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United Nations Special Rapporteur on toxins to visit Canada

Photo by Brent Patterson

Baskut Tuncak, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes, will conduct an official country visit to Canada this coming May 24 to June 5.

The Special Rapporteur's call for submissions notes, "In addition to the cases within Canada, the Special Rapporteur is also interested in cases concerning activities of Canadian businesses operating abroad." In both instances, this would include the impact of the "exposure to hazardous substances and wastes" on Indigenous peoples.

In this country, there is notably the example of the Mount Polley tailings dam disaster in August 2014 that released 25 million cubic metres of mining waste -- containing toxins like arsenic, mercury, selenium, lead and copper -- into nearby lakes and rivers on the territory of the Xat'sull (Soda Creek) First Nation in British Columbia.

There are numerous other examples that could be highlighted including:

  • toxic air pollutants, such as benzene, from Sarnia's Chemical Valley impacting the Aamjiwnaang First Nation in southern Ontario;
  • the salt brine that Alton Gas wants to dispose of into the Shubenacadie River on Sipekne'katik territory in Nova Scotia and;
  • the toxic tailings waste that could be dumped into Bird Brook and West Napadogan Brook at the headwaters of the Nashwaak River on Wolastoq (Maliseet) territory in New Brunswick as a result of the Trudeau government-approved Sisson open-pit tungsten and molybdenum mine.

In terms of the impact of toxic substances released as a result of Canadian transnational capital in Latin America these examples could be brought forward:

Colombia: The Luis Carlos Perez Lawyer's Collective (Corporación Colectivo de Abogados Luis Carlos Pérez or CCALCP) has challenged a proposed fracking project -- and the toxic waste that would be associated with it -- led by ConocoPhillips and CNE Oil & Gas, the Bogota-based subsidiary of Calgary-based Canacol Energy Ltd.

Guatemala: The Peaceful Resistance of La Puya opposes the Progreso VII Derivada-El Tambor gold mine located just north of Guatemala City because levels of arsenic in their water increased considerably during the time the mine was in operation. While having sold their shares in the project, the Vancouver-based mining company Radius Gold maintains a financial interest in it.

Honduras: The Honduran Centre for the Promotion of Community Development (CEHPRODEC) is concerned by the toxic legacy in the Siria Valley of the San Martin mine owned by Vancouver-based Goldcorp. Carlos Danilo Amador, the General Secretary of the Regional Environmental Committee of the Valle de Siria, has stated, "The water in Valle de Siria is now polluted with heavy metals, like arsenic, lead, and mercury, all of which are a product of the exploitation of natural resources by Goldcorp."

Mexico: Educa Oaxaca is deeply concerned by the October 2018 overflow of mud and fine mining waste from a tailings dam at the Vancouver-based Fortuna Silver gold and silver mine situated near the town of San José del Progreso in the state of Oaxaca, in southern Mexico.

The Special Rapporteur should also be made aware of the deep disappointment expressed by many groups concerning the Trudeau government's recent appointment of a Canadian Ombudsperson for the Responsible Enterprise (CORE).

The pro-industry Mining Association of Canada publicly rejected the ombudsperson having the power to compel documents and testimony.

Despite human rights activists repeatedly highlighting that the office must have those powers, the Trudeau government finally appointed an ombudsperson -- 15 months after announcing it would create the position -- without the power to investigate along with a further (unacceptable) delay in defining what their powers might eventually be.

The deadline for submissions for the "SR Toxics Visit to Canada 2019" is April 15. For more information on the submission process, please click here.

Brent Patterson is a political activist and writer.

Photo by Brent Patterson

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