MAC: Mines and Communities

Canada Update

Published by MAC on 2006-11-15

Canada Update

15th November 2006

MAC is glad to publish the full text of a speech, given (in a shortened form) last week by one of our editors, Jamie Kneen, from Mining watch Canada. He was addressing one of the "roundtables" on corporate social responsibility in the industry, set up following the conservative government's craven refusal last year to implement enforceable standards for the industry.

In it Jamie succintly outlines the key demands made by mining-affected communities on all "actors" in the industry, as well as teasing out specific examples of violations.

Jamie concludes that "it's time for systemic change", and that community action is the key factor in ensuring it.

Ironically, even as this speech was delivered, press were being officially told that they couldn't report what had been said during the roundtable.

The Social Licence to Mine: Passing the Test

Presentation to the Roundtables on Corporate Social Responsibility Montreal

14th November 2006

Jamie Kneen, Communications and Outreach Coordinator / MiningWatch Canada


Good morning. My name is Jamie Kneen, and I am the Communications and Outreach Coordinator for MiningWatch Canada. I have worked for MiningWatch since its inception in 1999, and I was one of its founders. I have been working on the environmental, social, economic, and cultural impacts of mining in Canada and internationally for 20 years.

When MiningWatch staff discussed what we could most usefully contribute to the Roundtables, it was obvious that we should address the points raised in the Government discussion paper and make specific comments and recommendations from our distinct perspective. But to make that meaningful, it's important to give you more of a full picture of just what that perspective is and how it has been formed.

We see these Roundtables as a vindication of the work, indeed the very existence, of MiningWatch Canada. Of course, the actual creation and organising of the Roundtables is the work of dozens of organisations and hundreds of people; but the issues being addressed here are the same ones that drove the creation of MiningWatch seven and a half years ago.

At that time, the globalisation of the mining industry was well underway. Country after country had responded to the pressure applied by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank - supported by governments of mining countries such as Canada - by liberalising their mining, environmental, and labour codes under the rubric of "structural adjustment", and Canadian mining companies were actively expanding their investments and operations around the world. At the same time, the same companies were publicly threatening Canadian authorities that they would "move to Chile" if conditions were not made more friendly for investment here, eroding our hard-won environmental and other protections.

The impact of these changes was being felt by communities all over the world, and those communities were coming to Canadian international workers and organisations to ask how they should respond to the invasion and destruction of their lands and communities by Canadian mining companies. They reasonably expected that Canadians would be able to tell them how these companies operated, what controls applied to them, and whether and how they could be negotiated with. We couldn't. We could tell them that we were facing the same struggles here in Canada, that the legal and regulatory controls we have here are inadequate and poorly enforced, that there is little by way of meaningful international standards, and that the companies' commitments were only as good as their opposition could make them.

Little has changed. Metal prices are booming, and Canadian mining companies are taking advantage of the same prejudicial conditions to expand into all corners of the globe, manipulating, slandering, abusing, and even killing those who dare to oppose them, displacing Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities alike, supporting repressive governments and taking advantage of weak ones, and contaminating and destroying sensitive ecosystems.

There have been some advances. Starting in the early 1990s, the industry embarked on a series of feel-good exercises intended to steal the rhetorical high ground from non-governmental organisations and mining-affected communities, beginning with the Whitehorse Mining Initiative, and ending up with the Global Mining Initiative, the Mines, Minerals, and Sustainable Development program, and the creation of the International Council on Mining and Metals. More recently, a huge effort from civil society groups turned the World Bank Group's Extractive Industries Review into a serious attempt to describe more restrictive and honest conditions for the multilateral institutions' involvement in the sector. Its conclusions were largely distorted and negated by the Bank, the industry, and the Canadian government. Yet along the way, the industry was forced to acknowledge its toxic legacy of abandoned mine sites, and in Canada has even taken some responsibility for helping clean it up. Industry leaders have developed codes of conduct, best practice standards, and auditing tools. Some are worth less than the paper they're printed on, but the best of them are rigorous and comprehensive. Some companies, at some mine sites, have been forced into developing and implementing innovative and accountable environmental monitoring and economic development initiatives. The vaunted "social licence to mine" has become a meaningful point of engagement in some cases, though with varying results.

It's not a case of "a few bad apples" - it's a case of bad apples.

There are companies and individuals in the industry who understand that if they don't act responsibly it will eventually become increasingly difficult for them to do business, but there are many - too many - willing to do whatever it takes to extract short term profits, gambling that they can finish the project or flip the property before the fabled chickens come home to roost. But it's really just a few "good apples". The lowest common denominator hasn't changed. Whether they bother with the Cyanide Code or the UN Global Compact or the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, or contract high-priced public relations consultants, or buy support from naïve NGOs and corrupt local officials, or actively divide communities, or rely on good old-fashioned intimidation, it is clear that most mining companies - from the largest global players to the smallest exploration juniors - are willing to do whatever they can get away with to reward their shareholders with juicy returns.

It seems presenters at the Calgary round table were asked not to name specific companies in our presentations. I've never heard anything so stupid, unless it's the idea of calling this session "public" and then excluding the media. Of course, there may be a certain moral burden associated with hearing specific details of abuse, some sort of obligation to actually do something about it, and just as I am sure that there are those who would like to avoid that minimal level of discomfort, it's something I have to live with every day and I feel obligated to share it.

We have companies like Barrick Gold and TVI Pacific who threaten to sue their critics for libel and defamation, knowing that while what we are saying is true, and we have the documentation to prove it, we could never afford to mount an extensive legal defence.

We have companies like Vannessa Ventures, Glencairn Gold, Glamis Gold, Skye Resources, Ascendant Copper, and Intrepid Mines who refuse to recognise the legitimacy of affected communities' opposition, colluding with local authorities and using threats and manipulation to bypass or repress the opposition.

Placer Dome withdrew from northern Costa Rica in 1997 in the face of overwhelming local opposition, yet nine years later Vannessa Ventures is using chicanery and intimidation to try to get the same project approved, fighting to overturn Costa Rican law in the same way Glencairn did a few years earlier , threatening lawsuits against the government and community leaders alike.

Glamis Gold has threatened the government and the communities of the Siria Valley in Honduras that if it does not get all the concessions it wants to expand its Entre Mares mine it will shut down early, punishing the local people who depend on the mine to feed their families, and pitting them against the farmers who are trying to get Glamis Gold to take some responsibility for the contamination and water scarcity caused by the mine. In Guatemala, the company turned to the police and army to end a blockade holding up construction of its Marlin mine, resulting in one man dead and dozens injured.

Also in Guatemala, both the government and Skye Resources have refused to consult with the Q'eqchi' Mayan people in its mining leases, with the result that the Q'eqchi' people have occupied the land that is rightfully theirs, having been illegitimately taken from their grandparents for the benefit of the mining company (at that time INCO). The company has refused to negotiate, and just last weekend called in the police to evict the protesters, provoking violent clashes.

The communities of northern El Salvador where Intrepid Mines is trying to establish itself do not want their agricultural livelihoods displaced or destroyed by mining. Listening to the presentation by Bill McGuinty, Intrepid's Vice President of Exploration at the Toronto round table a few weeks ago was a surreal experience. All Mr. McGuinty could talk about was his frustration that the communities didn't want to negotiate, when it is clear to any intelligent observer that there is nothing to negotiate and the only responsible action left to Intrepid is to withdraw.

We know what doesn't work.

Voluntary codes don't work. Golden Star Resources joined the Cyanide Code last spring, but it continued to spill cyanide at its Bogoso operation in Ghana. Ascendant Copper joined the UN Global Compact earlier this year and just two weeks ago sent busloads of thugs to invade the Junín community forest reserve in Ecuador. The OECD Guidelines don't work. The Canadian National Contact Point convened one meeting regarding the involvement of Anvil Mining in an army massacre in the Democratic Republic of Congo and said that was all it could do. A Congolese military judge recently recommended that charges be laid against Anvil personnel. MiningWatch, Friends of the Earth Canada, and the local Ecuadorian organisation DECOIN were forced to withdraw our complaint against Ascendant Copper under the OECD Guidelines when it became clear - after eight months of inaction - that the NCP was not interested in applying the relevant procedures.

Local laws don't work. Even where the laws themselves are good, enforcement is often weak and subject to corruption. Metallica Resources has been operating without a permit for over a year at San Luis Potosí in Mexico. Ascendant Copper is violating the Ecuadorian Constitution, environmental laws, and municipal laws. Glamis Gold has been repeatedly charged with water violations in Honduras, over several years, but mysteriously not one charge has yet been heard by the courts. Bonte Gold closed its operations in Ghana in March, 2004, without giving its workers any notice or severance pay, without paying local farmers the compensation that it had agreed to for destroying their farms and orchards, and without paying the fines it owed the Ghanaian government for various spills and environmental violations.

Canadian securities laws don't work. Despite the fact that Canadian securities regulations were beefed up after Bre-X made a mockery of them, shareholders and potential investors in all of these companies are not being told the whole truth about their operations and activities.

So what does work? Non-violent direct action and democratic decision-making.

When Manhattan Resources wanted to displace the town of Tambogrande in northern Peru, destroying a vibrant agricultural economy to make way for an open-pit copper-gold mine, the people demonstrated against it, but they also held a referendum and voted overwhelmingly against the project. They created a crisis of democracy for a government trying to shake off a legacy of corruption, and the government had to find a way to shut the project down. When Meridian Gold wanted to build a mine on the outskirts of scenic Esquel, in southern Argentina, the people demonstrated against it, but they also held a referendum and voted overwhelmingly against the project, eventually forcing the company to drop it. When Platinex Inc. ignored the moratorium on mining activity declared by the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation in Northern Ontario, the people blockaded the site and forced the company to withdraw.

What would help?

o Recognition that some areas are too ecologically or culturally sensitive to mine, and that mining is not the "highest and best" use of land. People may have made legitimate development choices that do not include and are not compatible with mining;

o Meaningful securities disclosure standards, and a single national securities regulator with the capacity and the will to enforce its own regulations;

o Long-overdue reforms to the Canadian Business Corporations Act to enable shareholders to demand accountability from corporate management, and making company directors liable for their personal involvement in corporate decisions;

o An end to taxpayer subsidies to mining companies - whether through tax breaks, tax treaties and free trade agreements, Canada Pension Plan investments, or loans, credits and political risk insurance from Export Development Canada;

o An end to political support for mining companies through Canadian trade commissions and embassies, and an end to Canada's uncritical and reflexive pro-industry rôle in international bodies (including the World Bank institutions, the OECD, the Rotterdam Convention, etc.) Canada even opposes the UN Draft Declaration on Indigenous Rights because it would recognise that indigenous peoples have a right to determine the direction of their own development!

The Worm's Eye View:

I started off saying I wanted to tell you how the world looks from the MiningWatch perspective. It's a unique perspective because of the diversity of our membership and the broad range of organisations and communities we work with. We bring together local and national environmental groups, Aboriginal groups, trade unions, and international organisations, and we work with communities and organisations large and small all over the world. However, we have a staff of only four people, not even all working full time. We get immense support from our members and partners, but there are real limitations to what we can do.

I've talked about some of the many cases we've worked with our partners to document and denounce. We are here to try to change the policy and legal conditions that allow such abuses to continue. And yet we are acutely aware that it's only a drop in the bucket. There is so much more going on out there, that we are simply unable to respond to. We just cannot investigate every case that is brought to our attention, so if you look at our web site and see over 60 Canadian companies listed, or the Mines and Communities web site and see over 90 out of the several hundred covered there, please don't think this is an exhaustive list. There are literally hundreds of cases that have just not made the news because they're too isolated, or because of language barriers, or because repression is too severe for people to be able to speak out. Unfortunately, based on the work we have done, we cannot assume that there are no problems just because we haven't heard about them. There are always problems, and in some cases they are very serious. When we sponsored a survey of Canadian companies operating in Mexico in 2002, we discovered that there were conflicts at every site around land use, human rights, and the environment. One of the hardest parts of my job is telling people that we can't help them, that we don't have the money and time to give them the support they need to try and get justice, to protect their rights, or to protect their livelihoods.


It's time for systemic change. If I want a driver's licence or a firearms licence I have to pass a series of tests designed to show my understanding of the responsibilities conferred by that licence and my ability to meet its conditions. I don't see why the "social licence" to mine should be any different.

No digging up dirt at mine conference

Closed-Door sessions are norm; Industry's behaviour in 3rd World discussed

LYNN MOORE, The Gazette

15th November 2006

A government-sponsored roundtable concerning corporate responsibility of Canadian mining companies operating in developing countries was subject to media restrictions yesterday, even as industry and watchdog groups urged "transparency and truth."

Reporters could enter sessions open to the public during which seven-minute presentations were made by interested parties, but were "not welcome to report what is seen or heard," a Foreign Affairs spokesperson said yesterday as the Montreal roundtable opened.

"Obviously, this is ironic and troubling," said Catherine Coumans, research co-coordinator of Mining Watch Canada and a member of the advisory panel hearing the presentations.

"If even the Canadian media doesn't have access to hear experiences Canadians have had with mining operations abroad, you wonder about the transparency of international operations and the ability of local media to probe them," Coumans said.

The restriction was not lifted for a UN representative's talk last night.

John Ruggie, the United Nations special representative on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations, made an hour-long presentation.

The roundtables, which have been held in Vancouver, Toronto and Calgary, also include closed-door sessions in which the panel interacts with invited experts from industry and civil societies.

They spring from a 2005 landmark report by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade which identified the need for binding legislation that holds "extractive sector" companies accountable for their actions overseas.

About 60 per cent of the world's exploration and mining companies are based in Canada. And, according to the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability, mining firms "have been implicated in well-documented cases of human rights violations and environmental disasters abroad," including toxic dumping and forcible displacement of indigenous peoples.

About 63 parties had registered to participate in yesterday's public forums held simultaneously in two rooms of a downtown hotel, an organizer said.

During the sessions attended by The Gazette, participants included a mining executive, independent researchers, church ministers and a young woman with family ties to Romania where a controversial mining project is underway.

"Transparency is the key for all of us. We must get to the truth," Joe Ringwald, vice-president of Tournigan Gold Corp., told the panel in response to a question.

Earlier, Ringwald chastised activists and non-governmental organizations for many campaigns "driven by an anti-corporate anti-globalization agenda." NGOs, including Greenpeace, have to be held accountable for their operations and claims, said Ringwald, who, like other participants approached by The Gazette, was pleased with the attention.

"For too long, activists have enjoyed a no-holds-barred approach to activism in which allegations need not be based on science, and no apology or accountability is required when such allegations are proven false," Ringwald told the panel.

An Amnesty International Canada representative reported that a recent poll of Canadians shows that 79 per cent believe that "the Canadian government should pass laws to require that Canadian companies respect human rights all the time, including when they do business oversees. The poll, released yesterday, involved 1,1l2 respondents.

"Mandatory, not voluntary rules are required," said Andrea Botto of the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability.

Eight federal departments or agencies, including the Privy Council Office, are involved in the roundtable process led by Foreign Affairs and International Trade. A report to Parliament is expected to be tabled before year's end.

There was no notice about media restrictions posted outside yesterday's two session rooms. Reporters were told that they could interview people in the hallway.

Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Ambra Dickie said the Chatham House Rule - "a fairly normal journalistic term" - had been applied.

"We are closing (the sessions) to the media because we are trying to encourage open and honest discussion," she said, adding that reporters can attend as 'members of the public."

A press conference, which includes industry and civil society representatives, is to be held tomorrow.

Pierre Gratton, spokesperson for the Mining Association of Canada, said a subcommittee of panel members considered media restrictions.

"What we got from government was that 'public' - in their minds - did not include media," he said.

There were also concerns about privacy and "potential safety concerns of southern participants making presentations" and then returning to Third World countries where they might be subject to reprisals.

"There was also a concern that if this looked like a media event that industry wouldn't come forward ... so they were trying to balance the desire to make sure industry voices were there with the idea of not wanting a process that was not ... transparent," he said.


by Laurie Kazan-Allan, From the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat

13th November 2006

The boorish behavior of Canada's representatives at the United Nations meeting in Geneva in October 2006,made Canada's imperialistic stance on asbestos clear: Canada will continue to profit from global sales of killer asbestos whilst pursuing a de facto ban at home. On November 7, 2006 the House of Commons Standing Committee on Natural Resources (Canada) signaled the Government's continued support for this industry of death by a 14:1 vote to maintain current levels of government funding for the Chrysotile Institute (CI), a Quebec-based body which acts as the mouthpiece for Canada's asbestos industry.A motion by a Member of the New Democratic Party to reduce the Minister's budget by $249,999 in protest at the funding to "foster the international implementation of the safe and responsible use of chrysotile asbestos" was defeated during the televised hearings.

Appearing before the Committee was Gary Lunn, Minister of Natural Resources. Three weeks earlier, Lunn had defended Canada's stonewalling of the UN environmental agreement, the Rotterdam Convention, on The Current, a radio program broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. In the interview, Lunn cited industry's mantra that asbestos can be used safely under "controlled conditions" and claimed that Canada's position was based on the "science." When it was pointed out to him that the pro-chrysotile science was bought and paid for by industry, Lunn said that Canada has asked the World Health Organization (WHO) to conduct more studies. When the interviewer Anna Maria Tremonti informed him that the WHO has now adopted a "ban asbestos" position, Lunn retorted that 11 other countries at the Rotterdam Convention supported Canada's position. This was untrue as the only other Parties to the Rotterdam Convention to support Canada were: Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Iran and Peru.

A 2006 memorandum obtained under the Access to Information Act by Canadian researcher Ken Rubin provides useful background information about the sensitive nature of the Quebec asbestos hot potato. The author of the memo entitled: Chrysotile Institute Funding, was Gary Nash, Assistant Deputy Minister, Minerals and Metals Sector, Natural Resources Canada, and formerly the Founding President / Chief Executive Officer of the Asbestos Institute, the CI's predecessor. Nash explained that although Canada's asbestos industry "is no longer a heavyweight in the Canadian economy," support by the federal and provincial governments has traditionally been generous:

"Canada contributes $250,000 per year, through funding agreements with both Canada and Quebec (which) terminate in about 14 months (March 31, 2007). The CI has requested a one year extension of its agreement. or it will now have to start winding up operations. the Institute has become a rallying point and a forum of exchange, an information and reference centre for an international network of producers and users which is called on by governmental and non-governmental organizations and associations of some 85 countries.the leadership shown by Canada and Quebec in favour of safe use of chrysotile has earned them significant good will, and it would not be understood if they withdrew now. chrysotile production, with its 800 direct and approximately 1000 indirect jobs, is a central force in the economy of an entire region of Quebec, where the Institute embodies the commitment of the Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec to the chrysotile mining communities."

Canadian MP Pat Martin is dismayed at the result of Tuesday's vote of the Standing Committee on Natural Resources saying:

"Corporate welfare for corporate serial killers is both morally reprehensible and economically unsound. Canada's asbestos industry is under attack from all sides. Consumers no longer want to buy a product that contains an acknowledged killer and markets are drying up. At the same time, chrysotile producers in Russia, Zimbabwe and elsewhere can undercut Canadian suppliers. In light of the eventual demise of the industry, would it not be a better policy to work with those affected in Québec to achieve a just transition for investors, workers and affected communities. The continued support for the Chrysotile Institute is throwing good money after bad."

The annual payment of $250,000 is just the beginning of federal government financial support as this sum does not, as one observer explained, include all the "soft support in terms of using Canadian embassies to host asbestos promotion events or the cost of sending teams of lawyers around the world to block and oppose any international efforts that might curb and restrict the use of asbestos."

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