(Ottawa/Toronto) Two years after filing a complaint with the RCMP for corruption allegations against Calgary-based Blackfire Resources, a group of Canadian civil society organizations would like to know where Canadian authorities stand on the company's controversial operations in Chiapas, Mexico. But, after an eighteen-month wait, a request for information to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade under the Access to Information Act is still unanswered.
Documents obtained in late 2009 by Common Frontiers, MiningWatch Canada, the United Steelworkers and others indicated that Blackfire had been paying into the personal bank account of a former mayor of the municipality of Chicomuselo, Chiapas, where the company operated a barite mine. On March 10, 2010, nine Canadian civil society organizations filed a complaint with the RCMP under the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act. National press revealed this past summer that the federal police have undertaken investigations with reports of a raid on the company's Calgary offices. No charges have yet been laid.
Blackfire had already been in the news following the murder of Mariano Abarca Roblero, a prominent community leader and opponent of the company's operations, who was shot dead in front of his home on November 29, 2009. Shortly after Abarca's death, several men with known connections to Blackfire were jailed. State environmental authorities also temporarily suspended mine activities in Chicomuselo.
United Steelworkers, Common Frontiers and MiningWatch Canada organized a fact-finding delegation to Chiapas in late March 2010 to investigate Abarca's murder and the company's activities. The delegation's findings demonstrated that the open-pit mine had given rise to local opposition in the area as a result of broken promises, lack of benefits and environmental degradation at the site. Delegates found that communities had also been divided as a result of the company's presence and repeatedly heard calls for the company to leave.
During a visit to the Canadian Embassy in Mexico, the delegation was informed that the Political Counselor had written a report following an investigative trip to Chiapas just weeks after Abarca's murder. When a copy was requested the delegation was told that the report was 'classified'. In the summer of 2010 a request was submitted to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) for a copy of this report. But despite repeated promises from desk officers and a complaint with the information commissioner, the report has failed to materialize.
Meanwhile, there are significant concerns that the company could be striking up new operations in Chiapas. In January, the Mexican national newspaper La Jornada cited community members from the municipality of Siltepec, one mountain valley away from Chicomuselo. Communities were quoted saying that they wanted "to stop the clandestine looting of minerals, given that the mining company Blackfire has been going in surreptitiously at night and has already taken out eight truckloads of minerals… We are notifying all concerned that we are not going to permit such activities anywhere in the sierra."
It is possible that any mining company carrying out undesirable activities in an area so close to Chicomuselo could be mistakenly identified as the highly discredited Blackfire. Given recent history and a reasonable degree of probability that this could be another Blackfire initiative, however, it is a cause for concern. With no clear mechanism beyond the anti-corruption act to bring this company to account for past harms and given the lack of any clear response from the DFAIT to signal serious interest in addressing cases in which the land and lives of a community are at threat, it is unclear to whom the recent Siltepec area complaint should be channeled.
On the eve of the conference 'Walking the Talk: Human Rights Abroad Take II ,' to be held this week on Parliament Hill, we will once again call for holding mining companies responsible for their operations abroad. Bill C-323, a Bill that would enable foreign citizens to sue Canadian companies through our courts, is the kind of legislative initiative that is needed to remedy the frequent abuses committed by Canadian mining companies like Blackfire.
We also call for greater accountability on the part of the Canadian government to explain why it is that the Department of Foreign Affairs are not responding in a more effective and timely manner in a case where rights and lives have been trampled, and where the voices of concern raised by the affected communities have long gone unheeded.