Friday, 31 July 2009

Canada: the Liberian flag of mining

Mexico City mining protest 24 July 09: photo Carlos Ramos Mamahua
30 Oct. 2010: Canada Corporate Accountability Bill C-300 defeated in House of Commons. It asked simply for corporate disclosure similar to US SEC requirements.
21 Jul. 2010: US Dodd-Frank law tells SEC to tighten disclosure rules.
23 Mar. 2011: Globe and Mail: Canada's anti-corruption enforcement deliberately lags behind US.
1 Oct 2014 Kairoscanada: Harper government refuses mining oversight bill C-584.

A system of sleaze was created over the last two decades by successive Canadian governments and financial wizards. Like Liberian shipping, you fly the flag, follow no rules, answer no questions, do what you want and take your profits elsewhere. And better yet, the Canadian taxpayer will bankroll you.

More than 2/3 of the world's oil, gas and mineral companies are now Canadian (most of them in name only). They get hundreds of millions of dollars in export credits. They have given us a world reputation for toxic dumping, murder, massacre, forced displacement of aboriginals, cozying up to dictators, and financial fraud. (1) Our diplomatic service have become their touts and apologists. (2) Says Development and Peace, a Catholic NGO, “This is not a case of a few bad apples: Canadian extractive companies have been implicated in human rights abuses and environmental disasters in more than 30 countries." The latest annual report of the Canadian Mining Association boasts 4900 projects, a huge worldwide expansion thanks to lax supervision by the 'virtual' Toronto Stock Exchange. (3)

Riding roughshod over aboriginal rights is nothing new in Canadian mining. To name only a few of the most flagrant: BC's century-long refusal of treaty, yellowcake poisoning of NWT Dene that left a “village of widows”, the shameful treatment of the Lubicon Cree, and a rash of recent jailings of native protesters in Ontario. (4) With world commodity prices soaring, Canadian governments have made things even easier at home. Ottawa overrode its own environmental legislation to allow lakes to be used as toxic dumps. (5) Ontario has exempted mines from environment assessments for at least a decade. (6) To the Bay Street boys, the message is clear: “anything goes”.

Even worse things were happening in the Third World, where corruption, bribery, and murderous contempt for natives were added to the mix. A map of the most notorious cases has been published by the Halifax Initiative; Amnesty has protested CPP investment in some of them (7). A few examples must suffice. There are many more.

Talisman Energy (ex-BP Canada), Sudan was accused in 2002 by the Presbyterian Church of helping the Sudan government "bomb churches, kill church leaders and attack villages in an effort to clear the way for oil exploration." A US lawsuit failed, but divestment by Ontario Teachers and other pension plans forced Talisman to sell out its Sudan holdings. (8)

Ivanhoe's joint Monywa copper mine with the SLORC dictatorship of Burma has been marked by 13 years of slave labour, torture, and genocide, according to Amnesty International (9); in all that time Canada consistently failed to take action. In July 2009 the company hired ex-Prime Minister Jean Chretien as “senior adviser” -- meaning lobbyist -- to get US sanctions lifted. (10)

Ms Otiego Mseti, one of the Tanzanian villagers suffering from Barrick's “alleged” contamination of the Tigethe River: courtesy

North Mara mine, Tanzania, June 2009: “More than 20 people have died in recent weeks as a direct result of the contaminated water. We have no problem with investors. But the investors must respect and treat us like human beings. These Canadians are killing us... they are not doing business,’’ says a villager. (12) Protests have gone on for eight years, with forced evictions, dumping on village land without permission or compensation, arrests of elders, company collusion with corrupt politicians, and murder of at least 6 villagers. Recently scientists found cyanide and heavy metal contamination associated with “a wide range of carcinogenic effects such as skin, kidney, teratogenic effects; mutagenic effects; and brain damage". For years, the company has refused to clean up. (13)

Colombia: Canadian mining lobbyists were the spearhead of the neoliberal Washington Consensus. After the World Bank ordered deregulation in 1996, Canadian experts rewrote Colombia's mining law, slashing royalties and safety provisions. In 2003 the World Bank ordered the state to sell off its national mines. Since then, corrupt deals with politicians, paramilitaries and big landowners have resulted in evictions of afro-Colombians and aboriginals, over 400 murders and disappearances. Last year two environmental groups challenged the Mining Law, on grounds that it violates the Constitution by permitting destruction of unique ecosystems. (14)

Colombia mining on U'wa aboriginal land: courtesy FOEI
Omai mine, Guyana: in 1995 there were five cyanide incidents. In the worst and last, a tailings pond spilled 120 million gallons of toxic effluent into the Omai and Essequibo rivers. Aboriginals, traders and miners reported dead fish and animals; they complained of skin rashes and blistering for two months after the accident. Many of the 50,000 inhabitants fish, boat, bathe and drink water from the river. The government issued warnings to all residents downriver of the mine to cease using the river for washing, drinking and fishing. No current information on cleanup activity is available. (15)

Ecuador: in April 2008 after a political movement of aboriginals voted against corruption and environmental destruction, the government revoked 4/5 of mining concessions. But in 2009 president Correa restored the concessions, winning high praise from the Canadian mine lobby. Canadian church protests stopped his attempt to outlaw the NGO Acción Ecológica, which is now backing the native group CONAIE's court challenge to the new mining law as a violation both of aboriginal rights and the Rights of Nature law. (16)

Porgera, Papua New Guinea: a Barrick mine has dumped millions of tonnes of toxic tailings into rivers. Hundreds of natives have been killed or injured by security guards. In protest, the Norwegian Pension Fund has divested its stock. CPP and QPP continue their holdings. In April 2009 PNG police torched over 300 houses in the area. (17)

Marinduque, Phillipines: "forests, river basins and coral reefs have been smothered by hundreds of millions of tons of pulverized mining waste rock and toxic tailings laden with arsenic, cadmium, lead, manganese, nickel and sulfate". Bankrupt, facing civil suits and angry stockholders, the original owner Placer Dome was bought out by Barrick. National mining laws had been gutted under the Ramos dictatorship in the 1990s. Those who protested were murdered or disappeared by security forces, a practice which has continued to the present day under President Macapagal-Arroyo. (18)
blasting at Cerro San Pedro: Tamara Herman photo
Cerro San Pedro, Mexico: Metallica plans to level the sacred mountain, destroying most of the historic town, poisoning the water and soil for miles around with cyanide. It will take 32 million litres of water daily, has defied court orders to stop blasting, and sent gangs to attack peaceful protesters, the majority of the population. Corrupt federal politicians refuse to enforce the law. In May 2009, Montreal sympathizers “staked a claim” and announced an open-pit mine in Mount Royal park – to show what a Canadian equivalent would be. (19) A secret July 2009 memo from the Canadian Embassy in Mexico City says it is seriously worried by country-wide protests against mine pollution and corruption; "4/5 of the companies are Canadian," it admits. Two weeks later it was occupied by a sit-in -- see top photo. (20)

a pile of D&P petitions to Harper 2008
Canadian churches and human rights groups have kept the cause alive. This spring, Development and Peace took another 150,000 petitions to Parliament calling for a mining ombudsman who can hear evidence of offshore violations, and a new corporate accountability law. The Conservative government refused, ignoring the advice of expert Roundtables which urged it to create “a Canadian CSR Framework for all Canadian extractive-sector companies operating in developing countries.” Nevertheless, a private member's draft (Bill 300) passed first reading in April. (21)

Here are the principles that should underlie such legislation, according to Development and Peace: (22)

1. The Earth is sacred. All life is interconnected and interdependent. Therefore, the Earth’s ecological diversity, beauty and health must be protected.
2. The Earth’s resources must be shared by peaceful means in an equitable manner that allows current and future generations to meet their needs.
3. All people have the right to participate fully in and have control over decisions that affect their lives and communities.
4. In the interests of solidarity and the common good, decisions made for the benefit of one community must not violate the rights of other communities.
5. The importance of the Earth’s resources to the common good takes priority over any possible commercial value. In the extraction, management, and use of resources, human rights must be respected.
6. Preference must be given to the rights of indigenous peoples and those who are marginalized by poverty or because of race and gender.
(1) See 13 Jun 09 public statements by Development and Peace and Halifax Initiative.
The latter, a coalition of churches, human rights lawyers and environmental groups, in 2003 severely criticized Export Development Corporation's seven deadly secrets: huge export subsidies to mining projects without real environmental assessment or public hearings.
(2) In the USA, Barrick lawyers in 2003 and 2009 admitted financial fraud, claiming that the company was acting on on behalf of central banks, which cannot be sued.
(3) For the role played by Canadian diplomats in bribery and death in Tanzania, among other places, see Alain Denault, Noir Canada: Pillage, corruption et criminalité en Afrique (Montréal, Ecosociété, 2007). Barrick Gold launched a $6 million SLAPP suit in Canada trying to stop the book's distribution, although the company had lost a similar suit in a UK court against a British journalist who first broke the story. See also
(4) See Wikipedia on Toronto Stock Exchange, now the TSX/TSVX. In 2001 it closed its floor to trade entirely online (and unsupervised) after swallowing up the penny-stock Vancouver and Calgary exchanges. Its 2009 report crows that it is now bigger than New York's NYSE. Many US firms have shell listings on TSX/TSVX, allowing them to avoid SEC disclosure.
(4) The century-long Gitksan case in BC, NWT yellowcake poisoning, the Lubicon story; on recent jailings see previous posts in this blog: one two three four five six
For a full account see the highlights and CD of the 1990s Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. The current Tory government has refused to honour the resulting Kelowna Accord.
(5) CBC news 16 Jun 08.
(6) Ontario extends EIA moratorium 2002-2012: MiningWatch report.
(7) example of an Amnesty protest of CPP investment.
(8) Halifax Initiative's map, part of the campaign for government supervision, gives details of human rights abuses by Canadian mining companies and $100s of millions in taxpayer subsidies. CPP and QPP have also invested heavily: see note 22.
(9) Amnesty 2002 statement to Ivanhoe shareholders. Our previous posts on Burma.
(10) Chretien hired by Ivanhoe, news July 2009.
(12) Mother Africa blog 29 Jun 09.
(13) Protest Barrick 17 June 06.
(14) Colombia stories from Friends of the Earth and IPS news.
(15) Omai is one of the world's worst ten toxic sites.
(16) For native protests and police killings see Mining Watch, Ecuador Rising and Grain. Canadian churches campaign Mar 2009 in support of Acción Ecológica. Protests in Peru and Bolivia June 2009, linked to “special clauses” in free-trade agreements imposed by the US and Canada, were broken by police massacres.
(17) Wikipedia on Porgera; June 2009 police action.
(18) quotation from Wikipedia on Marcopper disaster in Marinduque.
(19) Cerro San Pedro and Montreal sympathy action.
(20) secret Canadian Embassy memo and later sit-in.
(21) Development and Peace news 12 May 09; see also its reasons for CPP disinvestment and for an ombudsman. The March 2007 national Roundtable report calling for a corporate accountability law, was refused by the Harper government. The Montreal Social Justice Committee's Upstream July 2009 issue notes that the government's March 2009 proposal for a "CSR counsellour" is far nore restricted than an ombudsman; the proposed CSR centre has no enforcement powers; and corporate compliance is voluntary. NGOs and corporations provide the main impetus in Voluntary Principles (VPs), an international stakeholders group which Canada just joined. Liberal John McKay introduced the private member's Bill 300 in February 2009.
(22) Development and Peace Declaration of principles. See also the Natural Resource Charter and Publish What You Pay.

Update from Africa Report 26 Nov 2013: Harper imposes "investor rights" on Africa
Update from Mining Watch 21 Sep 2015: Canadian corporate offenders in the Americas.

1 comment:

Stewart Vriesinga: said...

Excellency and very informative post. The claim that Canada is flying the "Liberian flag of mining" is, unfortunately, accurate. It is not Canadian expertise, as many would have us believe, but rather a complete disregard for the welfare of local populations and the environment that has made Canada a leader in the industry.

Even the Canadian International Development Development Agency is acting as a lapdog for the Canadian here in Colombia (see )