House Subcommittee Hearings on Mining in Latin America a Public Disservice

October 18, 2017 | By admin | Filed in: Corporate Social ResponsibilityHuman Rights.

The committee hasn’t heard from people most directly
affected by Canadian mining operations in the region.

The federal Liberals came into office promising to take action
on human rights abuses associated with one of Canada’s largest
and most controversial areas of foreign investment abroad:
mining. But a rare study on the issue in the House of Commons
Subcommittee on International Human Rights seems designed to
justify the do-nothing status quo, since the process precludes
any critical examination of Canada’s current policy.

The subcommittee has been holding hearings on “Human rights
surrounding natural resource extraction within Latin America,”
with no testimony from those most directly affected. The result
is a discussion loaded with unchecked assumptions that is
another affront to the voices of those too often silenced in
Latin America to favour business as usual.

It is important to keep in mind that there are more mining
companies headquartered in Canada and listed on Canadian stock
exchanges than anywhere else in the world, and Latin America is
their preferred destination abroad.

Abuses against Indigenous peoples, children, women, and
affected populations as a result of Canadian mining operations
have caught the attention of international human rights bodies
since 2002. They have issued numerous and repeated
recommendations to the Canadian government to adopt legislated
measures to prevent and redress the harms taking place,
including five times in the last two years.

A group of volunteer lawyers at Osgoode Hall Law School has
documented 44 deaths, 403 injuries, and more than 700 cases of
legal persecution that it associated with 28 Canadian mining
operations in 13 Latin American countries between 2000 and
2015, noting that this is not comprehensive and does not
include many other forms of violence taking place.

Several subcommittee members and witnesses have asserted that
Canadian mining investment leads to progress. But they have not
heard from any community member who has lost a source of water
from contamination, whose farmland has been trashed by heaps of
toxic waste, or whose relative has fallen ill since a mining
project started upstream of their home and cannot get adequate
medical attention because the company denies all
responsibility. Nor have they heard from an Indigenous leader
whose community has been denied its self-determination over the
type of development they would choose for future generations,
nor from any municipal leader who has refused to accept
royalties from a mining operation because tens of thousands of
citizens have voted against mining in their community, as a
result of the long-term impacts they have observed from mining
activities elsewhere.

Does the world need “more Canada?” The subcommittee has not
asked what people on the ground think about the mining projects
and policies that Canadian authorities have publicly backed in
the region that have put communities, workers, and fragile
ecosystems at risk and deliberately undermined local proposals
and values.

While government and industry have been afforded full hearings
to provide their opinions to the committee about the two
mediation-based mechanisms that Canada currently offers as
recourse, the committee has not heard from anyone directly who
has tried to use them, allowing it to appreciate the
considerable barriers to even partial remedy in this country
for the many harms taking place abroad. Neither has it heard
how poorly these mechanisms serve where trust has been
completely destroyed as a result of threats, violence, and
legal persecution of community leaders, or where communities
just want a company to go away.

In considering possible solutions, the committee has not turned
to dozens of Canadian organizations advocating for an
independent human rights ombudsperson for the sector and
greater access to justice in Canadian courts. Nor has it called
to testify even one of the 180 Latin American organizations
that signed a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in April
2016, calling on Canada to require community consent prior to
any mining activities, asking that Canadian intervention abroad
on behalf of the extractive industry end, and calling on Canada
to adopt a model for international trade and investment that
prioritizes people and the environment, which would not allow
corporations to sue governments in international tribunals and
cast a chill on making policy in the public interest.

It is unacceptable that the subcommittee on International Human
Rights take a superficial approach to what is a defining issue
for Canada’s relationship with peoples of Latin America and the
country’s human rights performance internationally. If this
government wants its stated commitment to Indigenous peoples
and human rights to be taken seriously, serious change is
urgently needed.

This article was originally published in
The Hill Times

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