Canada is #1 in the world in mining and extractive industries in foreign countries. With over a thousand mining and exploration companies in 100 countries — about 5,000 projects — Canada has well over 50% of the global exploration and mining companies. There have been noises about human rights abuses.
On March 26, 2009, the Cons tabled a policy to deal with corporate social responsibility abroad: a “centre of excellence,” a voluntary industry compliance strategy, and a Con-appointed corporate social responsibilty official, Marketa Evans, who will report to the minister of trade once a year. She has no power to investigate abuses if the corps in question do not agree to it.
International human rights standards, however, refer to people, not corporations. Bill C-300, An Act respecting Corporate Accountability for the Activities of Mining, Oil or Gas in Developing Countries,
attempts to provide a mechanism for dealing with environmental and human rights violations supported or perpetrated by Canadian companies abroad. For example, from the Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development:
Oct 8 : A Canadian copper mine in the Philippines was dumping mine waste in the ocean. Its earthen dams broke, inundating villages below with toxic mine waste. Parents of dead children were paid $23 per child.
In Ecuador a Canadian mining company’s paramilitary agents issue death threats to local villagers opposed to the mine.
In Tanzania, a Canadian gold mine is leaking cyanide into surrounding rivers.
Norway’s government pension fund has dropped its shares in a Canadian mine in Papua, New Guinea because it “dumps its tailings and its waste directly into a huge tropical river system.”
Oct.20: At a Canadian mining company in Papua, New Guinea, numerous accounts of rapes show a similar pattern. The guards, usually in a group of five or more, find a woman while they are patrolling on or near mine property. They take turns threatening, beating, and raping her. In a number of cases, women reported to me being forced to chew and swallow the condoms used by guards during the rape.
Oct 22: A tailings dam failure in Guyana in which the Canadian gov refused to hear the suit, a large cyanide spill at the EDC-supported mine in Kyrgyzstan, irreversible damage to local glaciers in Argentina, troops kill artisan miners in Tanzania to make way for a Canadian gold mine. Etc etc through about 30 countries. Lawsuits are tried in the U.S. courts because there is no opportunity to try them in Canada.
In response to questions about the need for Bill C-300 to safeguard human rights, Jim McArdle, a lawyer for Export Development Canada, a crown corporation export credit agency providing 8,300 Canadian companies operating abroad with advice and money, explained that EDC is concerned that C-300 would force them to yank funding from Canadian corps found to be committing human rights abuses, and this would have a chilling effect on companies considering applying to the EDC for assistance. Despite already having their own CSR (corporate social responsibility) advisory group and a compliance officer, EDC has yet to yank funding from a single Canadian corp for any violation.
Further, McArdle said adopting C-300 would “take Canadian companies out of the game,” give other countries an unfair advantage, and likely result in our companies relocating to another country with less stringent rules.
Hey, I guess that’s why we’re currently #1.
Peter Goldring, Con, suggests that with its emphasis on international human rights standards, this bill “amounts to a limit on Canadian sovereignty.”
Kevin Sorenson, Con Chair, suggests Bill C-300 would pave the way for “frivolous lawsuits.”
CIDA: Not our job to handle complaints!
Deepak Obhrai, Con, says the definition of what precisely constitutes a human right is very open to misinterpretation and will hurt our mining companies.
Tell you what, Deepak, let’s just start off by dealing with the raping, killing, and displacing of brown people in the way of our profits and work back from that.
Another concern voiced was that the media would carry stories of abuses as soon as investigations began, thereby putting a potentially innocent company under a cloud until the issue was resolved. Uh-huh, just like people.
Every committee has at least one Con whose job is to ask leading questions about how wonderful the Con gov is. This job just requires stringing together a number of non-sequitirs in the form of a question. Or not.
John Weston, Con, my MP:
“I would appreciate more specific comments on what the government is doing now. In other words, this is not a government that’s oblivious of human rights concerns. We created serious impediments for mining companies, with some of the things we’ve done in the name of human rights. We’re doing that to try to open up the competitive capacity of the mining companies. If you can’t do business and you don’t pay your taxes in Canada, then we can’t maintain our social safety net.”
Thanks for that, John.
On April 22, 2009 Bill C-300 passed second reading in the House by a mere 4 votes. With all Cons voting against, it is now struggling its way through the minefield of the Foreign Affairs and International Development Committee – 6 Cons, 3 Libs, 1 Bloc and 1 NDP. Excellent work from Paul Dewar with Bob Rae looking for the middle ground.