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Lorraine Swift, middle, executive director of the charity Change for Children, which serves Indigenous communities in Central America, calls CORE a 'completely ineffective body.'Handout

The office responsible for probing the conduct of Canadian companies abroad has not filed any investigative reports to the federal minister overseeing its operations, raising questions about whether it is fulfilling its mandate.

The Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE), an office established in 2019 by the federal government to look into allegations of human-rights abuses linked to the foreign operations of Canadian companies, is supposed to supply the International Trade Minister with status reports on the cases it is reviewing. The order-in-council document that established CORE’s mandate requires it to file these reports “as applicable.”

Jason Kung, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, confirmed in an e-mail that the minister had not received any of these reports from CORE, including initial assessment reports, which the office’s mandate calls for it to file at the beginnings of investigations. He also said the minister had not received interim or final reports on reviews of companies.

CORE is currently handling 15 complaints. All of the cases are in the initial assessment phase. The first set of them, which deal with alleged use of forced labour in China, were filed more than a year ago.

In an e-mailed statement, CORE said it will be issuing a “number of” initial assessment reports in the coming weeks. It said they will be posted on its website. It did not respond to questions about the length of time it has taken to file them.

A Globe and Mail investigation last month found that CORE, which has an annual budget of $4.9-million, has yet to complete a single investigation. Although the watchdog was created, in part, at the urging of several human-rights organizations, many of those groups told The Globe they are recommending people not file complaints with CORE, in part because they are concerned that the office lacks independence.

Another common criticism of CORE is that it lacks the power to properly investigate wrongdoing. It has no ability to compel witness testimony or force companies to share evidence.

Some of the complainants in cases CORE is investigating have told The Globe they have found the process to be slow, ineffective and bogged down with bureaucracy.

CORE’s creation was announced in 2018 by François-Philippe Champagne, who was trade minister at the time. (The current minister is Mary Ng. Mr. Champagne is now Innovation Minister.) He promised the office would have robust powers to investigate human-rights abuses independently and force companies to hand over documents and evidence.

Appearing alongside him at the time were several leaders of non-governmental organizations with expertise in human rights – people whose groups had long clamoured for more scrutiny of Canadian companies with operations abroad, such as those in the mining, oil and gas sectors. Canada is home to nearly half of the world’s publicly traded mining companies.

The Globe has counted more than 50 reported instances of Canadian companies allegedly mistreating people, directly or indirectly, in remote parts of at least 30 foreign countries. In many cases the allegations are grave. The reported abuses include killings of Indigenous community members, security forces opening fire on protesters and contamination of local water sources.

Lorraine Swift, the Edmonton-based executive director of Change for Children, a charity that supports clean water, education and agricultural projects in Central America, said she feels let down by the federal government.

“As Canadians, especially those of us who have travelled to and work in places where Canadian extractive companies are active, we had held a lot of hope,” she said. “We see now, four years in, that the CORE is actually a completely ineffective body that is just wasting our tax dollars and providing absolutely no adequate response for the communities that are being affected.”

NDP foreign affairs critic Heather McPherson is calling on the government to equip CORE with the power to compel evidence.

Without this ability, she said, the office “is causing more harm than good, because it gives people the impression that the government is doing something, and they’re not.”

When the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise, Sheri Meyerhoffer, was appointed in 2019, she pledged openness. In a speech that year, she said the office would be “reporting on an ongoing basis, not just ... at the end of an investigation. It’s going to be open and transparent, not all in confidence.”

Ms. Meyerhoffer, who was appointed to a five-year term and whose annual salary is listed as between $183,600 and $216,000, has declined or not responded to several requests for interviews.

Pedro Landa, who is based in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and is a member of the Latin American Churches and Mining Network, a group that monitors mining activity and its impact on local populations, said he has no faith in CORE.

“We believe that the CORE is more of a decorative instrument that has no capacity to address the magnitude of the conflicts generated by Canadian mining, much less answer for the human-rights violations generated throughout the continent,” he said.