Lawyers, and particularly general counsel, have an important role to play in promoting accountability of Canadian mining companies, said Senator Romeo Dallaire and NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar, who spoke at the Law Society of Upper Canada last night.
Dewar and Dallaire, a retired lieutenant general, were speakers at a sold-out professional development session on human rights law jointly organized by the Canadian Lawyers for International Human Rights and Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative.
General counsel can persuade companies to comply with regulations, said Dewar.
“Lawyers should be counseling and advising companies and saying, ‘Look, the norms that you have here in Canada apply elsewhere,’” he said. “It’s a very simple principle.”
Some companies are more willing than others to comply with new initiatives that push for more transparency and accountability, said Dewar, who reintroduced a bill this year designed to ensure there are no conflict minerals in the supply chain of Canadian mining companies.
When it comes to pushing for accountability, the focus should not be on pulling support from mining companies, said Dallaire. If one mining company withdraws from extraction in a region due to bad publicity, it is merely replaced by another one. Engaging mining companies in the accountability process is a more fruitful exercise, Dallaire said.
Last night’s discussion also centered on child soldiers around the world. Dallaire said despite the United Nations shaming countries where child soldiers are used, the numbers — at 250,000, according to Dallaire — have not gone down.
“And I haven’t even counted the children caught in the drug wars in South America,” he said.
Dallaire led the UN’s mission in Rwanda during a genocide that saw 800,000 people killed. In that war, “the bulk of the killings were done by people under the age of 20,” he said.
When it comes to international response against child soldiers, much of the effort is at the “end tail of the issue,” Dallaire said.
“We have seen a lot of money and a lot of effort going into picking things up after,” he added. Dallaire suggested instead a focus on the recruitment process of child soldiers.
“Child soldiers are a sophisticated weapons system,” Dallaire said, adding children under 18 are used in wars, piracy, and mineral conflicts.
When it comes to due diligence among western companies, including mining corporations, Dewar said he is optimistic about the power of informed consumers.
“We all carry the piece of the conflict with us,” said Dewar, holding up his smartphone. “You have a role to play.”