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Concordia students host forum on conflict minerals

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Smuggling minerals like tin, tungsten, and coltan out of countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) helps to finance conflict in the region.

Last Tuesday the Concordia Initiative for a Conflict-free Campus (CICC) and Leander Schneider, associate professor in Concordia’s department of Political Science co-hosted a forum to highlight this issue.

These minerals – often referred to as conflict minerals – are used in the production of cell phones and various other electronic products. The money earned from their sales finances the warring groups who control the mines, and enables them to buy weapons and ammunition, proliferating the conflict.

Students Melissa Kabasele and Aidan Pine started the CICC six months ago after approaching Sustainable Concordia about the issue of conflict minerals.

Speaking after the forum, Pine talked about the global importance of the issue.

“The diversity of the crowd at the forum was a testament to how this isn’t a French issue or an English issue or even just a Congolese issue. It’s a human issue,” he said.

According to UN estimates, 5.4 million people have died and 300,000 women have been systematically raped since 1998, making the civil war in the DRC the deadliest armed conflict since World War II.

“It’s something that, whether you’re an activist or not, whether you buy electronics or not, simply being human beings makes us responsible,” said Pine.

Frank Poulsen, Danish filmmaker of Blood in the Mobile and one of the forum’s guest speakers, talked at length about the experience of filming in the DRC and confronting his own cell phone company about conflict minerals.

“They don’t even know their own supply chain,” said Poulsen. “The solution on this is definitely not to leave it for the big corporations, but to make legislation.”

Paul Dewar, MP for the Ottawa Centre riding, spoke at the event about Canada’s role in the the proliferation of these minerals.

“Canada is not just some bystander in this issue. The Toronto Stock Exchange has the highest concentration of mining investment in the entire planet,” said Dewar. “We’re taking resources out,” he said.

Dewar sponsored the private member’s bill C-571, the Trade in Conflict Minerals Act. If passed, this act would create a due diligence mechanism for Canadian companies to ensure they are not purchasing minerals that finance conflicts.

However, due to the fall of the Canadian government last Friday, the bill will be scratched from the parliamentary agenda. It will have to be reintroduced after the election.

Canadian mining giant Barrick Gold is currently suing controversial Canadian author Alain Denault and his publishing house Les Éditions Écosociété for $11 million for defamation stemming from his book.