Liberal MP John McKay was one of nine speakers at Friday’s conference, the Political Economy of Mining and Resource Extraction, at Carleton University. McKay, who is the MP for Scarborough-Guildwood, spoke to a jam-packed room of close to 100 people. He talked broadly about the bill, called the Corporate Accountability of Mining, Oil or Gas in Developing Countries Act, which would have held Canadian mining companies accountable for human rights abuses and environmental destruction while operating abroad. He expressed his surprise at the reactions to his bill. He received reactions from countries around the world including Bulgaria and the Philippines. Al-Jazeera and the Globe and Mail approached him. Over 80 NGOs wrote a letter in support of the bill. McKay revealed that “some progressive companies dipped their toes in it.” It’s not uncommon for MPs to be absent for votes on private members’ bills. However, for Bill C-300, all the Conservatives showed up to vote against it. Twenty-four MPs were absent from the vote and the bill was defeated by a mere six votes. McKay then spoke about a “legislative resurrection,” or re-introducing the bill after more research and working with industry. The audience was heartened to hear that the bill’s defeat was not the death of the bill.
The preceding presenter was Jamie Kneen from Mining Watch. He gave an excellent overview of Canadian corporations operating in the global south; a perfect set up for why a bill such as Bill C-300 is sorely needed. He showed striking images of environmental destruction, community protests and police repression. His case studies included the Highland Valley copper mine (British Colombia), the Iduapriem gold mine (Ghana), the Barrick Gold North Mara mine (Tanzania), Bulyanhulu gold mine (Tanzania), Junin (Ecuador), Tambogrande (Peru) and finally Cerro de San Pedro (Mexico).
Todd Gordon from York University, gave a talk entitled “Canadian policy and the corporate pursuit of profit.” He spoke about the harm caused by Canadian mining companies and their relationship to the third world as systemic to Canadian capitalism. The Canadian government, including local embassies, is supportive of Canadian mining companies abroad. Gordon explained how documents obtained under Access to Information requests showed this relationship.
David Welch, who is a professor at the University of Ottawa, gave an overview of the Algonquin’s struggle against uranium mining in North Frontenac. Canada is the largest exporter of uranium in the world. 80% of uranium that is mined in Canada is exported with a large majority going to the U.S.
The Algonquins never singed a treaty and thus never ceded territory. Because they’ve never signed a treaty, they are not considered ‘indians’ by the Indian Act or by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. Welch pointed to several Supreme Court cases that set a precedent for Aboriginal peoples’ right to consultation and accommodation including Delgammukw v. B.C. (1997), Haida Nation v. B.C. (2004) and Taku River v. B.C. (2005).
Despite these legal precedents, Frontenac Ventures failed to adequately consult with the Algonquins on the project. First Nations and local supporters actively opposed the mine. In September 2007, two canoes travelled from North Frotenac to Ottawa to show that waterways are connected and that pollution from uranium mining in North Frotenac could travel to Canada’s capital city. The Algonquins set up a blockade in the area. Frotenac Ventures sued the Ardoch Algonquins First Nations and the Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nations for 77 million dollars over the blockade. Several people were also arrested and charged including the arrest and 6-month jail sentence of former Ardoch Chief Bob Lovelace and charges and fines against Chiefs Paula Sherman and Doreen Davis.
Other presenters and their papers included:
• Stephan Schott, (Carleton University), The Political Economy of Energy and Continental Integration
• Paul Haslam, (University of Ottawa), Corporate adherence to social responsibility norms in the mining sector
• Rita Abrahamsen, (University of Ottawa), Privatization of security in the mining industry
• Emilie Cameron, (Carleton University), Geographies of mineral exploration and extraction in the central Arctic
• Anna Zalik, (York University) The criminalization of protest in the oil fields
The high attendance to the conference was encouraging to see given the role many Canadian mining companies play in human rights abuses and environmental degradation. As of 2008, approximately 75% of the world’s exploration and mining companies have their headquarters in Canada. Canadian extractive companies are associated with approximately 10,000 projects in over 100 countries. A recent report commissioned by the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada pointed to Canadian companies as the worst offenders prone to community conflict, environmental contamination, and unethical if not illegal practices.
In December 2007, NDP MP Peter Julian, introduced a bill similar to Bill C-300. If passed, Bill C-354 (introduced as C-492), International Protection and Promotion of Human Rights Act, would allow foreigners to sue Canadian companies for human rights abuses and environmental damage including:
– wanton destruction of the environment that directly or indirectly initiates widespread, long-term or severe damage to an ecosystem, a natural habitat or a population of species in its natural surroundings;
– transboundary pollution that directly or indirectly brings about significant harm to persons living in an adjacent state or territory;
During the climate conference in Cancun, I heard countless stories of environmental and human rights abuses at the hands of transnational corporations, particularly Canadian mining companies. Although Bill C-300 was defeated, it is important to remember that Parliament was narrowly divided and a large number of MPs supported Bill C-300. With the growing awareness and commitment to climate justice, environmental justice and social justice, Canadian mining companies can no longer operate in a manner that harms public health, violates human rights and destroys our natural environment. The Canadian public has a responsibility to demand that Canadian mining companies operate in an ethical manner. With a federal election likely on the horizon, Canadians have the power to create a political climate that would see the enactment of Bill C-354 or other bill on corporate accountability.