Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Canadian Bishops Gassing (Canada)

Canada’s Catholic bishops are urging foreign affairs minister Peter MacKay to regulate the activities of the nation’s mining and oil and gas industries operating overseas.

In a Feb. 12 letter, Gatineau Archbishop Roger Ébacher, writing on behalf of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (CCCB) social affairs commission, quoted Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras, who has asked that the present voluntary rules for corporate social responsibility be complemented by regulations from both the state and national organizations.

“It is, as you know, a foundational principle of international law that human rights are in no sense voluntary; the protection of human rights is in no sense optional,” Archbishop Ebacher wrote. “The mandatory nature of human rights must continue to be a cornerstone of Canada’s presence in the world, and it must govern the actions of Canadian corporations worldwide, particularly those engaged in resource extraction.”

Archbishop Ebacher wrote the letter as the National Roundtables on Corporate Social Responsibility are drawing to a close. This series of four discussions, held in different Canadian cities, invited participation from industry, government, human-rights and development organizations, environmental organizations and indigenous groups.

“Canada cannot be a leavening agent globally for democratization, for human rights and the rule of law while at the same time – through our tax policies and other public benefits, through our regulatory frameworks – supporting Canadian business practices that are complicit in the erosion of democracy, human rights and the rule of law,” he wrote.

Archbishop Ébacher suggested allowing tax benefits only to shareholders of companies that have a verifiable record of sound practices in accordance with Canada’s democratic values while operating outside the country. He noted some countries might object to this as a violation of their sovereign right to make their own deals with mining companies.

“This argument is deficient, because no state has the authority to abrogate human dignity,” he wrote.

“It is clear, from the standpoint of Catholic social doctrine, that sound economics cannot be separated from the demands of justice,” he wrote. “To be clear, social justice should be an enabling feature of economic activity, allowing it to flourish and provide the goods necessary for the service of our God-given human dignity.”

The archbishop also congratulated MacKay and his foreign affairs department for conducting the “roundtable” discussions.

The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace made a similar call for regulations when the roundtable discussions kicked off in Vancouver last June.
“Canadian extractive companies, including mining, oil and gas, have been implicated in well-documented cases of human rights violations and environmental disasters abroad,” said a June 13, 2006, Development and Peace news release.

“These violations by Canadian companies include toxic dumping, the destruction of protected areas, forcible displacement of indigenous peoples, and threats and intimidation of local communities.”

“This is not a case of a few bad apples: Canadian extractive companies have been implicated in human rights abuses and environmental disasters in more than 30 countries,” said the release.

The CCCB created Development and Peace 40 years ago as their overseas development agency.



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