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Some Canadian companies could lose government support

by Peter Zimonjic
May 16th, 2009

OTTAWA — Canadian companies deemed to be bad corporate citizens abroad could lose political and financial support from the federal government under a proposed law to be studied by MPs next week.

The private member’s bill sponsored by Liberal MP John McKay would hit Canadian mining, oil and gas companies for environmental and human rights abuses in developing countries.

“The issue, for us, is that we want our Canadian companies to operate in a corporately responsible, environmentally responsible fashion,” said McKay. “Surely to goodness that is not an onerous thing to do.”

The bill, now past second reading, would demand extractive companies headquartered in Canada obey the same human rights and environmental laws when operating abroad that they do here. Companies that don’t would lose diplomatic support, become ineligible for government loans and would have their stock tossed out of the Canada Pension Plan fund.

But the law would also let companies clear their names against malicious accusations of wrongdoing. Corporations that were investigated, but found innocent, would have evidence supporting their good standing published in the Canada Gazette.

Those in favour of the bill say it would help to resolve ongoing disputes such as the one involving the Canadian gold mining giant Barrick Gold Corporation and its operations in Papua New Guinea.

Last week Amnesty International joined Mining Watch Canada in asking the Canadian government to help stop alleged human rights abuses near Barrick’s Porgera mine in that country. Amnesty alleges that families living near the mines are being burned out of their homes and forced off their land by police in violation of international law.

Barrick’s spokesman, Vincent Borg, says the allegations are false, distort reality and the company is making direct complaints to Amnesty and Mining Watch to resolve the matter.

“We understand that only approximately 30-35 temporary shanties occupied by illegal miners, not legitimate landowners, were removed in full accordance with (Papua New Guinea) law,” said Borg. “Police say this particular area was targeted because it sits at the very edge of the Porgera joint venture open pit and had become a staging ground for illegal miner incursions, as well as prostitution and alcoholism.”

The bill has the support of all three opposition parties but the Conservatives and some business groups are opposed. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce wrote to ministers in March saying C-300 was unnecessary and would burden Canadian business in a recession.

But NDP MP Paul Dewar says Canadian companies that are poor corporate citizens bring Canada into disrepute, making it harder for other Canadian companies to do business abroad.

“Its our name on those companies, the Canadian name brand,” said Dewar. “I think it’s incumbent that Canada, the federal government, sets those standards.”


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