Title: Canadian mining companies, behaving badly
Author: Janet Bagnall
Category: Resource Extraction
Source: The Gazette
African Charter Article# 21: All peoples shall freely dispose of their wealth and natural resources for their exclusive interest, eliminating all forms of foreign economic exploitation.
Summary & Comment: In Africa, South America, Mexico, Asia, and Australia nearly two in every three mining projects – more than 3,000 – are run by Canadian corporations. Their practices put commerical gain first and corporate responsibility at a distance. DN
Canadian mining companies, behaving badly
- Liberal bill would try to rein in some ruthless international practices
Canadian mining companies are fast becoming Canada’s international calling card. They’re everywhere – in South America, Mexico, Africa, Asia, and Australia. Nearly two in every three mining projects around the world – more than 3,000 – are run by Canadian corporations. This might be a point of pride if it weren’t for the allegations that keep cropping up in connection with Canadian mining activity, suggesting that if we’re not thugs ourselves, we countenance violence for commercial gain.
These allegations include very serious accusations:
- the killings of anti-mining activists in El Salvador and Mexico;
- forcible eviction of residents near a Barrick Gold Corp. mine in Papua New Guinea;
- environmental damage in Guatemala;
- death threats and assaults in Ecuador.
Three Ecuadoreans have taken their case to an Ontario court, the Toronto Star reported in November, alleging that their opposition to Vancouver-based Copper Mesa Mining Corp.’s planned copper mine resulted in their being threatened and assaulted. The company, through a lawyer, insisted to the Star that its practices met “the highest standards of ethical behaviour and corporate social responsibility.” Pacific Rim Mining Corp., a Vancouver-based mining company, also insisted it behaved properly in its effort to open a mine in El Salvador.
Yet anti-mining activists were met with death threats and finally killings. In December, two anti-mining activists were shot and killed: Dora Recinos Sorto, 32 and eight months pregnant, and Ramiro Rivera, vice-president of the Environmental Committee of Cabanas. A third activist had been killed earlier in 2009. The deaths were widely covered in El Salvador and Canada.
Barrick Gold Corp. likewise said it had no role in the forced evictions by Papua New Guinea police in 2009 of residents living near the Porgera mine. Barrick Gold has a 95-per-cent stake in Porgera gold mine through the Porgera Joint Venture, Amnesty International reported last year. This week, according to Reuters, Amnesty called on Papua New Guinea’s government to investigate the evictions and criticized Barrick for not withdrawing the logistical support it provides police through a subsidiary.
But most allegations, no matter how serious, fall into a legal void, both in Canada and elsewhere. In 2008, Supreme Court Justice Ian Binnie told a Canadian Bar Association/Department of Justice panel discussion on human rights that alleged victims have no recourse, and neither do Canadian companies wrongly accused. (His talk was reported by the Lawyers Weekly.) “My point simply is that you cannot have a functioning global economy with a dysfunctional global legal system,” said Binnie. “There has to be somewhere, somehow, that people who feel that their rights have been trampled on can attempt redress – and if the complaints turn out to be unfounded, so be it.”
Canada has done little about the problem, even though the Commons subcommittee on human rights and international development said nearly five years ago that it has long known about many of these allegations. In 2005, the committee wrote: “mining activities in some developing countries have had adverse effects on local communities, especially where regulations governing the mining sector and its impact on the economic and social well-being of employees and local residents, as well as on the environment, are weak or non-existent, or where they are not enforced.”
Asked for a response, the Harper government in October issued voluntary guidelines for corporate social responsibility. International Trade Minister Stockwell Day appointed a federal counsellor to help companies meet the guidelines. It’s not clear how useful a step this will prove: Any review the counsellor might want to initiate has to be agreed to by the company. Into this breach stepped Liberal MP John McKay last year. He introduced a private member’s bill, C-300, that would bar the federal government from supporting ruthless Canadian mining companies either through tax support or investments through the Canada Pension Plan. The Commons human rights and international development committee would determine whether a company had violated corporate responsibility standards, as McKay’s bill proposed.
Before the House of Commons prorogued in December, Bill C-300 had passed the second of three necessary readings. Now, however, McKay told cable network cp24.com
, he thinks his bill won’t get past the newly Conservative-controlled Senate. “If this gets royal assent, it will be a Lord’s miracle,” he told cp24.com. One Canadians might want to pray for.