MiningWatch Canada Newsletter #39 – Autumn 2015

Jamie Kneen

National Program Co-Lead

In this issue:

Editor’s note

We’ve gone through more changes over the past few months. Ugo Lapointe is really getting his teeth into our Canada program, and we are very pleased to have Diana Martin take over the admin and resource development work from Susan Murdock, bringing a whole new energy to the office! We wish Susan all the best in her retirement. We’re also very much looking forward to working with a government that actually values evidence-based decision-making and democratic processes – and a Parliament that actually works! We do, however, remain deeply concerned about the proliferation of investor-state arbitration in investment treaties and so-called trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Canada-European Union Trade Agreement that severely limit governments’ ability to act in the public interest and give large corporations immense protection at the expense of public well-being, the environment, and democracy. We will also be part of the fight to see the 2015 Anti-Terrorism Act (Bill C-51) repealed, which has expanded the definition of national security to include the financial stability and economic interests of Canada and its allies, which can lead to the criminalization of dissent and the violation of freedom of expression, assembly and protest, a troubling trend that is far too common for many of our partners here and around the world.

How criticising mining projects can make you a criminal – or an enemy of the State

The mining industry may claim to want to work with communities for mutual benefit, but where communities don’t see the benefit the companies don’t seem to want to take ‘no’ as an answer – or even fix what they’ve broken, whether that’s polluted water sources or broken contracts and agreements. Unfortunately, they normally have the backing of government authorities, and far too commonly the response to community resistance is violent repression and criminalisation. This is certainly not new, but it is getting significantly worse. After months of intense work, we published an important report on this tendency. “In the National Interest? Criminalization of Land and Environment Defenders in the Americas” brings together cases from Guatemala, Peru, Mexico, Ecuador, and Canada, but it is just a beginning. Over coming months we plan to publish additional chapters on other cases across the Americas.

Since then, just in Mexico, we have publicised Mexican state involvement in violence against the Nahua Indigenous community of Zacualpan in the state of Colima and a human rights defender facing dire threats in the same struggle, while Canadian mining companies were called out by agrarian authorities in Guerrero state for being implicated in violence there. Meanwhile statements from the Canadian Ambassador to Mexico indicate he’s apparently not worried about violence, kidnapping and extortion at Canadian mine sites.

Barrick Gold gives a trickle of compensation to victims in Tanzania and Papua New Guinea while the appalling violence continues

Some villagers who sustained serious injuries when they were assaulted by police and security at Barrick Gold’s North Mara mine in Tanzania have received largely inadequate compensation packages, but many more – victims of shooting, beating, and rape, and family members of those who died of their injuries – have received no recognition at all. Worse, the violence continues. We did a second human rights field assessment, which calls into question company commitments to stop excessive use of force. See Broken Bones and Broken Promises: Barrick Gold Fails to Address Ongoing Violence at Tanzania Mine. Meanwhile, in Papua New Guinea (PNG), Barrick finished a compensation program for 120 victims of rape by mine security at its Porgera mine, but is refusing to provide these women the same many times higher level of compensation the company provided 11 women who benefitted from independent legal assistance from EarthRights International. Unfortunately, for the victims in Tanzania and PNG, to receive any compensation at all from the company they had to sign waivers agreeing never to sue Barrick or its subsidiaries anywhere in the world.

Barrick hired Enodorights to assess its remedy program in PNG. We wrote another letter to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, to point out that Barrick’s assessment process does not meet guidelines set out by the UN and is likely to lead to a misleading report. Fortunately, human rights clinics at Harvard and Columbia universities have now released a critical assessment of Barrick’s remedy program in PNG that recognizes MiningWatch’s work on this issue. We call on Barrick to rescind the waivers for victims of violence in PNG and Tanzania.

Tahoe Resources in Guatemala – an exemplary case of militarisation, repression, and violence

Despite challenges to the legality of Tahoe’s operations in Guatemala and corruption scandals that forced the resignation of Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina, the company has (literally) soldiered on, with renewed shootings and a militarized security strategy to quash community opposition to its Escobal project, as exposed by investigative journalist Luis Solano in Under Siege: Peaceful Resistance to Tahoe Resources and Militarization in Guatemala.

Solano came to Canada in November to present his report to Canadians. His visit coincided with a huge legal loss for the victims of the 2013 shootings at the Escobal mine when a British Columbia judge refused to hear their lawsuit against the company, ruling that the case should be heard in Guatemala. The plaintiffs in the B.C. case have also just learned that the ex-head of security for Tahoe Resources in Guatemala, who was supposed to be under arrest awaiting trial in January for his role in the 2013 attack, is on the run.

Mount Polley  never again

The Mount Polley disaster was the largest mining waste spill in Canada’s history. Yet a year later, the mine is running again under a restricted permit and there are still no long-term plans for site clean-up costs, water treatment, or mining waste management. 

Ugo took a strong message to the Canadian Mines Ministers’ Conference in Halifax in July, with a letter signed by over 50 organisations calling on Ministers to take action to prevent more disasters. They responded positively, but made no concrete commitments. The independent review of the Mount Polley disaster predicted two tailings dam failures every decade in British Columbia. We should not have to ask which two rivers or watersheds are next. We need to prevent future failures by strengthening and updating our outdated mining laws. A new study revealed that mine waste disasters are increasing in frequency, severity, and costs all around the world, and prompts us to ask, “Why is the industry incapable of learning from its failures?” MiningWatch welcomed the B.C. government’s announcement that it would review the provincial mining code, but warned that the review needs to be broad enough to address the full range of necessary changes in mining policies and regulations. In partnership with other concerned groups, MiningWatch released a comprehensive report, entitled “Path to Zero Failures” detailing how the planned review can be matched with parallel reforms of environmental assessment requirements, financial assurance review, and stronger community participation mechanisms in decision-making processes.

Uranium – Quebecers and Crees say no thanks

The federal government has still not decided whether to accept the Nunavut Impact Review Board’s (NIRB) ‘no-go’ recommendation for AREVA’s Kiggavik uranium mine proposal near Baker Lake. At the same time, the Quebec government has not decided whether to accept the Environmental & Public Hearings Panel (BAPE) conclusions that the risks and uncertainties of the mining of uranium relating to health and the environment are still too numerous to allow it to proceed. Meanwhile, Strateco, a junior company on the verge of bankruptcy, is suing the Quebec government for not licensing its controversial Matoush uranium advanced exploration project in Cree territory – which the Cree have already declared will not be allowed to proceed.

UN report backs allegations of forced labour and torture at Nevsun’s mine in Eritrea

Nevsun’s Bisha gold-copper mine has been repeatedly cited for appalling labour abuses by the company’s Eritrean government contractors, including forced labour and inhuman living and working conditions. Former workers are suing the company in British Columbia for alleged abuses; those allegations are supported in a new report by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea. Read more here.

Deep sea mining – just a bad idea

A Canadian mining company, Nautilus Minerals, is pioneering a highly dubious mining practice: extracting copper, gold and silver from the ocean floor off of Papua New Guinea. As part of the Deep Sea Mining Campaign, MiningWatch has conducted an assessment of Nautilus’ project and joined scientists and concerned citizens in calling on the International Seabed Authority (ISA) to halt issuing further exploration licences and to establish a moratorium until independent scientists have had a chance to fully understand the deep-sea environment and how it should be protected. We also published an Investor and Shareholder Alert to warn investors of dangers that company management may not be fully informing them about. For more information on this issue see our blog.

MiningWatch Canada Newsletter Number 39 – Autumn 2015