Responsible Business Conduct Abroad Act

An Act to establish the Office of the Commissioner for Responsible Business Conduct Abroad and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

Sponsor

Heather McPherson  NDP

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Outside the Order of Precedence (a private member's bill that hasn't yet won the draw that determines which private member's bills can be debated), as of March 29, 2022

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-263.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment enacts the Responsible Business Conduct Abroad Act , which establishes the Office of the Commissioner for Responsible Business Conduct Abroad. The enactment authorizes the Commissioner to monitor and investigate the business activities of certain Canadian entities operating abroad for the purpose of reporting on the entities' compliance with international human rights law.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, an excellent resource from the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

International Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

November 14th, 2022 / 11:10 a.m.
See context

NDP

Heather McPherson NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Madam Speaker, I welcome everyone back to the House after a week in our constituencies. I ask everybody to give me a brief moment this morning to wish my father a happy 80th birthday. It is his 80th birthday today. Duke McPherson, my dad, who is Frederick Clark III but is in fact called Duke, is a bit of character. We were never quite sure who was the parent and who was the child, but we always had his unrelenting love, so I wanted to take a moment to wish him a happy birthday this morning.

Today we are talking about a piece of legislation brought forward by the member for Northumberland—Peterborough South. It is a very good piece of legislation. I have long suspected the member of being an NDP at heart, because he does recognize the important value of human rights. This piece of legislation is something that all of us in the House can agree closes some of the gaps in the human rights legislation in this country. It closes some of the holes present in our human rights legislation.

Human rights, for me, is an extraordinarily important part of what we do. Canada has an obligation to be a leader in human rights. Canada has shown itself in the past to be a leader, and there are so many more things we need to do as parliamentarians, as a Parliament, as a government and as people representing our constituents to ensure human rights are protected in Canada, because many human rights are not being protected here. We also need to ensure that human rights around the world are being protected. This stems from the fact that for many, many years, Canadians have expressed concerns about Canada's human rights and the approach that our governments have had with regard to human rights, and not just the current government but previous governments as well.

We know we must do better. We know that no person should profit off the use of cluster munitions. We know foreign nationals involved in genocide or human rights abuses should not be able to broadcast in Canada. We know the Government of Canada must be more transparent with its sanctions regime, as well as the work it is taking on to defend prisoners of conscience.

While this is a very good bill that would close some gaps, there are some things it would not do. There would still be loopholes in Canada's cluster munitions legislation. We will still need a fulsome review and fix of Canada's sanctions regime, in particular the enforcement of sanctions.

Many times in the House I have stood and asked questions of the government about the sanctions regime, particularly with regard to how it is being implemented against Russian oligarchs. It is very difficult to get information on how much has been seized and how effectively our sanctions regime has been enforced. This is something that I have used Order Paper questions for as well. In fact, I was told the government could not give me the answer for the sanctions questions I had because it was not sure it would have the right answer. It was therefore not able to give an answer at all.

Of course, there are more things we need to do. We need to make sure that Canada's approach to human rights is consistent. We have seen time and time again that our human rights approach has been inconsistent in this country. There are times when Canada has been very strong and has been a human rights leader, but there are notable blind spots.

One of those blind spots is Saudi Arabia. We continuously fail to stop the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia despite the fact that we know they are being used against civilians. We know they are being used brutally.

We fail to recognize that there is a disproportionate war happening in Palestine and Israel. International law is being broken at this moment, which is having implications for civilians.

We have not done enough to deal with the ongoing genocide happening against the Uighur people in China. The government worked very hard, and we are very grateful that we were able to get the two Michaels returned to Canada. However, there are other Canadians who are still being held in China, and we have not seen the same level of focus on them. Huseyin Celil has not seen his family in over 16 years. He is a Canadian citizen who has not seen his children in 16 years. This is a human rights atrocity that we should also be standing up for.

A personal issue that I have taken up with my Bill C-263 is with regard to our Canadian mining and extractive industries around the world and how we do not apply the same human rights lens to mining companies around the world like we do to other industries in other places. Ensuring that people in Latin America, in South Asia and in Africa are protected from the environmental and human rights abuses caused by Canadian mining companies is very important.

My colleague, the member for New Westminster—Burnaby, has brought forward some forced labour legislation that is extremely strong. I certainly hope the government looks at the legislation that the member has prepared, which he has worked with the sector to prepare, as it looks at developing its own forced labour legislation going forward.

These are some of those gaps we see in Canada's human rights response and it is vital that we close them.

With regard to this bill, the idea of requiring the minister to publish an annual report that would outline the measures the minister has taken to advance human rights internationally as part of Canada's foreign policies is an excellent idea. We probably should already have that. It is an important step that will shed light on the government's priorities and give us more information about what we need to do to push them harder to do the right thing.

However, I do have a couple of concerns. One is that Canada needs an international human rights action strategy. If we had that, then there would be something clear and concrete against which we would measure this proposed report. We want to see the government produce an action plan that will then lead to an annual report on what it will do and whether it has done it. We need that response mechanism so we can keep that in place.

In addition, the bill would require that the government produce a list of prisoners of conscience, for whose release the Government of Canada is actively working toward. This is an excellent step and I am very thankful the member has brought it forward. It does give us some transparency and some accountability. However, there is no international legal definition of a prisoner of conscience and this could mean that some folks deserving of our attention would not be included on this list. For example, could we use a term such as “prisoners detained in contravention of human rights legal standards or legislation standards?”

Even just recently, for example, the family, a Canadian family, of Dong Guangping has no idea where he is. He went missing in Vietnam. We do not know where this gentleman is. Canada can do more to work on that, helping people like him find their way to Canada.

Moreover, we do have a concern that the public list of this kind may not provide the needed nuance or subtlety that Canada needs to employ in delicate cases. Should a name not be on the list, does that mean Canada is not working for that person? We would propose a meaningful plan of action and a set of guidelines for prisoners that would ensure greater consistency and transparency and accountability to families in civil society.

We need something more useful than the list. An actual change of behaviour from the Canadian government is something that we certainly would be proposing.

Giving the parliamentary committees the right to recommend Magnitsky sanctions is an excellent proposal. It is something we should already have done. We need to be using the Magnitsky sanctions more. We need to ensure that we are specifically targeting those individuals who are causing these crimes. The Magnitsky act, implemented by Bill Browder, on behalf of his friend Sergei Magnitsky, is one of the strongest pieces of legislation we have to hold individuals responsible for human rights abuses to account. I strongly support the ability of people who are studying issues, for example, at the foreign affairs committee or wherever, to be able to contribute to that and be part of that conversation.

I would like to thank the member for the bill. This is excellent legislation. We will be providing some friendly amendments. I look forward to closing some, though not all, of the gaps in Canadian human rights law.

September 26th, 2022 / 4:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Heather McPherson NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

I know. I imagine.

I've put forward a bill. It's C‑263. It's on the CORE ombudsperson. There are some things that we put in that bill that would make that position more robust. Would you be open to some of the amendments of this bill coming from C‑263? Have you read it? I guess that's the key question.

Budget Implementation Act, 2022, No. 1Government Orders

June 6th, 2022 / 6 p.m.
See context

NDP

Heather McPherson NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Madam Speaker, my colleague's interventions in this House are always very helpful, and I love the opportunity to speak about my bill, Bill C-263.

Basically, it is to do what the government had promised to do initially, which is to give us a CORE ombudsperson who has the ability to compel testimony and compel documents. It is basically to give the CORE ombudsperson the teeth necessary to do the job that was promised in the first place.

Right now, we have an ombudsperson who was put in place in 2018 and has investigated an entire zero cases of misbehaviour by Canadian companies, despite over 40 complaints by people around the world.

Fighting Against Forced Labour and Child Labour in Supply Chains ActPrivate Members' Business

May 18th, 2022 / 6:45 p.m.
See context

NDP

Heather McPherson NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Madam Speaker, again, I would like to thank the member for bringing this important legislation forward. I have listened to my colleagues in the House today, and I am struck by the fact that so many of us are working so hard on human rights legislation and trying to move further, trying to do more and trying to make things happen faster for people around the world who are suffering injustice; particularly injustice that is happening at the hands of Canadian companies.

I feel hope when I see that there are members from all parties who are working on this. I feel encouraged by the words I have heard from my colleagues. However, I do want to say that as a member of the opposition, my role is to continue to push and to continue to ask the government to do more. While I will be supporting this legislation, when it goes to the foreign affairs committee I will be proposing many recommendations and amendments, because while I am happy that this legislation is coming forward and it is timely and necessary, in typical NDP fashion, I do not think that this legislation goes far enough.

Around 11% of the world's child population, 168 million children between the ages of five and 17, are forced to work or denied the opportunity to go to school. According to Article 32 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, child labour should be protected from economic exploitation and any harmful work. Furthermore, the article declares that “state parties shall take legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to ensure the implementation” of restrictions.

We know, for example, that research conducted in 2016 found that over 1,200 companies operating in Canada at the time were importing goods that were at high risk of being produced by a child or through forced labour. The majority of these companies disclosed very little, if any, information on the policies, practices and processes they had in place to address these rules.

As parliamentarians, we need to think about what we would do to make sure that these people are protected, and we have an obligation to ensure that Canadian companies are held to account. We know that Canadians treasure our reputation as human rights defenders. We treasure our reputation as playing a role in the world where we recognize human rights: we call them out and we stand for them. Unfortunately, that has not been the reality in many parts of the world for some time. I am, as I said, encouraged that we are coming back to a place where we are looking at some of these issues.

Bill S-211 is a starting point. I think that has been said in the House already, and I will repeat that. It is a starting point. It means that the federal government can lead companies to improve and expand capacity to address supply chain risks as corporate governance standards are increased over time. However, an effective bill to address forced labour and other human rights abuses would require companies to prevent harm from happening, and not just file an annual report. It would require companies to change their behaviour and do due diligence, and not just report it. It would give victims of abuse access to remedy, and not just let the companies continue business as usual.

As it stands now, Bill S-211 needs to be revised so that it actually can help prevent forced and child labour rather than simply act as a diversion. Members may think that I am speaking cynically. I have to say that I feel that my cynicism is somewhat justified. Prior to being elected in the House, I worked in civil society. I worked very hard on human rights for people around the world who suffered at the hands of Canadian mining companies.

I have watched the Conservative government, and I have watched the Liberal government put in place legislation to supposedly help protect indigenous groups, women and those who are marginalized from the impacts of bad corporate actors that are predominantly, as I said, in mining and textiles.

Neither the Conservatives nor the Liberals did a good job of that. Neither of those governments put in place an ombudsperson who could do the job. The talk was there and the words were there, particularly from our current government, but none of the action was there.

I brought forward a piece of private member's legislation that I certainly hope people in this House would support. It would ask that the CORE ombudsperson have the ability to compel testimony.

This legislation, and I know it is a beginning step, is weaker than the NPD's proposed legislation on human rights and corporate responsibility. My colleague, the member for New Westminster—Burnaby, brought forward Bill C-262. My bill is Bill C-263. These bills are what is truly required if Canada is going to walk the talk on human rights. Mandatory human rights due diligence legislation, as proposed in Bill C-262, is the global best practice. It takes what we have learned from France, Germany and Norway, what is now being proposed in the European Union and what ought to be Canada's stated end goal.

As I said, I am going to bring forward amendments, but I have some concerns about the implementation. The member from the government mentioned earlier that there is work being done because there are things in ministers' mandate letters. Unfortunately, none of that work has happened.

Every day, there is genocide happening against the Uighur people. We have not acted on that in this place. Those mandate letter commitments have not been followed through on. Every day, we talk about it in the House, express outrage and send thoughts and prayers, but when it actually comes down to doing the work to stop the products made with slave labour, we have not done that at the government level yet. The mandate letters have not been fulfilled.

As I said, Canadians so strongly believe in the need for human rights legislation. They so strongly believe in the importance of protecting human rights. Of course we are happy to see this first step. Of course this is an important piece for us. New Democrats have always called for the end of child labour and forced labour. Of course we want to ensure that products imported into Canada are not produced with forced or child labour. Of course we want to make sure that companies are reporting on the measures they are taking to prevent and reduce risk.

We have worked long on that file, as New Democrats. As I said earlier, we proposed strong legislation. Members from the New Democratic Party have stood in this place and brought forward ideas and legislation. They have pushed to have the CORE ombudsperson. They have pushed to have some of these things done in a more sustainable and more effective way.

I will be working with CNCA, the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability. I will be working with civil society. I will be working with a number of different groups that focus on corporate accountability, and I will be bringing forward the amendments they are proposing to strengthen this legislation and to make sure that what we actually pass, what we actually bring forward, will do the job that needs to be done.

If we are given the tools in this place to hold the government to account, if we are given the tools to hold business and Canadian companies to account, we can actually make a difference. We can actually protect people around the world. We have that obligation. We are running out of time.

While I thank the member for bringing this forward, this bill is not complete. I look forward to working with him and many others to make sure that this is a much more complete bill.

Responsible Business Conduct Abroad ActRoutine Proceedings

March 29th, 2022 / 10:10 a.m.
See context

NDP

Heather McPherson NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-263, An Act to establish the Office of the Commissioner for Responsible Business Conduct Abroad and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to stand here today and table my private member's legislation, the responsible business conduct abroad bill. I want to thank the member for New Westminster—Burnaby for both agreeing to second my bill and being such a champion of human rights in Canada and around the world.

As elected representatives, we have an awesome responsibility. We have a responsibility to represent our constituents, and it is the honour of my life to represent the constituents of Edmonton Strathcona. However, we also have a responsibility to the greater good, to humanity as a whole and to our shared ambition of a healthy planet and prosperity and opportunity for all people around the world.

I am proud to be a Canadian because I believe Canada can and should be a leader in protecting human rights and promoting democratic values around the world. However, sadly, there is a stain on our reputation that we must both acknowledge and correct. For too long, companies headquartered in Canada, many mining and oil and gas companies, have undertaken business operations in developing countries, either directly or through subsidiaries, and in many countries with weak human rights protections, workers and communities are violated and abused.

The CORE ombudsperson has been operational for nearly three years, yet the Government of Canada failed to give it powers that were promised. This bill aims to fix what the government failed to provide. This bill aims to repair Canada's reputation in the world. This bill aims to protect indigenous people, women and girls, human rights defenders, activists and all those fighting for human rights and environmental sustainability in their communities and around the world.

I hope everyone in the House will support this legislation.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)