A seminar at McGill on cement production was interrupted last Wednesday, when 15 protestors staged a die-in.
The seminar was organized by the McGill Stochastic Mine Planning Laboratory (Cosmo) in conjunction with the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum (CIM).
Wednesday’s speaker, Julio Villon, the chief of Raw Materials for the Peruvian cement corporation Cementos Lima, had been invited to present on cement production in Peru.
Kevin Paul, a McGill student protesting at the seminar, said the action lasted thirty minutes.
“We wanted to express our opposition both to McGill’s complicity in the environmental exploitation that results from the mining industry and the mining industry in Peru specifically,” he said.
Peruvian President Ollanta Humala declared a state of emergency in a northern region of the country on December 4. This declaration followed over a week of increasingly violent protests against a $4.8 billion gold and copper mining project that locals say endangers their water supply. The declaration restricts civil liberties, such as the right to free assembly, and allows arrests without warrants in four provinces of the northern Cajamarca state.
Cosmo lab administrator, Deborah Frankland, asked protestors for their names as they filed into the classroom in the Frank Dawson Adams building. She said Cosmo asks people to confirm their attendance at seminars in order to provide catering.
“They completely ignored me. They were very rude. They must have their reasons for their anger as well but, on my side, I couldn’t communicate with them,” Frankland said.
Ethan Feldman, a McGill student and Daily staffer who participated in the die-in, said some protestors were “hassled immediately” upon their entrance with snide comments that they ignored.
David Francisco Machuca Mory, a research associate at Cosmo originally from Peru, attended the seminar and said, “The protest to me seemed a little bit out of place because Cementos Lima is a Peruvian company that produces cement for internal consumption.”
“Their message wasn’t clear,” he added.
Two videos, filmed during the action, were released to The Daily last week. One video shows Feldman reading a statement prepared prior to the die-in.
The statement objected to the project, noting a connection between US-based Newmont Mining Corporation, the project’s majority owner, and the University.
Ian H. Douglas, reserves group executive at Newmont, sits on Cosmo’s International Industry Advisory Board. The board acts as a think tank and meets twice a year, according to Cosmo’s website.
Dimitrakouplos said he was “mind-boggled” that Douglas’ name “comes up in such an ignorant way.” He said Douglas, in addition to having much industry expertise at Cosmo, is a “huge benefactor” for McGill. His family provided funds for McGill’s Douglas Residence and Douglas Hospital.
The protestors’ statement also objected to a De Beers mining operation outside of Attawapiskat First Nation in Northern Ontario, environmental damage caused by the production of cement, and corporate funding in universities.
The video shows Frankland informing protestors that she called security and asking them to leave. Feldman responded, “We know what security can do. It’s nothing.”
“The only thing that you’ve proven is that you’re retarded,” Frankland says later in the video.
In an interview with The Daily, Frankland spoke to her comments in the video.
“That’s the kind of thing they have to expect when they come in and invade people’s privacy, and choose not to communicate person-to-person but rather to protest,” she said.
The video also shows an unidentified man yelling for them to shut up. “It’s none of your business. Get out of here, right now,” he said.
During the die-in, two McGill security agents appeared at the classroom doorway. According to Feldman, agents spoke with some protestors and attempted to gather IDs.
Frankland said the head of security was also at the scene. “They told me that this is the same group that’s been going around causing problems all over campus.”
In the second video released to The Daily, a security agent addresses protestors lying on the floor. According to Feldman, the agent asked the protestor filming to stop.
Protestors reportedly left voluntarily a short time after this video was filmed, and the seminar resumed.
Dimitrakouplos said he thought protestors were “not fully informed.”
“Anything is made, eighty or ninety per cent out of raw materials that you extract from the earth. So what am I supposed to do? Eliminate mining?” he said. “This is our civilization as it is today.”
Feldman said the protestors’ goal was to draw attention to the “bad aspects” of the mining industry.
“It’s not like we went there to occupy it and demand that we’re not leaving until mining is over,” he said.
Speaking to the environmental impacts of mining, Mory said, “I agree, all mining has done lot’s of damage…but we’re trying to change that.”
“[Wednesday’s protestors] are going to extremes, to generalizations, simplifications, and I wish they would be open more to dialogue, to understand, to listen without prejudice to our position,” Mory added.
Jean Vavrek, executive director for the Montreal branch of CIM, told The Daily that Wednesday’s protest was “new” for CIM. “It’s the first time I [have heard] of any kind of protest of any of our activities on campus or in our branches [on] a small scale.”
Vavrek has been working with CIM since the mid-nineties. He noted that, even around CIM’s larger annual events, protests are rare. “To have somebody step up like this is really unusual.”