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News Release

Raid on Ecuadorian Activist's Home: Letter to Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay

Honourable Peter MacKay, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Foreign Affairs
125 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0G2

Dear Minister MacKay:

I am writing to you out of concern for Canada’s reputation in the international community, and specifically the implications of the presence of a Canadian company, Ascendant Copper Corporation, in Ecuador. As you know, MiningWatch Canada promotes responsible mining; that is, responsible behaviour in the mining sector both in Canada and wherever Canadian companies are involved internationally. We are concerned that Canadian mining companies all too often fail to respect local laws and international norms in their overseas activities, as well as ignoring the expressed interests of local populations, and that Canada’s international reputation as a proponent of human rights and environmental protection is being tarnished as a result. Recent events in the Ascendant Copper case are very troubling and, I think you will agree, merit your urgent attention.

A little less than a year ago, MiningWatch Canada and Friends of the Earth Canada wrote to your predecessor, Pierre Pettigrew, regarding Ascendant’s “Junín” project in the Intag area of north-western Ecuador. At that time we urged the Canadian government to intervene to help persuade Ascendant to respect local community demands to abandon its Junín mining project and leave the area, and to stop funding the Corporation for the Development of the Communities of Garcia Moreno (CODEGAM), a local organization that has been the source of significant controversy and that has received substantial funding from Ascendant. We also urged Mr. Pettigrew to support legislative initiatives to institute improved transparency and accountability requirements for Canadian corporations, to improve Canada’s implementation of existing international human rights and environmental norms, and to create enforceable standards and regulations to back this up.

We are pleased that your government has decided to follow through with the Round Tables on Corporate Social Responsibility and we look forward to progressive mandatory standards emerging from this process. Unfortunately, we cannot report that the situation in north-western Ecuador has improved. Although Ascendant Copper has disassociated itself from CODEGAM, the intimidation and abuse by, or on behalf of, the company has continued. Obviously in situations such as this it is impossible to say how much of this activity is the direct responsibility of the company as the company has not divulged its relationships with various local actors, but we can say with certainty that such activities are attributable to the company’s presence in the region. As such, the company benefits from actions taken on its behalf, whether or not it specifically requested or sponsored them.

It is especially troubling that this situation has continued to worsen when the Canadian government, through the National Contact Point on the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, had been asked to intervene in May of 2005 by MiningWatch Canada, DECOIN, and Friends of the Earth Canada. That complaint was eventually withdrawn in January of 2006 in the face of protracted inaction by the National Contact Point, and a clear failure by Stephen DeBoer, the International Trade Department functionary temporarily assigned as National Contact Point, to follow the relevant procedures, instead accusing the complainants of “continu[ing] to misinterpret how the OECD Guidelines for MNE work”.(1) Responsibility for the National Contact Point falls within the mandate of your colleague the Minister of Trade, the Hon. David Emerson; however, this point is directed to you since the OECD Guidelines are the Government’s preferred mechanism for addressing conflicts generated by the activities of Canadian companies operating internationally – clearly a more general aspect of “Canada in the World”, touching as it does on issues of human rights, environmental protection, and democratic development.

In this case, I would like to draw to your attention the recent raid on the home of our colleague Carlos Zorrilla, Executive Director of DECOIN (Defensa y Conservación Ecológica de Intag) and that of his employee Roberto Castro. According to reports from several investigators, up to nineteen heavily-armed police raided the Zorrilla and Castro homes at about 6:30 am on October 17, 2006, in an unprovoked and unjustified show of force, intimidating and abusing Mr. Zorrilla’s family and Mr. Castro. Mr. Zorrilla was not there at the time and he is believed to be in hiding, fearing for his safety.

The police were supposedly there to investigate and to arrest Mr. Zorrilla for an alleged assault and robbery that is supposed to have taken place on July 13, 2006, during a peaceful anti-mining demonstration in Quito.

This case presents several irregularities, among them the following:

  • The woman who filed the charges against Mr. Zorrilla, an American named Leslie Brooke Chaplin, apparently worked for Ascendant Copper. She had been distributing pro-Ascendant, anti-DECOIN pamphlets during the demonstration.
  • Eye-witnesses who were present in the Quito march maintain that the march was peaceful and that no assault, much less robbery, took place, but that in fact Ms. Chaplin was verbally aggressive with the demonstrators. There is video documentation of this which is being presented as part of the criminal defence;
  • Mr. Zorrilla was never informed of the charges against him and so did not have the opportunity to present documentation to show his innocence;
  • Police participating in the October 17 raid travelled in unmarked pickup trucks, at least one of which has been identified by witnesses as belonging to Ascendant;
  • Ascendant employees were seen with the police the previous day in Santa Rosa and were waiting for them on their return from the Zorrilla house;
  • Some of the police did not wear their ID tags (in fact some were wearing ski masks) and they did not hand over a copy of the search warrant. Some of them acted in a very aggressive and intimidating manner, shouting at and shoving Mr. Castro and Mr. Zorrilla’s 15-year-old son Martin;
  • Neither Zorrilla’s wife nor Roberto Castro were even allowed to read the search warrant;
  • The police “found” illicit drugs and a handgun in Zorrilla’s house that according to the inhabitants had not been there prior to the search;
  • The police destroyed various family possessions and apparently took money, a bank card, CD-ROMs, etc.

In the current climate of conflict around the Junín project, a “social licence to operate” is clearly unobtainable. It is clear to us that Ascendant’s only choice as a “socially responsible corporate citizen” would be to respect the wishes of the affected communities and cancel the Junín project; to clarify the nature of its relationship with Leslie Brooke Chaplin; and to make public the details of all its contracts, donations, and financial relationships in Ecuador. We would ask the Canadian government, through its Embassy in Quito, to pressure Ascendant Copper to withdraw from Intag, as the company’s presence is clearly the source of considerable tension. We would also ask that you apply diplomatic pressure on the Ecuadorian government to guarantee the safety of Mr. Zorrilla, and to investigate the many irregularities surrounding this case.

As we wrote to Mr. Pettigrew, “It is clear that in cases such as Junín, Canadian mining companies require unequivocal direction in order to comply with international human rights standards and to minimize the environmental impacts of their operations. The adoption of regulatory mechanisms is necessary to provide explicit guarantees to communities around the world that Canadian mining companies can and will be required to respect Canadian values for both human rights and the environment.” The continued tension in Junín underscores the urgency of this need.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. I would be pleased to meet with you to discuss this further.

Sincerely,

(signed)

Jamie Kneen
Coordinator, Latin America Programme
Communications Coordinator
MiningWatch Canada

cc:
The Honourable David Emerson, P.C., M.P.
His Excellency Christian Lapointe, Canadian Ambassador to Ecuador
Peter Harder, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs
James Lambert, Director General, Latin America and Caribbean Bureau
Daniel Daley, Director, Caribbean, Central America and Andean Region Division
Christine Cadieux, Deputy Director, Caribbean, Central America and Andean Region Division
Christine Climenhage, Desk Officer, Andean Region
Bob Lawson, Acting Director, Human Security Policy Division
Canada's National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises


(1) “The complainants felt compelled to withdraw their complaint when the Department of International Trade failed to properly implement the Guidelines’ procedural measures. The Canadian government is required to assess each complaint it receives, and if it appears a company has breached the Guidelines, try to facilitate a resolution. No formal response, written or verbal, was received with regard to the Ascendant complaint in the 10 months since it was filed.
“The complainants requested that a meeting proposed by the Department of International Trade in response to their complaint be treated as non-confidential. The Guidelines provide for meetings to be non-confidential when the parties to a dispute are amenable. In highly-charged environments such as that in the Junín area, transparency is essential in order to maintain trust. However, the Department unilaterally rejected the request for greater transparency, denying the complainants their procedural rights.” (Voluntary Corporate Standards Fail Again: Environmental Organizations Withdraw Complaint Against Ascendant Copper, January 16, 2006 (See: Voluntary Corporate Standards Fail Again: Environmental Organizations Withdraw Complainst Against Ascendant Copper)