Blog Entry

Catherine Coumans Testifies Before Standing Committee on International Trade

Catherine Coumans

Ph.D. Research Coordinator and Asia-Pacific Program Coordinator

On February 6, 2023, MiningWatch's Asia Pacific Coordinator Catherine Coumans testified before the House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade on the "environmental and human rights considerations regarding Canadian mining firms abroad." 

The full recording can be viewed here.

Read Catherine's testimony here

Read Catherine's accompanying brief here.

Excerpts from the Q&A

CATHERINE COUMANS: "Through our work with communities and through our efforts to publicize these concerns, to raise them with the Canadian government, to bring them to Canada, to speak with parliamentarians, to speak to civil servants, we’d had hope there would be more improvement and there isn’t. The problem is as big as it’s ever been. And now with the coming mining boom, we’re really dreading how this is going to increase the workload even more — and the workload is not the problem, it’s the harm being done to people.

I want to emphasize: this is not just a few bad apples and it’s not just the small companies who don’t have the resources to pay for doing things the right way. 

One of the companies we work on is Barrick Gold and Barrick Gold has just been sued in November of last year in Canadian courts. And what is it for? It’s for people who have been shot and killed by mine security, by police guarding Barrick’s mine in Tanzania. This is almost the biggest gold mining company in the world — I think it’s the second largest in the world. It has plenty of resources to do things right. This is the third time that Barrick has been sued over these same issues at this same mine. There was a court case filed in 2013, which was settled in 2015. There was another court case filed in 2020, which is ongoing in the UK. And now there has been another case filed in Canada over the same issues: human rights abuses, excess use of force by mine security and police guarding the mine on behalf of Barrick.” 


CATHERINE COUMANS: “I've heard companies... [say] 'we just follow the laws of the country in which we operate, and if we don’t have to do these things, then we don’t have to do them. We just follow the laws.’ And in fact, that is all Canada has required of our mining companies. All that Canada requires is that our mining companies follow the laws of the country in which they are operating — not live up to a higher standard. 

The only way to address this problem from Canada is to implement something like mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence, because that’s something we have control over.

We can’t, obviously — and we wouldn’t want to — control the laws of other countries. Many of these are developing countries. Many of these are very poor countries. We’re talking about places like Papua New Guinea, where Canadian mining companies are operating. We can’t tell the Papua New Guineans what standards they should put on our companies — and often our companies get around those standards anyway for various reasons. But what we can do, is we can require, we can mandate through legislation, that our companies do environmental and human rights due diligence, that they assess the risk that their operations are the operations of their subsidiaries are putting people and the environment to. And then to report on that risk and tell us what they’ve done to stop that harm from  being done. And if that doesn’t work, then people can sue in Canada.

Quite frankly, when lawsuits are filed, it does sharpen the attention of lawyers in the corporation and the managers of the corporations because now they’re being sued and that could have real consequences. That is something Canada can do and is what we should do.”

Catherine Coumans Testimony (February 6, 2023) Background Brief: Canada's Role in Mining Abuse Abroad (2023)