Briefing on the Human Rights and Environmental Abuses of Canadian Corporations
With more than a thousand mining and exploration companies operating around the world, Canada is by far the most productive country when it comes to mineral extraction.
It is a source of great pride in some circles. However, as this briefing demonstrates, it is also a source of great fear and revulsion for tens of thousands of people around the world: the attendant victims of Canada’s mining industry.
In many cases, these victims, often residing on communally-held lands, are evicted from their homes and displaced without any form of compensation. Sometimes they are held back at gun point while their villages and property is destroyed; not to mention their graveyards, sacred sites, farmlands and other areas key to their culture and physical survival.
Local environments are also frequently contaminated with mercury, cyanide, uranium, arsenic and a host of other hazardous chemicals which families often end up consuming without knowledge, but with obvious consequences.
Further, when communities try to address these issues, either through direct confrontation and protest, by going to court, or by begging to be consulted before their lands and livelihoods are taken from them, they are frequently turned into criminals and treated as less-than-human beings: They are kidnapped, tied up, tortured, raped, shot, stabbed, burned, suffocated, executed. Others are arbitrarily detained by company security forces or arrested by state police, often because of false charges laid against them.
There are also cases where companies have used bribery, coercion and extortion to gain concessions which are inhabited and actively used by Indigenous People. And others where a company asserts it has consulted the local population and gained their “unanimous support” even though they have not.
This briefing is intended to provide an introduction to some of these aforementioned cases of abuse. It is by no means a complete accounting. However, time permitting, it will be extended upon request.
It is also intended to provide further evidence toward the need for legislation in Canada.
As you may know, Bill C-300, an Act respecting Corporate Accountability for the Activities of Mining, Oil and Gas Corporations in Developing Countries, is currently being discussed in the House of commons.
Bill C-300 represents the best available chance to ensure Canadian corporations comply with the basic form of law, and especially human rights standards and environmental regulations, as MiningWatch Canada has previously noted.
If Legislated, the Bill would:
- Put in place human rights, labour, and environmental standards that Canadian extractive companies receiving government support must live up to when they operate in developing countries;
- Create a complaints mechanism that will allow members of affected communities abroad, or Canadians, to file complaints against companies that are not living up to those standards;
- Create a possible sanction for companies that are found to be out of compliance with the standards, in the form of loss of government financial and political support.
The importance of such regulations, while making some Canadians squirm in their chairs, cannot be understated. Nor can they be buried by desperate-sounding claims that Bill C-300 would bring “Congolese style politics — with its constant threat of harassment and shake-down — to Canada”, that it “amounts to a limit on Canadian sovereignty,” and that it just isn’t necessary because companies “are already accountable… with respect to responsible behavior.” And anyways it doesn’t matter, because they’re not doing anything wrong.
Reality speaks for itself, regardless of what we want, what we prefer, or what we’d rather not think about so we can sleep care free at night. Tens of thousands of people around the world have no such luxury. Instead, they are forced to bare an irreconcilable cultural, physical, religious, social, economic, cultural and environmental burden while benefiting the least, if at all, from the Canadian company’s activities.
HudBay Minerals – In September 2009, two Maya Qeqchi were killed and more than a dozen injured in two separate attacks connected to HudBay Minerals’ nickel mine in El Estor, Guatemala. In the first attack, HudBay’s private security forces opened fire on the Mayas while attempting to remove them from their land. One person was killed and at least eight others were injured by bullets. The second attack involved a group of men armed with machine guns opening fire on a mini-bus. Again, one person was killed, and nine others wounded. This is but the latest in a long line of attacks and human rights violations against Indigenous Peoples in El Estor, Guatemala. Indigenous People, who only want to live their own lives and meet their own needs, without being poisoned, molested and sacrificed.
GoldCorp – In February, 2009, a research team from the Pastoral Commission for Peace and Ecology (COPAE) confirmed that Goldcorp’s Marlin mine in the municipality of San Miguel Ixtahuacan, Guatemala, is poisoning local water supplies. Ever since the Marlin mine opened in 2004, the people of San Jose Ixcaniche have suffered from an array of serious health problems, including skin rashes, hair loss and unexplained “open wounds”. At least two infants from the community have died from unknown causes, since 2007. Despite the study, Goldcorp insists that there is no chemicals in the water, and that the health problems are the result of “bad hygiene”, a lack of water and “fleas”.
Goldcorp is also blamed for illegally purchasing local lands, depleting local water, negatively impacting crops and cattle, and damaging more than 100 homes as a result of digging and blasting at the mine. Further, some mining opponents have been “disappeared” and brutally murdered, while others have been arbitrarily arrested.
Skye Resource – In early 2007, hundreds of police and soldiers forcibly evicted the inhabitants of communities living on their ancestral land, which the Guatemalan military government gave to the Canadian mining company INCO in 1965. Skye Resources now claims the land. In January, 2007, with the army and police at their side, company workers took chainsaws and torches to people’s homes, while women and children stood by. Skye Resources claims that they maintained “a peaceful atmosphere during this action.” Either way, the fact remains: it’s Mayan land.
Continuum – According to local community leaders, 13 freshwater springs have
completely disappeared as a result of Continuum’s reactivation of the historic “Natividad” gold mine in Oaxaca. Local water sources have also been contaminated by the mine—effecting food security, and gravely impacting the health of the local indigenous population.
Fortuna – On May 6, 2009, a mass of federal and state police troopers brought a violent end to a community blockade near Fortuna’s Trinidad Silver Mine in the municipality of San Jose Progreso, Oaxaca, Mexico. The blockade was set up as a last resort, to resist any further contamination of their water supplies.
New Gold – Situated near the Mexican village of Cerro de San Pedro, New Gold Inc.’s Cerro de San Pedro Mine was formally shut down in November 2009, after the Mexican Supreme Court canceled its environmental permit. The mine threatened to contaminate a region occupied by more than 1.3 million people. Incidentally, a similar ruling was issued by the same court in 2005—however, the company (along with the federal Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources, or SEMARNAT) ignored it.
Since the mine was shut down, several Community members and activists have received death threats from mine supporters, and government officials attempting to visit the community have been “stoned in their vehicles by mine employees.”
Blackfire Exploration – Also in November 2009, Mariano Abarca Roblero, “a passionate critic of Blackfire”, was murdered in front of his home in Chicomuselo, Chiapas, Mexico. Mr. Abarca was a respected member of the community, who endured threats, prison and violence due to opposition of the Calgary-based company’s mining project. Three individuals have been arrested in connection to the shooting of Mr. Abarca: one current Blackfire employee and two former employees.
Coincidentally, on December 8, 2009, the company’s gold mine was shut down by Mexican authorities. According to the Chiapas Secretary for the Environment, Blackfire has wrongfully polluted the environment with toxins, and diverted streams and built roads without any authorization.
Dorato Resources Inc. – In August 2009, Awajún and Wampis indigenous people in the Cordillera del Cóndor region of Peru near the Ecuadoran border, issued a statement giving Dorato Resources Inc. 15 days to voluntarily leave their territory. According to the Awajún and Wampis, Dorato was granted their mining concession in contravention of Rule 71 of Peru’s Constitution, which prohibits foreign companies to operate a mine near a border. Further, Dorato’s mine is located in the ancestral territory of the Awajún and Wampis. But even so, the Indigenous People have not been consulted by the government or the company. This is a violation of ILO Convention 169, the adherence to which is considered mandatory.
IAMGOLD (IAG) – The Awajun and Wampis also find themselves dealing with IAG, taking much the same approach as with Dorato. However, there is one major difference here: IAG’s operation is completely illegal, at least, according to the Ministry of Energy and Mines in Peru. Felipe Ramirez, a Director for the ministry’s Environmental Affairs office, stated in November, 2009 that the company has never even asked the govenrment for a permit to mine or explore on the Awajún and Wampis’ territory. “What they are doing is illegal,” the official stated. IAG denies any kind of wrongdoing on their part.
Pacific Rim – A wave of Violence, kidnappings and death threats have been tearing through the northern state of Cabañas–where the Pacific Rim Mining Corporation has lost millions of dollars in its effort to exploit the region’s gold deposits. At least three prominent community leaders have been killed since the company’s El Dorado mine had its environmental license revoked in July 2008. Most recently, Dora “Alicia” Sorto Rodriguez was killed on December 26, 2009. “Alicia,” as she was known to friends, was eight months pregnant and carried her 3-year-old son in her arms as she was shot dead. The child was shot in the foot and is currently receiving medical care.
Amidst all of this, Pacific Rim is suing the government of El Salvador for refusing to let them go ahead with their mine, despite the overbearing environmental disaster that would ensue.
Petaquilla Minerals, Inmet Mining – As a many as 24 local communities are opposed to the Petaquilla Gold mine project—which is owned by the Panama company Minera Petaquilla, and developed by the Vancouver-based junior company, Petaquilla Minerals and the Toronto-based company, Inmet Mining. The reason for the opposition, quite simply, is the “aberrant predation and destruction of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, where hundreds of hectares of virgin jungle and forest have been cut down, and where the mountain passes and rivers that made the area one of the most important in the world due to its rich biodiversity have been destroyed and polluted.” The communities say “they have never been consulted, but rather deceived, and their lands have been taken from them unfairly in many ways, including the destruction and burning of ranches of indigenous peoples, without even indemnifying the local residents.”
Barrick Gold – In early December, the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals blocked construction on Barrick Gold’s Cortez Hills gold mine because of the “irreparable environmental harm threatened by this massive project,” situated on the flank of Mount Tenabo, a site of great cultural and historical importance to the Shoshone People. However, just one day after the court issued its ruling, Barrick Gold announced that it did not recognize the ruling, and will not cease construction of the mine.
Central Gold Asia – Central Gold Asia, at the beginning of its activity, painted a rosy picture—complete with promises of employment and social development—before the eight local communities who would be impacted by their mine. After years of operation, however, the reality proved to be something else entirely. Farmers have been displaced with meager monetary compensation and relocated to lands which they cannot use for farming. Rivers have been closed off; while others have polluted, effecting rice fields and fish ponds and the waters sources of nearby communities. Worst of all, the port of Barrera, a long time source of livelihood for everyone living along the coastlines, is now a pit of toxic mine waste, which could easily overflow at any minute.
TVI Pacific – In Zamboanga del Norte, the indigenous Subanon are struggling to hold on to their culture and traditions. Based in Toronto, TVI Pacific, has made “a dumpsite” of Mount Canatuan, which the Subanon hold sacred, violated their customary law, and displaced them from their lands without compensation. Further, the companies security forces have threatened and physically assaulted the Subanon on numerous occasions.
Placer Dome (Barrick Gold)
In 1993, the small island of Marinduque became the site of the worst industrial disaster in Philippines history. One of Placer Dome’s tailings dams unexpectedly burst, sending millions of tons of toxic waste down the Mogpog river. The resulting flash flood swept away everything in its path: homes, livestock, people. Three years later, a second tailings dam burst, sending even more waste down the Boac river in the opposite direction. Both rivers were biologically devastated. And the company refused to clean up them up, despite an order from the government of Marinduque. Instead, Placer Dome abandoned their mine project and snook out of the country. Today, both rivers remain biologically dead.
Almost ten years later, in 2005, the government of Marinduque filed a lawsuit against the company in a Nevada state court over both disasters, and for allegedly dumping waste in various freshwater areas. One year later, Barrick Gold bought a controlling share of the company. The case was thrown out in 2007, but it has since been reinstated.
Aluminium Company of Canada (ALCAN), UAIL – For more than 16 years, local Indigenous communities in Kasipur have struggled to protect their lands and scared sites from UAIL’s presence in the Baphlimali hills of Orissa, India. Three villages were displaced by the company, while others—promised housing, schools and jobs by the government—continue to wait with empty hands. Several community members have also been thrown in jail under false charges of murder and theft. Others have been murdered. And the company has created massive rifts in communities by bribing individuals to keep them informed about local campaigns.
Continental Minerals, Silvercorp Metals, Eldorado Gold, Silk Road Resources, Maxy Gold Corp, Inter-Citic Minerals, Sterling Group Ventures Inc. – In 1999, the Chinese government launched the “Western Development Strategy”—a politically motivated plan to further consolidate control over Tibet through economic rather than military means. The strategy opened the floodgates to the destruction of Tibetan culture, identity, and their agriculture-based economies.
Tibetans want development in their territory and they want to end decades of poverty imposed on them by the Chinese government. However, at present they are denied the right to benefit and, since 1959, determine the use of their natural resources.
Papua New Guinea
Nautilus – Indigenous people from the Bismark Sea region of Papua New Guinea are deeply concerned about Nautilus’ experimental deep sea mining process off the East New Britain Coast. While the project has yet to move forward, the local population has never been consulted or informed about the real and potential effects of the mine. At a three-day conference in July 2008, indigenous representatives stated their emphatic opposition to the mine, stating their need and their right to maintain their health, livelihoods and resources.
Uranium One – The Toronto-based mining company, Uranium One—who’s “operations have been made possible with backing from the Canadian Embassy and CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency) in South Africa”—has been accused of human rights abuses and the systemic violation of workers rights at their Dominion Reefs Uranium mine in South Africa. The Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board also has millions of dollars invested in the company.
For instance, in October 2008, workers alleged that they were denied access to protective gear while working in the uranium mine. The workers explained that they had nothing more than overalls. And now they suffer from a wide range of health problems, including cancer, asthma, and tuberculosis. In addition, four women have miscarried, and at least 12 workers have died since the mine opened in 2004.
Barrick Gold – Tanzania’s Bulyanhulu and North Mara gold mines are monuments to everything wrong with the global mining industry. From day one, both projects have brought more harm than good to local communities. Several villages have been displaced, there have been murders and human rights abuses, the environment has been repeatedly contaminated, and workers have been frequently exploited.
Most recently, in July 2009, the Tanzanian govenrment banned the use of water from the Tigithe River near the North Mara mine to investigate allegations that the mine’s tailings dam was leaking. As many as 20 local villagers and more than 250 heads of cattle died in the weeks leading up to the ban. A recent study found extremely high concentrations of arsenic and other chemicals near the mine.