Enabling Canadian Mining at Any Cost in Latin America

Presentation to the Inter American Human Rights Commission during its 153rd Session of hearings

Hearing: 'Canada: Impacts of the Canadian Mining Companies in Latin America'

Thank you very much for accepting this hearing today.

We are here to speak to some issues outlined in the report Human Rights, Indigenous Rights and Canada’s Extraterritorial Obligations sent to the commission from the Canadian Network for Corporate Accountability. The CNCA is a coalition; 29 human rights, labour, advocacy, faith-based, and social justice organizations from across Canada.

I’m Jen Moore, Latin America Program Coordinator for MiningWatch Canada, a member of the CNCA. I’ll speak to Canadian government supports to the Canadian mining industry in Latin America and related violations. Shin Imai coordinates the Justice and Corporate Accountability Project at Osgoode Hall Law School and will speak to Canada's Corporate Social Responsibility strategy and the lack of remedy for mining-affected communities. Matt Eisenbrandt is Legal Director at the Canadian Centre for International Justice. He will talk about Civil litigation in Canada against mining companies and attempts at legislative reform in Canada related to the Canadian mining industry abroad.

Background

  • Since the 1990s, the Canadian government has worked to position Canada as a hub of financing and other supports to mining at home and abroad
  • 75% of register in Canada and 60% list on Canadian stock exchanges
  • This makes Canada not the only, but nonetheless an influential player in the mining industry in many Latin American and Caribbean countries
  • We do not have time to discuss the impacts of the mining industry, save to say that it is highly destructive, driven by shortterm interests that have a very longterm impact on the social, cultural, environmental and economic wellbeing of affected communities
  • You will already be familiar with the nature of these given the complaints before the IACHR from petitioners in Guatemala against Goldcorp’s Marlin mine and petitioners in Chile against Barrick’s Pascua Lama project, as well as the report from the Latin American Working Group on Mining and Human Rights presented this time last year to the commission and which sistematized human rights violations related to 22 Canadian mining operations in the region.

Through its acts and omissions, the Canadian government plays a central role in enabling Canadian mining companies in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as tolerating and contributing to the systematic rights violations taking place.

The Canadian state backs the industry in many ways:

  • Loans and insurance
  • An extensive range of diplomatic services
  • The use overseas development aid to support mining projects and promote mining code reforms that are favourable to corporate interests and damaging to Indigenous and collective human rights

This is just a short list.

I would like to share one story in some detail in connection with Canadian embassies – the Canadian government’s on-the-ground representatives in the region who have privileged access to what’s going on in mining-affected communities and related policy making. Their behaviour helps us understand how the Canadian government tolerates and accepts Indigenous and human rights violations in order to enable and defend the mining industry’s interest. 

These insights were gained through an access to information request undertaken with several partner organizations about the Canadian Embassy in Mexico and Blackfire Exploration in Chiapas that operated a mine for two years before it was shut down.

This demonstrates four aspects of the Canadian state relationship with a mining company:

  1. to enable its operations,
  2. to troubleshoot conflict,
  3. to ignore threats to local activists, and
  4. to continually defend company interests

1) We see the Embassy enable Blackfire to start up its mine by putting pressure on the state of Chiapas when there was not clear community consent for the mine and the company was facing permitting challenges.

2) We see the Embassy troubleshoot for Blackfire when protests grow against the mine, about which it had a lot of information, and then 3) how it ignored threats to local activists.

Local leader Mariano Abarca traveled with a delegation to Mexico City and spoke with a Canadian Embassy official on film. He stated that the company had broken promises, that its mine was doing environmental damage, and that there were armed workers intimidating him and others opposed to the mine.

Within a couple of weeks, Mariano Abarca was arrested off the street while he was making preparations for a forum against mining in his community. The Embassy knew that Abarca was arrested on the basis of spurious allegations made by the company against him. Despite this, despite Abarca’s testimony about armed workers and despite 1,400 letters sent to the Embassy expressing dire worry for Abarca’s life, the Embassy’s response focused on ensuring the continuity of the company’s operation.

Six weeks later, Abarca was murdered, the mine was shut down on environmental grounds and it came to light that the company had been making direct payments into the personal bank account of the local mayor in order to help keep down protests.

4) Then we see the Embassy continue defending company interests.

The Embassy distanced itself – not so much from the company – but rather from the investigation into the murder, refusing to meet with affected community groups.

Some two months later, it sent a fact-finding delegation to the community and finally spoke with affected groups. The resulting embassy report about unfulfilled promises, lack of community support, environmental damage and corrupt practices was sent to the highest echelons of the Canadian government. Nonetheless, it continued to advise the company about how Blackfire could sue the state of Chiapas under the terms of NAFTA for having closed the mine.

A few years later, Mariano Abarca’s brother and one of his sons took these findings to the Canadian Embassy in Mexico and heard the same old story: that the Canadian government encourages Canadian companies to respect local laws and maintain high standards of CSR, when in fact the Embassy’s active and unquestioning support may have acted as a disincentive for Blackfire to comply with local and international laws.­

When they asked the Canadian Embassy – at a minimum – to not ignore threats against other community leaders in Mexico who are threatened and criminalized, the Embassy said this would be tantamount to intervening in Mexican sovereignty; the Embassy did not think, however, that intervening with the state Chiapas to put Blackfire’s mine into operation was intervening on Mexico’s sovereignty.

There are other such examples and likely to be more since the Canadian government has now made it policy to channel 100% of its diplomatic corps to back private interests, something they call ‘economic diplomacy’, which given the predominance of Canadian investment in the mining sector, means give yet more support to mining companies in the region despite the increasing risk that defenders run of being demonized, criminalized, threatened and killed.

This is also just one of the ways, through its acts and omissions, that we see the Canadian state supporting Canadian mining companies through thick and thin, when communities and workers bring complaints and when there are serious questions regarding the legitimacy, legality and compatibility of their operations and this extractive model with the rights of Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.

Concluding remarks

(These were made following presentations by Shin Imai and Matt Eisenbrandt, which can be viewed here.)

Through its acts and omissions, the state of Canada has demonstrated its support, tolerance and conformity with an extractive model that is causing profound harms against both individuals and communities. This is evident through its:

  • Political and economic support to companies from within Canada
  • As a result of its diplomatic activities outside of Canada
  • And through the absence of policies and laws that could provide justice for people affected by Canadian mining companies
  • As well as - and this is an issue that we have not had time to explore today at all - through its promotion of bilateral and multilateral investor protection agreements that - among other things - give companies recourse to sue governments when decisions get made that are unfavourable to them

In this context, we ask the Commission to urge the Canadian government to reset its priorities on the basis of respect for the individual and collective rights of Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, workers and the environment; to drop its Corporate Social Responsibility strategy, which serves as a whitewash for continuing impunity regarding harms taking place in connection with the mining industry; and to install a legal framework to ensure corporate and state accountability for individual and collective rights violations taking place.

Furthermore, we ask that you urge the government of Canada to end its practice of channeling diplomatic supports and overseas development aid to the mining industry; to end its involvement in decision making over management of natural wealth in other countries given its apparent conflicts of interest; and to establish mandatory frameworks based on respect for Indigenous and human rights for state agencies that provide financing, loans and insurance to the industry.