On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Jamie Kneen. He is the communications coordinator with MiningWatch Canada, an organization that supports communities in struggles, does research, and works to change policies and laws, all with the aim of challenging, reducing, and preventing the many harms caused around the world by the Canadian mining industry.
Canada may be a pretty big place in geographical terms, but the country’s population and its role in the global economy are quite a bit more modest. Well, that’s mostly& true. One major exception to this is Canada’s mining industry, which even after the purchase of some of the largest Canadian mining companies by corporations based elsewhere in the last 15 years still accounts for something like 60-70% of the total number of mining companies and the total number of mining projects in the world.
Mining, of course, has a much greater impact on the world than simply adding to the bottom line of a company, an industry, or a country. It also frequently causes immense harm — to ecosystems, to communities, and to human health. The people who live on the land where mining takes place — who, not infrequently, are that land’s rightful Indigenous owners and custodians as well — and who drink the water and breath the air that are at risk of contamination, quite often object to the mining taking place at all, or insist on greatly strengthened measures to reduce the risk. Yet this concern with life and wellbeing often points in very different directions than the drive for profit that motivates mining companies and the governments that support them. Again and again, all over the world, mining companies and governments run roughshod over local communities and their concerns, and proceed with mining projects that cause a great deal of harm to ecosystems and to people. Canadian mining companies have earned an awful reputation the world over for disrespecting human rights and the earth.
In this context, a little less than two decades ago, two series of conversations converged. One was among large and small environmental groups, and a couple of Indigenous groups, in the Canadian context about some recent struggles against mining projects in different parts of the country, and the lack of infrastructure for preserving and sharing lessons, resources, and strategies from those struggles. The other was among international NGOs based in Canada and working primarily in the Americas but also in Asia and West Africa, who regularly encountered communities with concerns about proposed or existing Canadian mining projects in their countries. These NGOs had little expertise in mining issues, but wanted to be able to support communities, or at least point them towards resources. Out of these conversations, stakeholders from environmental, social justice, Indigenous, and labour groups in Canada came together to form a new organization: MiningWatch Canada.
For the last 18 years, MiningWatch Canada has worked with both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities to “addresses the urgent need for a co-ordinated public interest response to the threats to public health, water and air quality, fish and wildlife habitat, and community interests posed by irresponsible mineral policies and practices in Canada and around the world.” This has involved working with communities fighting to prevent, mitigate, or remediate specific mining projects, particularly in helping them acquire resources and information, and build relationships with other communities engaged in similar struggles. It has involved doing research in a whole host of mining-related issues in a way that centres the wellbeing of communities. And it has involved working for changes to laws, regulations, and policies that govern mining practices and that shape what companies can get away with.
Jamie Kneen speaks with me about the Canadian mining industry, its impacts on the world, and the work of MiningWatch Canada. You can learn more about MiningWatch Canada here.
Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow us on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact [email protected] to join our weekly email update list.
Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two booksexamining Canadian history through the stories of activists.
The image modified for this post was originally taken by Martin Roell and is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.