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Harper and the International Canadian Mining Industry

Impunity, Aid, and Transforming Canada to fit Industry's Objectives

by Sakura Saunders

It was just confirmed on Sunday that Harper will be appearing today at this year's Prospecters and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) conference, a huge trade show for the Canadian Extractive Industry. While most people know about Harper's strong relationship with the Tar Sands industry, far less know how this prime minister has gone beyond complicity, toward strategically promoting impunity for the Canadian mining industry operating abroad, thwarting efforts to introduce any measures of accountability.

There is growing awareness that Canadian mining companies are responsible for some of the worst abuses of multinational corporations out there, from targetted assinations and the militarization of entire communities, to environmental disasters that drain streams, poison rivers, and render entire populations sick with respiratory, skin, and reproductive disease. In 2005, the Canadian government was finally starting to acknowledge these abuses, and in a report by the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, the government admitted that there were no laws in Canada to prevent human rights abuses by Canadian Mining Companies operating abroad.

What followed was a roundtables process to address these issues with public forums and closed door meetings between civil society groups such as Mining Watch, industry groups like PDAC and some mining companies as well. While this process actually resulted in a consensus document on first steps to address these systemic abuses, Harper's administration in particular completely undermined this process, setting the stage for these abuses to continue. In fact, Harper's response to the Roundtables report actually directed more public funds to help Canadian mining companies with their public relations (PR).

In the Harper Government's 2009 policy report, "Building the Canadian Advantage: A Corporate Social Responsibility Strategy for the Canadian International Extractive Sector", Harper ignored the roundtables recommendations. Instead, the government reaffirmed weak voluntary measures, while calling for more resources to promote mining companies’ “Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)” programs. The report went so far as to suggest that Canada needed to help other countries enhance their "capacities to manage the development of minerals and oil and gas".

"Building the Canadian Advantage" laid out the corporate agenda that has transformed our foreign relations institutions to support unaccountable mining abroad. International Aid funding was cut from human rights advocacy groups in mining-impacted communities and diverted to development NGOs willing to partner with mining companies – such as those in the Devonshire Initiative. In fact it was during a keynote address at the Devonshire Initiative CEO Summit in 2011 that then-Minister of International Cooperation Bev Oda first announced a $26.7-million contribution by Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) to four new CSR projects at Canadian mines around the world.

Instead of an ombudsperson, as the consensus report recommended, a new CSR counsellor post was created and given to Marketa Evans, the founding director of the Devonshire Initiative* and the Munk Centre for International Studies – an industry insider and seen as part of a deliberate attempt to undermine the roundtables’ recommendations.

The CSR counsellor's job was to mediate disputes between mining companies and the communities that they impacted, but it allowed companies to leave the process at any time without consequence. The results were not surprising; four years after Marketa was hired she looked into just six cases, where five were closed without any resolution, and none were resolved in a way that was favourable to the community.

CIDA has since been dismantled and absorbed by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, a move explicitly made to align trade objectives with Canada’s aid; Free Trade deals are being negotiated in secret; and Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks showed that the Communications Security Establishment Canada agency spied on behalf of mining interests, including on Brazil’s mining minister and consulted energy firms regarding “challenges to energy projects from environmental groups.”

Almost a decade after that groundbreaking Standing Committee report, there are no laws to prevent Canadian corporations from abusing human rights abroad. Bill C-300, which sought to implement the recommendations of the roundtables report, lost by a mere 6 votes. Meanwhile Bill C-323, which would allow the federal court system to compensate people outside of Canada for human rights violations abroad, has only gone through its first reading.

The Canadian Network for Corporate Accountability (CNCA) has started a new campaign “Open for Justice” which demands the implementation of a ombudsperson. According to Jen Moore of Mining Watch Canada, a member organization of CNCA, “replacing the CSR Counsellor will not solve the fundamental problems with this office that was ultimately designed to fail.”

“The Canadian Government should pass legislation to ensure access to Canadian courts for those who are being harmed as a result of Canadian mining operations abroad and establish an independent Ombudsman with a mandate to investigate complaints and make recommendations for remedy and sanction.”

* The Devonshire Initiative was named after Devonshire Place, the location of the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto. Marketa was the founding director of this school, which was named after the chairman and founder of the world's largest gold mining company, Peter Munk of Barrick Gold. For more information:




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Sakura Saunders (Sakura Saunders)
Toronto, ON
Member since February 2010


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more background on the 2 PDAC speakers

Good article.

I did some fast research into the other people speaking at the Harper event, it's different background information about the the same event, focusing on the 2 PDAC speakers.

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