Why we are shouting out against mining injustice

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A recent protest against Goldcorp in Vancouver. (Photo: http://ithinkmining.com)

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In the next decade, the Conservative government predicts over $500 billion in investments in the mining and extractive sector here in Canada - a prophecy to be fulfilled by the reckless dismantling of already weak Canadian environmental safeguards through the omnibus budget implementation bill, C-38.

In the Global South, Canadian mining companies have long evaded the enforcement of human rights obligations and environmental regulations using their lobbying power or trade mechanisms that have further entrenched the rights of transnational corporations.

Vancouver-based Pacific Rim, for example, is using a trade tribunal to challenge the Salvadoran government for failing to issue a permit for a cyanide leaching gold mine. Canadian mining company Goldcorp Inc has continued to operate its Marlin Mine in Guatemala despite a ruling by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights demanding that operations be ceased until human rights violations could be investigated. The suspension was lifted last year, after much pressure from the Guatemalan government without the actual concerns ever truly being addressed. 

In Mexico and elsewhere community activists have been murdered or brutally attacked for speaking out against Canadian mining companies while the Canadian government has not paid heed to calls for investigations into the crimes.

In many of these cases, communities have been trying to protect their water supplies from contamination or over-extraction.

In this context, the Council of Canadians, having been involved in water issues for more than 20 years, felt compelled to shine a spotlight on the water-intensive and water polluting activities of the Canadian mining industry and its impacts on communities through the 'Shout Out Against Mining Injustice' conference, which took place in Vancouver June 1 and 2.

Unfortunately the Conservative government will not see, hear nor speak the evils of Canadian mining. And as witnessed recently, they will attempt to marginalize anyone else who does so.

Rather than welcome the opportunity for Canadians to hear from communities affected by Canadian mining from around the world, the Conservative government chose to bully New Democrat MP Peter Julian for speaking at the event.

On June 1 in the House of Commons, Conservative Member of Parliament Brian Jean accused Julian of "attacking the natural resources sector" by attending the conference. 

Julian spoke at a plenary about strategies to hold Canadian corporations accountable for human rights violations, Julian was invited to speak, in part, because of his private members bill, Bill C-323, the International Promotion and Protection of Human Rights Act.

The Council of Canadians has backed this legislation and encouraged its members to sign a petition, which "calls on the Government of Canada to support Bill C-323 thereby creating a new civil cause of action that would allow the Canadian Federal Courts to hear and decide claims for violations of international law that occur outside of Canada, and allow non-citizens to sue anyone for violations of basic human, environmental or labour rights when they are committed outside of Canada through the Canadian court system."

As Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow raised in her opening remarks at the conference, "A study commissioned by the industry and leaked to the media said that Canadian mining companies are ‘far and away' the worst human rights and environmental abusers of any country."

To pin Canada's economic future on the rapid expansion of this industry will only lead to greater abuse of people and the planet. People living closer to the land have been feeling the impacts of unsustainable growth for many years now. 

Indigenous communities living downstream from polluting industries like the tar sands in Canada or large mining projects in Latin America have seen unnaturally high rates of cancer, skin diseases, birth defects and illness in the fish and livestock vital to their survival. And things are about to get much worse.

In order to defend an industry that has been the object of tremendous public opposition in Canada and abroad, the Harper government is engaging in shoot-the-messenger strategies to silence public debate. In Canada, this means eliminating publicly funded science, shrinking government departments responsible for environmental monitoring and criminalizing environmental organizations in order to blindly pursue a path of economic growth based on massive expansion of the extractive sector.

Internationally, Canadian NGOs who have supported communities abroad in campaigns against mining injustice such as KAIROS and Development and Peace have been de-funded by CIDA in favour of NGOs who are willing to work with mining companies.

This is why we have decided we can no longer be silent on this vital issue and hope others will join us. 

Meera Karunananthan campaigns on water and mining issues at the Council of Canadians.

Brent Patterson is the political director of the Council of Canadians.

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