Canada - Harper's Bazaar
Arms before People
Canada's Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, is no friend of the environment, but the country's armaments industry must love him. So, no doubt, do quite a few other business people.
While his government is about to shell out over C$60 billion on military jets and warships, it's slashing funding for the country's environmental programmes.
Nor - despite a 2009 promise to do so - is the government cutting $1.4 billion in annual public subsidies enjoyed by the oil and gas industry.
The impact of these measures is likely to be severe. According to atmospheric scientist Thomas Duck:
"Monitoring of heavy metals and toxic contaminants is a programme that will be crippled. These are programmes that have a direct impact on the health and welfare of Canadians".
For previous story on MAC, see: Canada: the Taseko controversy won't go away
Meanwhile, Ontario's proposed new provincial mining act appears no closer to fruition, as Indigenous groups claim it still doesn't recognise their rights as sovereign First Nations.
And the country's "mining watchdog", supposed to hold Canadian mining companies to account for their bad actions abroad, has been called "toothless" by a Toronto-based lawyer, involved in supporting workers against Excellon Resources in Mexico.
For previous posting, see: Canadian miner breaks conflict resolution process with Mexican workforce
Harper Government Guts Environment Programmes
By Stephen Leahy
Inter Press Service (IPS)
9 November 2011
UXBRIDGE, Canada - Canada's Stephen Harper government is spending more than 60 billion dollars on new military jets and warships while slashing more than 200 million dollars in funding for research and monitoring of the environment.
Amongst the programmes now crippled is Canada's internationally renowned ozone monitoring network, which was instrumental in the discovery of the first-ever ozone hole over Canada last spring. Loss of ozone has been previously linked to increases in skin cancer.
"The proposed cuts go so far the network won't be able to do serious science," said Thomas Duck, an atmospheric scientist at Halifax's Dalhousie University.
Canada was the pioneer in ozone monitoring, developing the first accurate ozone measuring tool that led to the discovery that the world's ozone layer was dangerously thinning in the 1970s, which in turn led to the successful Montreal Protocol on Ozone Depleting Substances.
Canada has about one-third of the ozone monitoring stations in the Arctic region. It also hosts the world archive of ozone data, which is heavily relied on by scientists around the world.
"There's only one guy running the entire archive, and he's received a lay-off notice letter," Duck told IPS.
Ozone monitoring and research is part of Environment Canada, the government department charged with protecting the environment, conservation and providing weather and meteorological information.
Environment Canada is roughly analogous to a combination of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Environment Canada had a 1.07- billion-dollar budget in 2010, which has now been cut 20 percent to 854 million dollars for 2011-12. The EPA and NOAA budgets for 2010 were 10.3 billion and 5.5 billion dollars, respectively.
Some 776 Environment Canada employees have been told their jobs may be terminated. That's 11 percent of the current staff in a government department that has been a favourite target for budget and staff cuts for the past decade, to the point where it was barely functional, said Duck.
A similar gutting of science and research is underway at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the department responsible for protecting and managing Canada's ocean and inland waterways including the Great Lakes. In addition, the main source of public funding for environmental science for Canadian universities has run out of money, and is expected to close early next year. Not surprisingly, scientists are leaving Canada in droves.
"My international colleagues are shocked by what has happened to Canada. We were a leader in environmental science and research for so long," Duck said.
In 1988, Canada organised and hosted the world's first high-level international conference on climate change in Toronto. The 1992 Rio Earth Summit and the United Nations Environment Programme were championed by Canada, and Canadians served as their leaders.
That was then. Now, under the rubric of reducing Canada's modest budget deficit, the Harper government has targeted programmes that inform Canadians about the state of the environment. Monitoring of heavy metals and toxic contaminants is another programme that will be crippled. These are programmes that have a direct impact on the health and welfare of Canadians, said Duck.
"I'm speaking out because these cuts will be very bad for my children," he added.
Duck was the one of the few Canadian scientists willing to talk to IPS on the record. Government scientists are under a "gag order" to not to speak to media under any circumstances without permission from Prime Minister Harper's office. Non-government scientists working at universities declined to be interviewed, fearing loss of funding or other forms of reprisal.
"There will be fallout for anyone talking to you," Duck told IPS. "My prospects for doing any work for Environment Canada are now zero."
Canadian civil society organisations know all about the Harper government's reprisals. Many that once received funding but questioned government policy have lost their funding.
For 34 years, the non-partisan Canadian Environmental Network (RCEN) successfully walked the line between the needs of government and the needs of its more than 650 civil society members. But on Oct. 13, after waiting more than six months for its expected 536,000 dollars in annual funding, the group was informed by letter it would not be coming. Ever.
The network had been Canada's best two-way communication channel between the public and the federal government on all matters environmental. Now the government says this can be done more cost- effectively online.
Just six days after the pressing need to save 536,000 dollars, the Harper government awarded contracts totaling 32 billion dollars to build ships for the Canadian Navy and Coast Guard. It has also committed to spending another 29 billion dollars for 65 fighter jets.
"Among the first acts of the Harper government was to cut our funding to zero," said Hannah McKinnon of the Climate Action Network Canada (CAN Canada), an environmental NGO that used to get some government funding prior to the 2006 election.
CAN Canada has obtained some funding from its more than 80 member civil society organisations. It acts as the coordinator on climate issues, and once worked with government to improve programmes and policies for the benefit of all Canadians. Now has become the de facto watchdog on government promises and actions to tackle climate change.
"Canadians are deeply concerned about climate change and want their government to act," she said.
Instead of actions, the Harper government makes promises and pushes propaganda that the economy is more important and that protecting the environment comes at too high a cost, she said. The only action being taken is at the local and provincial level, McKinnon added.
"If there is a need to reduce the federal budget deficit, why is Canada continuing to give the oil and gas industry 1.4 billion dollars (1.3 billion U.S.) in subsidies every year?" she asked.
Harper promised to end these government subsidies in 2009. The International Monetary Fund, the International Energy Agency, the United Nations and many others have called for an end to such subsidies to the world's most profitable industry.
"Canada can't afford to pay scientists but we can line the pockets of big oil? That is totally backwards," McKinnon said.
Huge uncertainties remain with Ontario's new Mining Act
By Shawn Bell
27 October 2011
As the minister tasked with implementing the heart of the Ontario Mining Act takes over his new portfolio, the challenges facing that goal seem to be growing by the week.
The new minority Liberal government named Sudbury’s Rick Bartolucci minister of Northern Development and Mines, Oct. 20. Bartolucci replaces Thunder Bay-Superior North’s Michael Gravelle, the minister who brought in the new Mining Act.
The Sudbury MPP’s task of bringing in phases two and three of the Mining Act looks more daunting than ever after a month that has seen a new flare up over mining exploration on Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) traditional lands, a Supreme Court decision granting Grassy Narrows First Nations the right to reject mining exploration on its territory and Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Stan Beardy’s stance on any outside incursion onto northern Ontario First Nation land.
He wants the Crown’s recognition that the First Nation peoples of his region have the sole right to decide who uses the land.
“We never gave up the right to govern ourselves,” Beardy said. “As a sovereign state we still maintain that right. We may agree to share the land from time to time, but the provincial government does not have the right to let third parties onto the land.”
Intent of the act
Even Beardy acknowledged that some form of guidelines over mining in the Far North was necessary. The previous Ontario Mining Act, in place since the 1870s, basically gave mining and exploration companies free entry to the land without any consultation with local people.
The grand chief says under the new Mining Act nothing has changed and there still remains a perception by industry that all land outside of reservations is free game for mining.
But representatives from environmental groups EcoJustice and Mining Watch Canada, while agreeing that Aboriginal people still do not have appropriate input, say the new Mining Act is a good start towards what could be a fair and equitable system.
Justin Duncan of EcoJustice co-wrote a report before Ontario’s Mining Act was created calling on the government to ensure that land owners and Aboriginal groups gave consent to mining companies before exploration and production occurred.
Duncan said that the Mining Act does set parameters to address those questions. But he cautioned that until regulations set out what mining companies are expected to do, it is impossible to tell if the act has gone far enough.
“There are all these pieces still up in the air,” Duncan said. “I don’t think anybody knows what it is going to look like. And unfortunately the current act does not impact on the ground yet – so it is basically the same system with the same uncertainty as existed before.”
Duncan added that for the Mining Act to be successful a permitting system and framework for consultations between industry and First Nations need to be in place.
The Mining Act, explained
The Ontario Mining Act passed through legislature in October 2009. Gravelle, the minister who introduced the act and steered it through its initial consultation periods, has repeatedly called the act a balance between the mining industry – a major player in the Ontario economy with roughly $10 billion in production, including over $800 million in exploration – and giving First Nation communities the ability to make decisions on their own land.
“We want to find that balance that would be appropriate ... to properly respect the needs of First Nations communities to make their own decisions,” Gravelle told the Northern Miner earlier this year.
Phase one of the act has already come into play. It focuses on land owner issues in southern Ontario and modernizing existing permitting applications, but does include the claim that “engaging Aboriginal communities early and throughout the exploration process is essential.”
Yet as Ramsay Hart of Mining Watch Canada explained, there is no stipulation that the engagement between industry and First Nations has to amount to anything.
For example Hart pointed to the KI dispute with God’s Lake Resources in late September, where God’s Lake sent letters to KI Chief Donny Morris and without any reply assumed it had fulfilled its obligation to consult.
Phase two of the act, expected to be implemented over the next two years, is where it gets interesting for First Nation communities.
This phase includes a clause where First Nation communities can withdraw land from development by showing it is a site of cultural or spiritual significance, although criteria for showing either has not yet been outlined. It also sets up a dispute resolution committee to assist when consultation between industry and First Nations fails, and outlines a process where the government examines all mining exploration plans to determine whether consultation with Aboriginal groups is necessary.
One problem with those clauses for First Nation groups is that the minister of Northern Development and Mines has the ability to override all decisions made under them.
But a bigger issue for NAN’s grand chief is that Ontario is not recognizing First Nation treaty rights to make unilateral decisions on what happens on traditional lands.
“Consultation and accommodation is a minimum,” Beardy said. “We’re not against resource development, but Aboriginal rights under the Canadian Constitution mean we are a sovereign nation with a legal right to be properly consulted before anybody goes onto our land.”
‘Short window of opportunity’
Chris Hodgson, president of the Ontario Mining Association (OMA), said he believes the Mining Act contains some good measures to help industry, government and First Nations move forward on many of the issues facing the North.
The biggest advantage for the region, he said, is that most mining companies have excellent relationships with First Nations.
But he acknowledged that all players have to do much more to show First Nations the benefit of having a mining operation in their area.
“We have our work cut out for us, between industry and government, to show local communities that they’ll benefit from these projects,” Hodgson said.
One way to do that, the OMA believes, is to increase the share of tax revenues from mining operations that flow to local communities affected by a mine.
In the meantime Hodgson stressed that the window of opportunity for Ontario to maximize its profits from the abundant resources of the North is shrinking.
Once that development window closes, Ontario’s mineral wealth will be worth relatively much less, Hodgson explained, making it crucial to speed up the development of new mines to maximize the economic benefits of those projects.
But the first challenge for the new minister responsible for mining is to resolve the concerns of Matawa First Nations, who announced last week they will pull support for the Ring of Fire development without a Joint Review Panel – to oversee the strictest environmental assessment available – of the proposed chromite mine.
But in the longer term Rick Bartolucci’s ministry will have to implement phase two and three of the Ontario Mining Act - figuring out in the process what consultation with First Nations is going to look like.
If Beardy’s comments last week are any indication, that task is going to be daunting.
For as the OMA knows well, the global demand for Ontario minerals has never been higher.
But neither has the ability of First Nations to force governments to accept their demands.
Ontario’s Mining Act:
1873: Mining Act is written in Ontario, giving anyone over 18 years old with a prospector’s license the right to stake mineral claims, including Crown lands that are subject to land claims or the traditional hunting and fishing territory of First Nations.
1905-06, 1929-30: Treaty 9 is negotiated and signed by 38 First Nations, the Canadian government, and Ontario. It is the first and only time a province is a treaty signatory.
May 2000: Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation, a Treaty 9 signatory, files land claim with Ontario and Canada.
August and November 2005: KI leadership sends letters to junior mining company Platinex indicating that KI is strongly opposed to any development.
February 2006: Platinex mobilizes a drill team without consent from KI. After encountering peaceful protesters from KI, Platinex flies in a private corporate security consultant to organize the withdrawal of the drill team.
2007: Exploration spending in Ontario is $500 million, more than four times the $120 million spent in 2002.
February 2008: Ardoch Algonquin First Nation leader Robert Lovelace is sentenced to six months in jail for protesting uranium mining on the traditional Ardoch land in southern Ontario.
March 2008: Six leaders of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation are sentenced to six months for contempt of court after they violate an injunction and protest against drilling on their traditional lands.
July 2008: Ontario agrees to reform the Mining Act.
August 2008: Province begins process of reviewing and modernizing Mining Act, which includes analyzing “potential approaches to consultation and accommodation related to mineral sector activities as they affect Aboriginal and treaty rights.”
October 2009: Bill 173 (the Mining Amendment Act, 2009) is passed, with key provisions that include the express recognition of Aboriginal and treaty rights, the notification of Aboriginal communities regarding claim staking and exploration activities, Aboriginal consultation and accommodation requirements and a process to address disputes relating to Aboriginal consultation.
Mining watchdog agency called 'bogus PR job'
31 October 2011
A mining watchdog agency that was supposed to hold Canadian companies accountable for their actions overseas has done little to protect communities abroad, critics say.
In October 2009, the federal government appointed a corporate social responsibility counsellor to probe complaints about Canadian companies committing abuses in developing countries.
The Toronto-based office, however, has only received two complaints in the past two years - one of which was recently dropped because the mining corporation chose not to undergo the voluntary investigation.
The whole counsellor position is toothless," said Toronto-based lawyer Murray Klippenstein who is involved in a case against a Canadian mining company. "It's basically a whitewash .... It's a bogus PR job, as a cover for business as usual."
Canada is home to about 75 per cent of the world's mining and exploration companies, but is also among the worst offenders abroad, according to a leaked 2009 report commissioned by industry group Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada.
The creation of the Office of the Extractive Sector Corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor was supposed to help companies act more responsibly.
The first complaint landed on the desk of the office counsellor, Marketa Evans, in April, when a Mexican mining union and mine workers accused a Canadian company of human rights violations.
Within six months, however, the office's investigation into allegations against Vancouver-based Excellon Resources Inc.'s La Platosa mine project was closed when the company refused to participate any further in the process.
Excellon accused the process of "legitimizing unfounded allegations against the company."
Since the process is voluntary, Evans had no recourse but to close the file this month.
The only other review stems from a complaint submitted in August against First Quantum Minerals Ltd. That case is currently in mediation.
"Two reviews. One starting. Another one, the mine says 'No thanks.' It speaks to my issue," says Liberal MP John McKay.
The MP from the Toronto riding of Scarborough-Guildwood tried unsuccessfully to make Canada-based mining corporations more accountable for their actions abroad.
His private member's bill would've given the federal government the authority to scrutinize the companies' behaviour and deny them federal funds if they committed abuses.
But the bill was narrowly defeated last October after a strong lobby effort by mining companies who argued legislation would hurt their reputations with frivolous claims and make them less competitive with extra regulations.
The official lobbyist registry shows that lobbyists met nearly 300 times with cabinet ministers, MPs and senior civil servants leading up to the House of Commons vote.
'Not a policy maker'
The Toronto-based corporate social responsibility office has been allotted an annual $650,000 budget to fulfill its mandate.
Evans defends the office against accusations of being toothless.
"I've heard that, but there are different views," said CSR counsellor Marketa Evans. "My process is voluntary for people who want to resolve through dialogue."
"I am not a policy maker. I implement the mandate I've been given."
In a press release, the industry advocacy group, the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada, stated that the Excellon incident points to "growing pains" that are to be expected because of the complexity of the issue.
Canada's largest industrial labour union, the United Steelworkers, however, says Excellon's withdrawal from the process amounts to slapping the Canadian government in the face.
"The real losers in the process are the workers and shareholders," Ken Neumann, United Steelworkers national director for Canada said in a news release.
The group has been critical of the voluntary nature of Canada's corporate social responsibility process and has called for penalties for Canadian companies who commit human and labour rights abuses abroad.
Lawyer Klippenstein is pursuing other avenues to hold Canadian companies accountable.
In what could be a precedent-setting case, the lawyer has filed a civil lawsuit in Ontario against the Canadian mining company, HudBay Minerals, for a case in Guatemala.
"We think that ordinary Canadian rules of law that would apply to companies here logically legally apply to what they do overseas," said Klippenstein.
Eleven Guatemalan women allege that they were gang raped in 2007 by security guards forcibly removing them from the Mayan community of Lote Ocho near the Fenix nickel mine. HudBay did not own the mine at the time of the incident, but is named because it later bought the mine.
The allegations have not been proven in court. HudBay said the allegations run counter to all of the available information they have and plan to defend themselves "vigorously" in court.
"In many of these countries, such as Guatemala, it's a very sad tale that their courts and their police are frequently corrupt," says Klippenstein.