March 29, 2005
The Honourable James Peterson
Minister of International Trade
125 Sussex Drive
Tower B, 5th Floor
Ottawa, ON K1A 0G2
R.e.: Disclosure of information at Export Development Canada
Dear Mr. Peterson
I am writing you on behalf of the Halifax Initiative Coalition, a Coalition of development, environment, faith-based, human rights and labour groups, regarding Export Development Canada’s (EDC) disclosure policy.
Under the terms of the existing policy, EDC is required to review its disclosure policy, with public consultation, no later than three years after implementation or by May 2005. Although the Coalition wrote to EDC over a year ago about the forthcoming review, EDC has yet to indicate when such a consultation will take place on its disclosure policy. Nor has the Agency indicated how the policy has changed to reflect changes to the December 2003 “Common Approaches” on environment and export credits. As such, EDC is increasingly failing to meet both national and international commitments to transparency.
This is all the more worrisome in light of events of recent months relating to EDC and disclosure. In October 2004, the Auditor General released her Environmental Review at Export Development Canada, which, while acknowledging the EDC’s improvements on the environment, indicated more needed to be done on transparency.
A report released by Sierra Legal Defense Fund in March, included as an attachment to this letter, goes some way towards addressing this issue. Among other things, it advocates for a more balanced disclosure regime that would both address and accommodate company concerns to protect true confidentiality, while still meeting the Canadian public’s expectations for greater transparency.
In February, European countries were also required to have transposed into national legislation the Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters. As public authorities, it seems clear that ECAs would fall under the Convention, and be required to comply with the rules governing disclosure of information and public participation when dealing with projects that may affect the environment.
A lot of improvements have been made at EDC with regards to disclosure, but Canada is clearly lagging behind international good practice, and standards set by other ECAs in terms of transparency. Internationally, nine other export credit agencies (ECA), among them the United States, United Kingdom, France and Japan, already release key environmental information up to forty-five days prior to board approval. EDC has never released an EIA since its disclosure policy was adopted.
To this end, we encourage you to support changes to EDC’s disclosure policy that would respond to public expectations for greater transparency, and reflect national and international demands regarding greater transparency at the Crown Corporation.
The changes would include:
- The disclosure of environmental impact assessments and other project information at least 45 days prior to board consideration (as per the practices of some other ECAs).
- The revision of EDC’s disclosure policy to mirror the Access to Information Act. This would entail operating on a presumption in favour of disclosure, while clarifying what competing interests merit exemptions due to the real potential of harm to those interests. The Access to Information Act explicitly clarifies that the results of environmental testing and assessment should not be withheld as “commercial” information. Where elements within the assessment could be construed to be commercially sensitive, these parts could be exempted. Such a balancing mechanism would both ensure greater public disclosure, while protecting true confidentiality concerns.
We would be happy to discuss these issues with you further.
Thank you for your consideration of this matter.
Chair, Halifax Initiative Coalition
Encl. (1) Review and Analysis of EDC Disclosure pratices - Sierra Legal Defense Fund
Gilles Ross, Acting President and CEO, Export Development Canada
Hon. Irwin Cotler, Minister of Justice
Hon. Reg Alcock, Treasury Board Minister
Ms. Belinda Stronach, MP
Mr. Peter Julian, MP
Mr. Pierre Paquette, MP
Members of the Halifax Initiative Coalition include:
- Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace
- Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Social Affairs Office
- Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC)
- Canadian Friends of Burma
- Canadian Labour Congress (CLC)
- Canadian Lawyers for International Human Rights (CLAIHR)
- CAW Canada
- CoDevelopment Canada
- C U S O
- Democracy Watch
- Falls Brook Centre
- Friends of the Earth Canada
- KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives
- MiningWatch Canada
- North-South Institute
- Oxfam Canada
- RESULTS Canada
- Rights & Democracy
- Sierra Club of Canada Nuclear Campaign
- Social Justice Committee
- Steelworkers Humanity Fund
- Toronto Environmental Alliance
- World Interaction Mondiale