OTTAWA- The federal government’s long-awaited announcement Monday of a watchdog to enforce responsible conduct by Canadian companies operating abroad was greeted with disappointment by human-rights advocates.
That’s because International Trade Minister Jim Carr says it will take almost two more months to finalize the powers of the new “Canadian ombudsperson for responsible enterprise.”
At issue is whether Sheri Meyerhoffer, a lawyer with a long record in business and international development, can compel reluctant companies to co-operate with her investigations and recommendations.
Carr said he wants independent legal advice on how best to give Meyerhoffer the power to make companies disclose documents and answer questions.
Her appointment as the new ombudsperson is intended to be a substantive upgrade to the current “corporate responsibility counsellor.”
That office has been widely criticized as a toothless entity for dealing with misconduct complaints against Canadian companies, mainly in the mining industry.
Alex Neve, the head of Amnesty international Canada, welcomed Meyerhoffer’s appointment but said it’s disappointing the government still hasn’t defined Meyerhoffer’s powers some 15 months after announcing it was creating the position.
“We do not yet have clarity that she’s going to have the power that will truly make her office stronger and different from what we have had in the past,” Neve said in an interview. “It’s disappointing this has not all come together at the same time.”
The Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability said the government failed Monday to appoint an ombudsperson with real powers.
“Fifteen months into this process, news of a review is outrageous. We don’t need more studies. We need action,” said Emily Dwyer of the network.
Meyerhoffer wouldn’t speculate on how her office would’ve handled the current SNC-Lavalin controversy, which involves criminal charges against the Montreal engineering company for allegedly using bribery to win work in Libya.