double 2020 in first quarter

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer gave an update on Olymel's COVID-19 situation on Wednesday. (File photo by Advocate staff).
Veer addresses rising COVID-19 cases in Red Deer

Red Deer has added nearly 200 cases of active COVID-19 cases in past week

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw and Premier Jason Kenney say the province would look at adding additional COVID-19 measures in the coming weeks if the virus continues to spread. (Photo by Government of Alberta)
Walk-in COVID-19 vaccination clinic to open in Red Deer

Alberta adds 1,345 new cases of the virus

Innisfail RCMP are investigating a single-vehicle crash that happened west of Bowden on March 21, 2021. (File photo by Advocate staff)
RCMP investigate culturally insensitive graffiti at Sylvan Lake school

Sylvan Lake RCMP is investigating a vandalism incident. On April 17 around… Continue reading

A vial of the Medicago vaccine sits on a surface. CARe Clinic, located in Red Deer, has been selected to participate in the third phase of vaccine study. (Photo courtesy www.medicago.com)
Red Deer clinical research centre participating in plant-based COVID-19 vaccine trial

A Red Deer research centre has been selected to participate in the… Continue reading

Vancouver Canucks' Tanner Pearson, right, celebrates after scoring against Toronto Maple Leafs goalie David Rittich during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Pearson, Sutter each score twice as Canucks dump Leafs 6-3

Pearson, Sutter each score twice as Canucks dump Leafs 6-3

Everton's Gylfi Sigurdsson celebrates with teammates after scoring his side's second goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Everton and Tottenham Hotspur at Goodison Park in Liverpool, England, Friday, April 16, 2021. (Peter Powell/Pool via AP)
Super League collapses after the 6 English clubs withdraw

Super League collapses after the 6 English clubs withdraw

Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez delivers against the Toronto Blue Jays during the first inning of a baseball game Tuesday, April 20, 2021, at Fenway Park in Boston. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
Bogaerts’ 3-run HR, Rodriguez lift BoSox over Blue Jays 4-2

Bogaerts’ 3-run HR, Rodriguez lift BoSox over Blue Jays 4-2

Pound says Olympic qualifying issues a concern to IOC

Pound says Olympic qualifying issues a concern to IOC

Former University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams is photographed in the stands during the Greater Victoria Invitational at CARSA Performance Gym at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, November 29, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Rowing Canada sanctions former head coach of B.C. varsity women’s team

Rowing Canada sanctions former head coach of B.C. varsity women’s team

Ontario Hockey League cancels 2020-21 season as COVID-19 cases surge in province

Ontario Hockey League cancels 2020-21 season as COVID-19 cases surge in province

Lionel Desmond (front row, far right) was part of the 2nd battalion, of the Royal Canadian Regiment, based at CFB Gagetown and shown in this 2007 handout photo taken in Panjwai district in between patrol base Wilson and Masum Ghar in Afghanistan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Facebook-Trev Bungay MANDATORY CREDIT
Desmond inquiry: Veterans Affairs submits internal review after initial refusal

Desmond inquiry: Veterans Affairs submits internal review after initial refusal

FILE - In this Feb. 18, 2021 file photo State representatives gather at the Capitol, in Phoenix. Two years after Arizona lawmakers repealed a law barring any instruction on HIV or AIDS that that "promotes a homosexual lifestyle," they are close to enacting a broad remake of the state's sex education laws with a particular focus on LGBTQ issues. (AP Photo/Matt York,File)
Arizona governor vetoes strict sex education legislation

Arizona governor vetoes strict sex education legislation

Most Read