Canadian Mining in Latin America Doing Serious Environmental Harm

Operations in nine Latin American countries continue with explicit Canadian state support, says report

Source: The Guardian

The growing role of Canadian mining companies across Latin America has been put under the spotlight at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in Washington following the presentation of a damning report.

Mining operations by Canadian firms across nine Latin American countries are causing “serious environmental impacts” by destroying glaciers, contaminating water and rivers, and cutting down forest, according to the report, as well as forcibly displacing people, dividing and impoverishing communities, making false promises about economic benefits, endangering people’s health, and fraudulently acquiring property. Some who protest such projects have been killed or seriously wounded, it states, and others persecuted, threatened or accused of being terrorists.

“Criminal charges such as “sabotage”, “terrorism”, “rebellion”, “conspiracy” and “incitement to commit crime” have been made against social leaders and human rights defenders who oppose and resist the development of industry,” it states.

The report, titled The Impact of Canadian Mining in Latin America and Canada’s responsibility, states that Canadian firms are exploiting weak legal systems in Latin American countries and Canada itself, as well as failing to respect indigenous peoples’ rights, international human rights and social responsibility principles, and supposedly “protected” areas.

A summary of the report describes the growth of Canada’s mining in Latin America as an integral part of its current foreign policy, and refers to a “new policy of using international cooperation mechanisms as a method of promoting Canadian mining companies in developing countries.” It states:

The organizations [co-authoring the report] have been emphatic that the Canadian authorities are aware of the difficulties regarding each one of the [22] case-studies [cited in the report] and that, despite that, Canada continues to provide political, legal and financial support to companies which commit or tolerate human rights abuses. Canada’s government has advised various governments in countries where its companies operate about changing the law, citizen participation, and areas to be mined. . . Canadian ambassadors have played a commercial relations management role between the companies, the respective state, and Canada itself.

In total, 22 large-scale projects operated by 20 companies across Argentina, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama and Peru are considered in the report, which was written by the “Work Group on Mining and Human Rights in Latin America” formed four years ago by six civil society organizations from Latin America and one in the USA, and with whom 28 more Latin American organizations collaborated. It concludes with a series of recommendations to the IACHR, Latin American host countries, and Canada itself – including one that Canada abandons providing any kind of support aimed at making legal systems more flexible in order to promote mining investments to the detriment of human rights, and that it implements measures to ensure that Canadian mining firms comply with the international human rights treaties binding on both Canada and countries where such firms operate.

“The financial and political support that Canadian mining companies receive from the authorities of their home state, along with the absence of solid institutions and adequate regulatory systems in the host states, are key elements of the current pattern of human rights violations derived from this extractive industry in Latin America,” says Daniel Cerqueira, from the Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF), one of the Work Group members.

“Canada has been able to influence a weak Peruvian state which, ever since the Fujimori government in the 1990s, has loosened all the legal frameworks in order to attract investment,” says Javier Jahncke from the Peru-based Red Muqui, also in the Work Group. According to Jahncke:

We now have a Peruvian state that has abandoned its role protecting and guaranteeing peoples’ rights and has instead assumed a role guaranteeing investment – which should benefit all Peruvians and not just the groups in power. I think it’s arrogant of a state like Canada’s to exploit Peru’s weakness by acting in a way that favours its own companies at the expense of Peruvians, who can’t obtain justice in this country because the justice system puts the companies first and the people second, and who can’t obtain justice in Canada either because it has no mechanisms to monitor how its companies act.

Asked by The Guardian to respond to the report’s main accusations, a spokesperson for Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD) – cited in the report – said that “Canada’s mining sector leads the world in responsible mining practices.” According to DFATD’s Claude Rochon:

Canada seeks to establish a well-regarded and globally competitive extractive sector, and works proactively with host governments to enhance their capacity to manage their own natural resources for economic, social and environmental sustainability. The Government of Canada strongly believes that Canadians should do business around the world in a manner that reflects Canadian values and creates opportunities that raise standards of living in the countries they operate in. The Government of Canada expects and encourages Canadian companies working overseas to abide by the laws of those countries, and to act in accordance with applicable Canadian laws, ethical standards and corporate social responsibility practices.

“I ask you how they can say that given the report we’ve now made public,” says Red Muqui’s Jahncke.

“Canada’s mining sector advancements on corporate social responsibility don’t exempt the Canadian state’s duty to prevent and redress human rights violations committed by or with the tolerance of Canadian mining companies that receive financial and diplomatic support from Canadian authorities,” says DPLF’s Cerqueira. “We’re not talking just about the role of private corporations, but the international obligations binding their state of origin.”

One of the projects considered in the report is Lagunas Norte, run by Barrick Gold, in northern Peru. Mining operations have caused “serious contamination problems” in the headwaters of the Perejil, Chuyuhual and Caballo Moro rivers, it states, and are affecting harvests and small-scale ranching.

“The response of the company’s functionaries is to reject the quality of our studies and carry on, according to them, with respect for the law,” says Walter Pereda Ruiz, from the Marianist Social Action Association (AMAS), one of the Work Group members, which has been conducting tests since 2005.

Barrick Gold’s Andy Lloyd rejects the company’s responsibility, saying of one AMAS report that its methodology and conclusions were “fundamentally flawed” and that it attributed “pollution to Barrick in rivers that do not share the same watershed as the mine.” According to Lloyd:

Naturally occurring mineralization in the area is the main reason for higher than normal acidity and the presence of metals in some streams and lagoons. This is not a result of Barrick’s activities. There is also significant artisanal coal mining in the area. These small-scale mines are often a source of contamination, they are not monitored and typically have no environmental controls in place.

The Impact of Canadian Mining in Latin America and Canada’s responsibility was submitted to the Inter-American Commission during a recent meeting with representatives from two of the Work Group members – the DPLF and the Jose Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective (CAJAR), from Colombia – following a formal hearing at the Commission last October on mining and human rights in the Americas.

Between 50% and 70% of all mining in Latin America is now done by Canadian firms, the report states, and as of 2012 70% of shares issued by the mining industry worldwide went through the Toronto Stock Exchange.