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Do no harm, Canada

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The Inter American Human Rights Commission -- an independent office of the Organization of American States -- has added its voice to a growing list of human rights bodies calling on Canada to prevent mining abuses and hold Canadian companies and state agencies responsible to account.

In a statement released summarizing dozens of hearings heard in late October, the Commission specifically urged Canada -- as home to hundreds of mining companies with mining projects throughout Latin America and the Caribbean -- to "prevent the multiple human rights violations that can result" from their advancement (emphasis ours). Without naming any other country, it extended this same demand to "host" states in which companies operate, and other home states of transnational corporations.

The Commission cited having heard "cases of violations of the right to life, forced displacement, instances in which water and food sources have been cut off, and violence against leaders opposed to development projects, among other problems." It also heard about negative impacts on "Indigenous peoples' rights over their lands and territories, as well as on the rights of communities of African descent and rural and peasant populations," including where "Indigenous peoples live in voluntary isolation and initial contact, as well as about other projects implemented in areas inhabited by Indigenous peoples in contact but where their rights to prior, free, and informed consultation have not been respected." (The fact that the Commission stopped short of asserting Indigenous peoples' right to free, prior, informed consent is unfortunate and must have made the Canadian representatives to the OAS feel a little bit better given the government's shameless campaign against this right. Also see here.)

In our own presentation to the Commission on October 28, we highlighted how the Canadian state itself is implicated in grave Indigenous and human rights violations through its own acts and omissions, given the myriad of ways that it aggressively promotes and protects mining company interests from Mexico to Argentina, in the most deadly of circumstances and in the face of determined community resistance.

We highlighted the case of the Canadian Embassy in Mexico, which played a central role to enable and then defend Blackfire Exploration's mine in Chiapas, even after community leader Mariano Abarca was murdered, after it came to light that the company had been making direct payments to the local mayor in order to repress protests, and after the mine was shuttered on environmental grounds.

Given the Canadian state's activist role on behalf of the rapacious interests of our bloated mining industry, which regularly leads to serious and lasting harm in communities throughout the region, it is important that the Commission singled out Canada and talked about prevention, not just reparation. While justice is urgently required for the many harms that have already occurred, we need to stop them before they start.

To begin, this means putting respect for Indigenous and collective as well as individual human rights in first place, including respect for those communities -- even entire populations -- saying no to mining. It also means instituting mandatory corporate and state accountability standards that provide accessible processes, independent fact finding and remedies for harms taking place.

Going further, it's time to stop directing overseas development aid and diplomatic services toward the promotion of large-scale mineral extraction overseas given the systematic harm it is causing; to ensure Crown corporations that provide financing or holding equity in companies have to comply with international human rights obligations; and to end Canada's aggressive promotion of investor protection agreements that, among other things, let them sue governments when they or their courts make decisions intended to protect people and the environment.

More broadly, it is time to seriously question this extractivist economic model that the Canadian state apparatus has been harnessed to promote and advance in many countries, as many communities in the region are doing, questioning its legitimacy, legality and compatibility with their rights and well-being.

UN bodies that have previously called on the Canadian state to prevent mining abuses and to hold Canadian-registered companies to account:

  • UN Special Rapporteur on Toxic Waste (2002)
  • UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (2007, 2012)
  • UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2012)

To see the hearing at the Commission about the impacts of Canadian mining companies in Latin America see here.

To read the report submitted from the Canadian Network for Corporate Accountability to the Commission see here.

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