Saturday, December 8, 2007

Canadian Government Urged to Rein in Mining Sector

Canadian mining companies continue to come under scrutiny from civil society organisations for international human rights violations and environmental damage that critics say the Canadian government has done little to check.

Canada is a leader in the global mining industry, with almost 60 percent of the world's listed exploration and mining companies. The government supports some foreign mining activity through Export Development Canada, a federal agency.

"The situation is pretty grim," Joan Kuyek of Mining Watch Canada told IPS. "The mining companies are engaging in predatory activities. The laws and regulations don't stop violations of human rights or protect the environment. There needs to be immediate regulation of mining companies."

According to the Halifax Initiative, a coalition of labour and civil society organisations pushing for policy reform, Canadian mining companies have "been implicated in well-documented cases of human rights violations and environmental abuses ranging from the destruction of protected areas, to death threats and assassinations."

(Here are some examples: Mining Misery: Guatemala is one of many countries that has attracted the investment of Canadian Mining Companies – but at what cost to its people? , 10 Things Canada Does Best - What Canada doesn't do best is hold domestic mining companies accountable for the damage they do abroad. , Canadian, Goldcorp's open pit, cyanide-leeching mine runs up against local opposition in Guatemala , Canadian Barrick Gold Corporation Pascua Lama Project Protested - Al Gore insisted upon removing Barrick Gold as a sponsor of his May visit to Chile. )

In 2005, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade for Canada recommended the creation of "a process involving relevant industry associations, non-governmental organisations and experts, which will lead to the strengthening of existing programmes and policies in this area, and, where necessary, to the establishment of new ones."

Another report written last spring, entitled "National Roundtable on Corporate Social Responsibility and the Canadian Extractive Industry in Developing Countries", also recommended a corporate social responsibility framework.

But even as Prime Minister Stephen Harper has refocused the nation's foreign policy agenda toward Latin America, a major source of Canadian mining investments, there has been little movement to implement these recommendations.


The Canadian government has traditionally relied on voluntary compliance. There is still no commitment to establish legal norms in Canada to hold Canadian-based mining companies to account for violations overseas or to ensure that reporting is made available to markets and shareholders.


In July, during a trip to Latin America, Harper met with officials from the company Barrick Gold, whose operations in Tanzania and Chile have come under fire for alleged labour and environmental violations.

Lucio Cuenca, of the Latin American Observatory on Environmental Conflicts, said at the time, "It is inappropriate that the prime minister meet with and give his support to the company at a time when the Chilean Congress is considering whether to investigate suspected irregularities in the Pascua Lama Project, the State Defence Council of Chile is contemplating suing Barrick for the destruction of glaciers, and a complaint regarding the project that was submitted before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is pending."

The Pascua Lama gold deposit being pursued by Barrick Gold is located in the Andes in an area rich with glaciers. Glacial run-off irrigates the productive Huasco valley, an agricultural center just south of the Atacama desert. The indigenous Diaguita community of Huasio-Altino claims that the concession includes part of its ancestral territory and is suing to recover the lands.

Here is the full article.