Canadian Mining and the Tragedy in Burkina Faso

Canadian Dimension

“There is a real problem with lack of accountability and effective impunity when our Canadian companies operate overseas”

By Owen Schalk, Canadian Dimension 

On April 16, a torrential downpour flooded the Perkoa zinc mine in Burkina Faso, 120 kilometres from the nation’s capital, Ouagadougou. The flooding trapped eight employees—six Burkinabè, one Tanzanian, and one Zambian—underground. Around one month of efforts by the government of Burkina Faso and the Vancouver-based Trevali Mining Corporation, which owns 90 percent of Perkoa, proved unable to rescue them. Last week, Burkinabè authorities as well as Trevali reported that the eight trapped workers were dead.

Al Jazeera reports that “six of the missing miners’ families have filed cases against persons unknown for attempted manslaughter, endangering life and failing to assist a person in danger.” Meanwhile, the government of Burkina Faso has prevented Trevali officials from leaving the country while authorities investigate the causes of the accident. A statement from the prime minister’s office read: “Precautionary measures have been taken to prevent the persons in charge of the mine from leaving the country and instructions have been given firmly to the minister of security for this.”

Canada’s Ambassador to Burkina Faso and Benin, Lee-Anne Hermann, took to Twitter in the aftermath of the tragedy to lament the damage caused not to the lives of the Burkinabè miners, but to the future prospects of Canadian mining companies. “On a most difficult day for [Canadian] mining companies,” she tweeted on May 19, two days after Trevali reported the deaths of the trapped miners, “it was a pleasure to meet with [Canadian company Fortuna Silver] to learn more about their Roxgold mine operations in [Burkina Faso] and [their] commitment to Responsible Business Conduct.” It is indicative of where Canadian foreign policy interests lie that instead of meeting with the families of the deceased miners, Hermann chose to meet with the CEO of Canadian mining company and promote their investments in the country.

While the exact causes of the mining accident remain unknown, some in Canada and Burkina Faso have blamed the flooding on Trevali’s alleged lack of preparation. Burkina Faso’s Prime Minister Albert Ouédraogo has reportedly criticized the “irresponsibility” of the mine’s managers, stating that shortly before the accident “dynamite was used on the open-air [part of the] mine, which weakened the [underground] gallery and enabled the flooding.” Jamie Kneen of MiningWatch Canada stated that “From an engineering standpoint, if you’re a mining company, you have a pretty good idea of what the potential worst case scenarios are, and whether you invest in the backup systems to deal with those emergencies is a management decision.” Indeed, a 2020 report by global management-consulting firm McKinsey found that, based on location, “a changing climate would mean a great risk of either water scarcity or flooding for mining operations in the years ahead [and] Iron ore and zinc mines [are] considered the most likely to flood.”


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