Speech on C-331 at the first hour of the debate in Parliament

Private Members' Business

Mr. Peter Julian (New Westminster—Burnaby, NDP)

moved that Bill C-331, An Act to amend the Federal Courts Act (international promotion and protection of human rights), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

He said: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-331, which is an act to amend the Federal Courts Act (international protection and promotion of human rights).

For any members who might question the need for a bill like this to be brought forward to the House of Commons, I would like to reference a number of the cases that are directly referenced by this bill. As members know, there are Canadian corporations involved abroad. There is no doubt that we live in a global economy. When it comes to mining operations in particular, many Canadian mining companies operate in a very effective and thoughtful manner, respecting human rights.

However, there are a number of cases of bad apples: Canadian mining companies that have not operated in public interest or in respecting basic human rights. That is why this bill is vitally needed. As well, we have had over 50 national organizations, representing over one million Canadians, that have stepped forward and asked members of Parliament to vote for and support this bill. Those are national organizations, including notable human rights organizations and major labour organizations across the country. They feel that it is in the public interest for Parliament to adopt this legislation. They see the need for it.

Debate starts today and continues over the course of the next few weeks. Now it is up to members of Parliament to make the vital decision on whether Canada is going to stand up for human rights and become a best practice model globally. Sadly, it has not been the case. I only have to cite a few of the many examples, some of which have come before Canadian courts, that were not able to work their way through the justice system because Bill C-331 was not in place. Of the many dozens of cases that have been brought forward, I would like to reference a few important ones that show the extent of the problem.

Average Canadians believe fundamentally in human rights. As a people, Canadians believe and understand the importance of having human rights at home and globally. When we look at these tragic cases, there is no doubt that Canadians would say it is vitally important that members of Parliament adopt Bill C-331.

There is the case of Nevsun Resources. Nevsun is a mining company that is currently being sued for its alleged complicity in forced labour, slavery and torture of workers at the Bisha gold, zinc and copper mine in Eritrea. In this case in Eritrea, these workers were enslaved. They were beaten if they did not comply. They were tortured. These are all activities taking place at a mine that has connections to Canada. Canadians would understand the importance of adopting this legislation so that these victims have a clear path of compensation.

There is the case of Hudbay Minerals. On the grounds of those mining operations in Guatemala, security personnel employed by the local subsidiary of the company shot and killed school teacher and anti-mining activist, Adolfo Ich Chaman. They shot and paralyzed a local youth activist, German Chub Choc, who was speaking out against the mining operations. They also perpetrated the most egregious sexual violence against 11 women in the community. If asked whether that is acceptable behaviour, no Canadian would agree. All Canadians would say that the perpetrators need to be brought to justice and the victims compensated for these most egregious human rights violations.

In 2017, Everlyn Guape and Joycelyn Mandi came to Canada to speak about the appalling levels of sexual violence, and violence generally, that has been perpetrated on the grounds of the Barrick Gold co-owned mining operations in Papua New Guinea.

They cited the village of Porgera. In Porgera, the security guards from the mining operations came to that village. The villagers had spoken out about the mining operations, and particularly the appalling level of environmental destruction that was taking place. Eighteen homes were burnt to the ground and there were appalling levels of sexual violence and beating of the villagers. In fact, those two witnesses who came to Canada spoke of 80% of the women in the communities surrounding the mine having been the victims of appalling levels of sexual violence. No Canadian would say that is acceptable. All Canadians would say that parliamentarians should take action.

In El Salvador, just a few years ago, an environmental activist who had spoken out against Canadian mining operations was found killed at the bottom of a well; his fingernails had been pulled out. In dozens of cases, we have heard of activists who have spoken up against mining operations disappearing or being killed through extrajudicial means. No Canadian would say that is acceptable behaviour. That is why it is vitally important to adopt Bill C-331. Bill C-331 would provide grounds and the means by which those victims could go to the Federal Court of Canada and seek compensation for these appalling human rights violations.

In the bill, there are 17 sections of grounds for actions that could be undertaken in the Federal Court of Canada. They include systemic sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, torture, slavery and wanton environmental destruction. All of those are part of what we consider in Canada to be grounds for a solid judicial framework. We believe that Canadians who violate human rights and who exhibit wanton environmental destruction should be brought to justice. We need to have that same clarity of vision when it comes to what we do internationally.

Most Canadian companies work within the framework of what are acceptable standards in Canada, but some companies do not. It is for that reason that we need to bring forward this legislation, so we can assure that all people around the world, when they are touched by the operations of Canadian companies, are subject to a process that allows them to seek compensation. It would be a best standard. It would, as well, allow Canadian companies around the world to say that Canadians hold their companies and their corporations to a higher standard than other countries. It would, in a very real, meaningful way, enhance Canadians' reputations abroad as well as serve as a deterrent for anyone who attempts to besmirch Canada's reputation by engaging in the most reprehensible human rights violations.

I would like to give credit to the co-authors of this important landmark legislation: Nick Milanovic, who is an adjunct professor at Carleton University in law; and Mark Rowlandson, who is a noted labour lawyer, the assistant to the national director of the steelworkers union in Canada. Mr. Rowlandson is watching us today from the galleries, and I believe he deserves the thanks of Canadians for the work that he has done.

This is an important bill. Bill C-331 will put an end to the current era in which Canadian companies can act with no regard for the impact on human rights.

It truly responds to all of the issues surrounding systemic sexual violence, killings, slavery and torture.

All these issues were raised when we looked at the operations of Canadian companies outside Canada. This bill truly responds to all of those issues. The bill enables victims of human rights violations outside Canada to take these Canadian companies before the Federal Court of Canada and get the compensation they deserve. That gives judges the opportunity to judge. Why are some of these victims not able to take legal action in their own country? The answer is very clear: it is because the justice systems of some countries are not well developed or are corrupt. In some countries, the police are getting money directly from the companies. Consequently, they are not impartial, and they are not able to uphold the human rights we enjoy in Canada.

If this bill is passed, these victims will finally be able to seek justice here in Canada. That is why it is so important that the House pass it. Over 50 major national organizations that advocate for human rights and workers' rights want members of the House, here, to vote on and pass this bill.

This bill will really create a framework for the best example of human rights policy in the world. Canada can be a leader. Canada can be the first country in the world to implement something that other nations will probably look to. I should mention that Canada is not the only country considering this kind of legislation. Other countries are doing it too. Europe is doing it as well. The origins of this bill actually lie in a bill introduced in the United States. Canada could be the first, and it could lead the way on the international stage.

Today, there are more than 50 national organizations, representing more than a million Canadians, that are calling upon the Parliament of Canada to adopt this important legislation. The number of organizations is growing: It is 56 as of today, and we expect that within a few days' time it will pass 60 or 70. The question would be how we could possibly vote against this legislation. People who are opponents of this kind of legislation say that it is not in the constitutional framework of the federal government. We went out and got constitutional opinions that actually show that it is constitutional and very clearly within the framework of the federal government.

Some might say that the announcement a few weeks ago of a special adviser on these issues that the Liberal government announced means that this issue has been dealt with. I could not but disagree with that. The ombudsperson, the special adviser who has been appointed, has been criticized by a number of important organizations, such as the steelworkers and the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability. All of them have said that there are not the powers that need to be put in place for this ombudsperson's office. The reality is that in any event, even if we have a robust ombudsperson, and we in the NDP certainly believe that this should take place, all that would do is complement the important provisions in Bill C-331.

This is landmark legislation. Other countries are looking for the judgment of this Parliament to move forward on progressive human rights legislation that would put Canada on the forefront of human rights, and I hope members of Parliament will vote yes for this important legislation.

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