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The majority of the world's mining companies are based in Canada. Together, they operate thousands of sites in more than 100 countries. Lately, though, too many of them have come under fire for alleged human-rights abuses at mines they own or operate abroad.

In 2016, for instance, the Justice and Corporate Accountability Project at Osgoode Hall in Toronto documented 28 incidents involving Canadian companies in Latin America that led to 44 deaths and 403 injuries. Of the 44 deaths, the report said, 30 involved people who were "targeted" because they opposed the mining operations in question.

At the same time, Canadian courts have become more willing to allow civil suits based on allegations of human-rights abuses in other countries to be heard here in Canada – decisions that likely mean companies will face stiffer penalties if they lose their cases.

Plus, Ottawa has been criticized at the United Nations and other international bodies for its lack of oversight of one of the country's most lucrative industries.

Something needed to give, which may explain the announcement last week that Ottawa is creating an independent ombudsperson to investigate allegations of human-rights abuses related to Canadian companies abroad, with an early focus on the extraction and garment industries.

The announcement has been welcomed by groups that monitor Canadian mining companies – they led the call for something like this – but there is reason to question how effective it will be.

The ombudsperson will be able to investigate and report on allegations of abuse, but Ottawa has only armed it with the power to recommend sanctions to the government, with no guarantee they will be imposed. As well, there is no firm indication that the ombudsperson will have the power to force companies to co-operate with his or her investigations.

Between the industry's growing concerns about its reputation, and the Trudeau government's obsession with showing a progressive face to the world, there is legitimate reason to worry that this could amount to window-dressing.

The test will come when the first legitimate complaint is made to the new ombudsperson. Given recent experience, that probably won't take long.