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Jennifer Henry, the executive director of KAIROS, addresses the Global Cry of the People: Mining Extraction and Justice conference at Saint Paul University in September. Photo by Dennis Gruending

Global cry of the people

Canadian mining abroad continues to be criticized by civil society

By Dennis Gruending

In November, I attended a Saint Paul University symposium dealing with environmental and human rights abuses committed by Canadian mining companies — those with the knowledge and complicity of the federal government. The Ottawa conference was called the Global Cry of the People: Mining Extraction and Justice, and the presenters included a range of church-based and other civil society advocates from Canada, Latin America and Asia. 
  

Jennifer Henry, the executive director of the Canadian inter-church justice group, KAIROS, told the audience that there is a discrepancy between the rhetoric and action of Canadian mining companies. “Our partners and neighbours are pleading with us to respond to this, and they wonder why nothing in changing,” she said. “Surely, we can take concrete steps to change the way in which Canadian mining companies do business.”



Meanwhile, Development and Peace, a Canadian Catholic aid organization, distributed  literature about the deleterious effects of mining on various communities. In it were comments from bishops in Latin America, Asia and the Philippines. Said the Philippines' Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo: “Mining is not helping our people, and it is destroying our environment."

Canada's investment and activity in foreign mining has increased exponentially in recent decades — in tandem with mounting abuses. Many groups at the Ottawa symposium belong to a 29-member coalition called the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability (CNCA). They want the government to take measures compelling the industry to act more responsibly. They have even taken their concerns to the Organization of American States, of which Canada is a member.


In October 2014, the CNCA submitted a brief to the organization’s Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in Washington D.C. The CNCA says that there are more large mining companies domiciled in Canada than any other country. In fact, 41 percent of the large companies present in Latin America and the Caribbean are Canadian. As of December 2013, Canada now has 1,500 mining projects in the region.  

The CNCA brief also referred to a systematic pattern of Indigenous and human rights abuses that have accompanied increased Canadian mining activity. It cited a report presented to the IACHR Commission last year by the Working Group on Mining and Human Rights in Latin America. In ten of the 22 Canadian mining projects reviewed by the group, 23 violent deaths and 25 cases of injury were found.


So what does the CNCA and others want done? For starters, it wants the government to appoint an independent extractive sector ombudsperson to provide redress whenever Canadian companies are involved in abuses. Secondly, it wants the government to provide access to Canadian courts for people who have been seriously harmed by the international operations of Canadian companies. 



The Conservative government has responded with a project for Corporate Social Responsibility, a voluntary endeavor in which Canadian extractive companies agree to abide by certain guidelines. But the government has shown no enthusiasm for the proposals by civil society, and any attempts to introduce regulation have been met with opposition by the mining industry lobby.  

Still, despite the lack of response from the government or industry, attendees at November's symposium agreed that the campaign must — and will — continue.     


Author's photo
Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based author, blogger and a former Member of Parliament. His work will appear on the second and fourth Thursday of the month. His Pulpit and Politics blog can be found at www.dennisgruending.ca.
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