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John Bonnar is an independent journalist covering social justice events in and around Toronto through print, photo, audio, video and slideshows. You can connect with him on Facebook (John Bonnar) or on Twitter at @johnb98 or on YouTube at johnb98.

Barrrick Gold confronted by angry protesters

| April 30, 2011
Photo: John Bonnar

For the fifth year in a row, Sakura Saunders shows up for the Barrick annual shareholders' meeting in Toronto. But once again, she is turned back by police and Barrick's head of security despite the fact that she's a shareholder.

Undaunted, she heads over to Simcoe Park across the street from the Metro Toronto Convention Centre and addresses a crowd of over 150 supporters while waiting for shareholders to pour out of the building at the end of the meeting.

Saunders is co-editor of Protestbarrick.net, a website dedicated to organizing around mining issues, that contains articles, testimonies and backgrounders about Barrick's operations worldwide.

On their website, Protestbarrick.net says, "Barrick Gold takes advantage of inadequate and poorly enforced regulatory controls to rob Indigenous Peoples and communities of their land and livelihoods, destroying sensitive ecosystems, supporting brutal military and security operations, and suing anyone who dares to report on it."

Since gold extraction exacts a heavy toll on Indigenous lands around the world, Protestbarrick.net believes that reduction, recycling and reuse of gold should eliminate the need for new and expanded gold mining operations.

But Barrick, the world's largest gold producer, on its website claims that it is "committed to conserving and managing lands and the many varieties of species of plant and animal life that inhabit these lands, working in consultation with local communities and regulators. Our sites worldwide are engaged in efforts to protect, manage and reclaim lands and plant and animal habitats."

Protestbarrick.net adds that most gold is used for jewelry or to build personal wealth and therefore serves no useful purpose. Although Barrick agrees that most of the gold is used for jewelry and investment, it is quick to point out that gold also plays a role in medical innovations, the computer, transportation, aerospace and communications industries.

A year ago, Barrick chairman Peter Munk and his wife donated $35 million dollars to the University of Toronto to launch the new Munk School of Global Affairs. But graduate student Jacob Nerenberg and his peers don't want to partner with Barrick Gold to discuss global issues.

In a recent petition, Nerenberg wrote that the contract between the Munk Foundation and the University of Toronto imposes conditions on the university that he believes will compromise its academic integrity.

"Most troubling in this contract is the inclusion of annual progress reports as a condition for receiving funds," wrote Nerenberg, who created the petition for the cancellation of the Munk contract.

"It's being framed as some sort of donation but it's actually a way to let the Munk Foundation brand the university and take over our school."

So as public funding for post secondary education continues to be reduced, Nerenberg refuses to let the corporate sector step in (with strings attached) to fill the gap.

"Partnering with one of these violent mining companies is not the way to build awareness of global issues," he says.

As the rally in Toronto gets underway, several countries around the world are also holding protest rallies against Barrick Gold during the shareholders' meeting.

Catherine Coumans, research coordinator and responsible for the Asia-Pacific program at MiningWatch Canada, reads a statement from the people in Chile and Argentina who have mobilized to oppose the Pascua Lama/Valedero project saying, "it endangers the natural and cultural balance of these valleys, as well as its water supply, affecting around 70,000 people in Chile and 24,000 in Argentina."

Four years ago, Sakura Saunders met Nat Lowrey in person for the first time at the Barrick shareholders' meeting and the two have been co-editors at Protestbarrick.net ever since.   

"This is really inspiring," says Lowrey as she looks out at the crowd assembled in Simcoe Park. In 2007, it was only Lowrey, Saunders and a young aboriginal Australian woman who came out to confront Barrick. Lowrey's encouraged by the support at Wednesday's rally and how Canadians have woken up to what Barrick is doing around the world.

Lowrey had a proxy for the shareholders' meeting but, like Saunders, was turned away by police and Barrick security.

"Our union is active and participating in this struggle which is demanding justice and accountability in the face of widespread abuses by Canadian corporate companies not only in the global south but also in Ontario and across Canada," says Ilian Burbano, chair of CUPE Ontario's International Solidarity Committee.

As a trade unionist, Burbano feels it's important to speak out against Barrick considering that all Canadians are complicit in the benefits and wealth that's generated by the Canadian corporate mining industry, noting that a lot of pension monies are invested in the mining industry by CUPE and other unions.

"Anyone contributing to the CPP is contributing to Canadian corporate mining capital," says Burbano. "But that doesn't mean we're going to be complicit in a passive way."

The fact that protesters are forced to rally across the street rather than allowed inside to address the board of Barrick and other shareholders symbolizes the fact, says Burbano, that there is no justice in the industry. But that won't deter them from taking a stand and continuing to organize at the grassroots level around mining issues.

In that way, protesters can build a stronger movement to educate Canadians about the negative impact of Canadian mining activity around the world.

In the middle of Burbano's speech, the shareholders begin to exit the Convention Centre. Protesters grab their banners and placards and begin to move quickly across the street to the edge of the sidewalk where they are greeted by a line of bicycle police.

"All right everybody, get over there," says Saunders. "Last ten inches (of the sidewalk) are ours." They take that space and start making a lot of noise.

"Shame on your Barrick Gold, human rights cannot be sold," they chant.

Half an hour later, the protesters march east along Front Street and north to Barrick Gold headquarters at 131 Bay Street.

"We're here, right in front of Barrick Gold," says Saunders. "The belly of the beast. Right?"

Several flight delays keep Jethro Tulin from speaking at the Barrick shareholders' meeting on Wednesday. But after finally making it to Toronto, he addresses the crowd outside 131 Bay Street. Tulin made the trip from his home in Porgera, Papua New Guinea.

"In Papua New Guinea, Barrick dumps toxic mine tailings directly into the river," says Protestbarrick.net on their website. "Meanwhile, the original landowners complain of a lack of compensation and infrastructure development, and a lack of access to Barrick officials. There is also a large scale human rights crisis involving the death and injury of small scale miners near the mine site."

Tulin has been attending the shareholders' meeting for the last three years and organizing around Barrick's Porgera mine since it opened. In 2003, he founded the Akali Tange Association (ATA), a human rights organization documenting abuses, including allegations of gang rapes, at the Porgera mine.

"They're not going to get away with what they've done," says Tulin.

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