Canadian Extractive Companies Operating Abroad

Addressing Corporate Abuse Through the Right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent of Indigenous peoples


The purpose of this brief is to identify problems that Indigenous peoples face from Canadian extractive companies operating abroad and to present recommendations to ensure that Indigenous rights to territory and free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) are respected.

Since 2000, there has been a significant increase in social conflicts concerning mining operations, especially in Latin America and Africa. In 2012 and 2013, 167 mining-related conflicts were recorded involving mining companies headquartered in 33 different countries, the top two of which were Canada (30.3%) and the U.S. (8.6%). Such conflicts can be lethal. Between 2002 and 2014, Global Witness documented 908 killings of environmental and land defenders, with 115 of the victims being Indigenous and around 17% (150) of these deaths occurring in the extractive sector. As for Canadian mining companies operating in Latin America, the Justice and Corporate Accountability Project (JCAP) identified 28 companies involved in 44 deaths, as well as 709 cases of “criminalization” between 2000 and 2015. JCAP also found that “mining often affects Indigenous lands [and has identified] 10 conflicts in which Indigenous people have clearly been the victims of violence and criminalization.”

There is a clear link between Canada, extractive companies and Indigenous peoples abroad, and the relationships between them can lead to conflict. Furthermore, these relationships are exemplified by immense power imbalances and socio-economic disparities. What can be done to uphold Indigenous rights to prevent or solve conflicts between Canadian extractive companies and Indigenous peoples in other countries?



  1. It is important to challenge governments’ dependency on extractivism and the economic model that sustains it. Governments are failing to address and protect vulnerable groups, particularly Indigenous peoples, and thereby deepening existing structural problems. Inspired by Indigenous knowledge and experiences across the planet, post-extractivism offers ways to think and move beyond the “extractivism trap.”
  2. The asymmetrical structure of power relationships also affects the protection of the environment, culture and livelihood of Indigenous peoples. For example, while many Indigenous communities do not have access to safe drinking water, the environmental risks produced by extractive projects endanger their rights to health and life.
  3. Canadian resource extraction policies are often inconsistent and leave gaps in foreign, trade, and aid policies. For example, Canada’s commitment to the protection of human rights defenders (HRDs) contradicts its current economic diplomacy policy, which could have a major human rights impact. Privileging trade policy to the detriment of human rights has come at great cost to Indigenous peoples in Canada and abroad. In documented cases, the GC has defended, via its embassies, companies accused of complicity in criminalizing, attacking, killing, and raping HRDs abroad.
  4. The issues at hand fall directly under the mandate of different federal institutions, such as the newly appointed CORE, Global Affairs, Natural Resources and EDC.


For the federal government

  1. Fully implement the UNDRIP and recognize Indigenous jurisdiction and the right to self-determination and FPIC abroad. The GC must harmonize foreign, trade, and international development policies. To address and reduce power inequalities amongst rights holders, Indigenous rights must be respected by states and private corporations. Even though the GC cannot enforce Indigenous rights in other countries, it can influence the behaviour of corporations operating abroad.
  2. Take action against corruption. Companies tend to use corporate law rules, like the corporate veil, to avoid liability for the actions of subsidiaries or affiliates. The GC must enforce the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act (CFPOA) and adequately fund the RCMP to investigate cases of bribery. Finally, Canada should review its tax agreements with countries known as tax havens to put an end to legalized tax evasion by transnational companies.
  3. Enact extraterritorial criminal and civil liability. The GC needs to adopt criminal and civil legislation that extends to the conduct of corporations abroad.  This must be in line with the 2018 UN Working Group recommendation that Canada address “barriers for individuals and communities affected by the overseas operations of Canadian businesses to seek effective remedies in Canada in appropriate cases” and to implement the policy recommendations of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to improve accountability and access to remedy for victims of business-related human rights abuse.
  4. Integrate Indigenous and human rights in tax, trade and investment agreements. Canada’s economic policies must include express recognition of Indigenous peoples’ rights to self-determination and FPIC. Such agreements must recognize the primacy of Canada’s international human rights obligations over investor interests by making impact assessments mandatory prior to carrying out extractive projects. These assessments should include impacts on women, Indigenous peoples and local communities. The same obligations must apply to EDC by making Human Rights Impact Assessments mandatory before allocating funds, insurance or loans, and establish clear mechanisms to prevent the use of resources in contexts where human rights could be violated.
  5. Support the UN Declaration of the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas. The declaration would provide greater legal certainty to these vulnerable groups often affected by extractive activities.
  6. Provide victims of human rights violations access to the Canadian judicial system. The GC should adopt specific legislation addressing the domestic legal obstacles encountered by foreign victims of human rights violations related to Canadian extractive activities abroad.
  7. Improve access to information, transparency, and accountability. The GC should ensure that all public entities, including Canadian diplomatic missions, that handle issues related to Indigenous Peoples and extractive projects comply with access to information norms.
  8. Establish “no-go” zones. Canada’s foreign policy should contain a blanket prohibition on new Canadian extractive investments if the conditions for recognizing Indigenous peoples’ rights do not exist or if it is likely that these rights might be violated.

The following GRITE members contributed to the elaboration of this policy brief. Members of the Interdisciplinary Research Group on the Territories of Extractivism (GRITE)

Marie-Dominik Langlois, a PhD student in sociology at the University of Ottawa, worked as a coordinator in various human rights organizations for Latin America and on extractive issues from 2005 to 2013. Coordinator of the Interdisciplinary Research Group on territories of extractivism (GRITE) since 2017, she has collaborated on various research projects on mining issues and Latin America and translated academic texts of Latin American feminists from Spanish to French. Her research focuses on the identity reaffirmation of the Xinka people, their resistance to mining, and their defense of the right to consultation in southeastern Guatemala.

Salvador Herencia is the Director of the Human Rights Clinic of the Human Rights Research and Education Centre and Ph.D. candidate in Law, University of Ottawa. 

Karine Vanthuyne is an Associate Professor at the School of Sociological and Anthropological Studies at the University of Ottawa. At the crossroads of medical and political anthropology, her research focuses on memory, identity and Indigenous rights advocacy.

Willow Scobie is an Assistant Professor in the School of Sociological and Anthropological Studies and co-director of the Interdisciplinary Research Group on Territories of Extraction at the University of Ottawa. She works with community members in Mittimatalik/Pond Inlet, Nunavut on issues of concern, including consultation, inter-community dynamics, and use of social media (information from and about the local iron ore mine).

Penelope Simons is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law (Common Law Section) at the University of Ottawa. She holds and LLM and PhD in International Law from Cambridge University. Prior to taking up her position at the Faculty of Law, Penelope was a Senior Lecturer in Law at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, UK. She was called to the British Columbia Bar in 1996 and practiced corporate/commercial law with McCarthy Tétrault LLP. She has also worked in the nongovernmental sector on peace and disarmament issues. Penelope’s research focuses on business and human rights and in particular on: the human rights implications of domestic and extraterritorial extractive sector activity; state responsibility for corporate complicity in human rights violations; the regulation of transnational corporations; gender and resource extraction; as well as the intersections between transnational corporate activity, human rights and international economic law.