Commentary  C-300 is just the beginning

The environmental and human rights abuses wrought by Canadian mining companies need to end. Bill C-300 – which will come before the House of Commons this week – is a first step in that direction. In an attempt to hold mining companies responsible for human rights abuses connected to their operations overseas, the bill could revoke federal funding from offending corporations.

Around three-quarters of the world’s mining companies are based in Canada, which means this country has a particularly deep connection to the harmful effects of global extraction. These corporations account for a significant part of Canada’s economic strength – but that strength should not come at the cost of human rights, here or abroad. It is the government’s responsibility to ensure mining companies do not violate those rights.

Gold mining companies based in Canada like Barrick Gold, Goldcorp, and New Gold (formerly Metallica Resources) have all been linked to severe environmental degradation due to their extraction operations across Latin America. In Mexico, residents of San Luis Potosí have been battling New Gold for the environmental destruction – contamination of water, air, and soil – wreaked by New Gold’s mining operations. Even more disturbingly, in 2009, nine community activists across Latin America were killed after campaigning against Canadian mining operations in the region.

Canadian companies have a long history of complicity with human rights abuses. In Papua New Guinea, for instance, Toronto-based Barrick Gold’s activities have led to the contamination of water sources and the erosion of arable land. Barrick’s private security forces in the region have additionally been connected to civilian rapes and killings.

At McGill, students in history professor Daviken Studnicki-Gizbert’s McGill Research Group for the Investigation of Canadian Mining in Latin America have been campaigning for bill C-300, even hand-delivering petitions urging its passage to parliamentarians. McGill law professor Richard Janda also played an integral role in helping draft the bill. And last week, students held a protest on campus against mining companies’ abuses.

Bill C-300 is a strong and admirable beginning, but it is by no means a solution to the massive destruction caused by Canadian-funded and run mining operations. The bill only applies to companies’ operations abroad. However, mining operations within this country have also committed crimes – companies like Vale (formerly Vale Inco), the Canadian subsidiary of the world’s second largest mining company, have notorious records for anti-union activity in Canada. During a year-long strike, Vale broke the picket with scabs and harassed the workers by having them followed.

After years of impunity, Canadian mining companies are facing a growing, transnational movement to subject their activities to harsh scrutiny. For example, victims of Vale’s operations around the world met in Rio de Janeiro this past April. Representatives from Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Ontario, as well as from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Germany, France, Italy, Mozambique, New Caledonia, Peru, and Taiwan announced their intent to consolidate their resources in order to monitor and resist Vale’s activities.

Bill C-300 faces severe obstacles. Last April, it passed its second reading by a margin of just four votes. Moreover, a coalition of companies, backed by lobbies like the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, is fighting strongly against it. While the Conservatives are strongly opposed to the bill, the NDP, Bloc Québécois, and Liberals are divided.

To ensure that the federal government takes this small – but momentous – first step in reigning in Canadian mining companies’ abuses, it’s essential that the Liberal party swing its support firmly behind the bill. To do your part, write to the party leaders to voice your enthusiasm for Bill C-300:
Michael Ignatieff, Liberal –
Jack Layton, NDP –
Gilles Duceppe, Bloc Québécois –