British Columbia Teachers for Peace and Global Education
A Provincial Specialist Association of the BC Teachers' Federation
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Canadian Mining Companies and Investors Making a Killing

By Grahame Russell

 
On a given day, a Canadian might read the business section of her favourite newspaper or on-line news service, to check the price of gold or nickel and see how her investments are doing. Yet, the price of metals is not only the profits they bring to company directors, shareholders and other investors, from private equity funds to pension funds like the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), but also the prices that people pay. In terms of environmental destruction, harm to personal health and human rights violations. In today’s global order, where trans-national companies often operate with immunity from prosecution and accountability, shareholder and investor profits go, all too often, hand in hand with environmental destruction, harm to personal health and various human rights violations.

HUDBAY MINERALS & NICKEL MINING IN GUATEMALA:

Violent evictions, gang rapes & the killing of Adolfo Ich

The bcIMC has $281,061,874.50 and the CPP $42,000,000, invested in HudBay.

In January 2007, Skye Resources (bought by HudBay Minerals in 2008) participated in the violent evictions of a number of indigenous Mayan Qeqchi communities in the municipality of El Estor in Eastern Guatemala). 

Hundreds of huts were burned to the ground; all personal property was destroyed or stolen; community member’s crops and animals were destroyed or stolen. Hundreds of families – young and old, men and women – fled into the hills and forest for weeks, before returning to rebuild their huts and replant their subsistence crops. These are their ancestral lands long before mining companies arrived in the 1950s claiming “ownership”. On September 27, 2009, Adolfo Ich, a Mayan Qeqchi teacher and community leader in El Estor, was captured by HudBay’s security guards, hacked with machetes and then shot. Hours later, family members found him dead in the company building where the security guards had dragged him.

GOLDCORP INC & GOLD MINING IN GUATEMALA:

The attempted killing of Diodora Hernandez

Since 2005, Goldcorp Inc has been operating a very profitable and harmful open-pit, cyanide leaching gold mine in the Mayan Mam region of western Guatemala; a mine strongly opposed by much of the local population. Since 2000, they have operated a similar mine in central Honduras, with most of the same harms and violations occurring, and with the same local opposition.

At 7pm, July 7, 2010, in the rural community of Sacmuj, two men came to the small hut of Diodora Hernández asking for coffee. As Diodora was bringing them cups of coffee, one man shot her in the right eye and ran off into the night.Miraculously, Diodora survived. After 3 months in the hospital, she is back in her community, with a prosthetic eye, still opposing the expansion of Goldcorp’s mine onto her land. Goldcorp, a Canadian-American company, acknowledged the men had worked in its mine, but deny any responsibility for the attempted assassination.

PACIFIC RIM & GOLD MINING IN EL SALVADOR:

The killing of four community members

In July 2009, the body of Marcelo Rivera, a teacher and community leader, was found dumped in a well. He had been ‘disappeared’ weeks before. Signs of torture were found on his body, including burn marks; he was missing toe and finger nails.

On December 20, 2009, Ramiro Rivera Gomez and Felicíta Echeverría were killed. On December 26, 2009, Dora Sorto Recinos (8 months pregnant) was murdered in the community of Trinidad.

These killings occurred in the department of Cabañas, bordering Honduras, where Pacific Rim Mining Corp., a Canadian-American company, wants to mine for gold. Prevented from mining by widespread opposition, Pacific Rim is now using a World Bank “mediation” procedure to sue the government of El Salvador for $100 million in “lost profits”. No one has been held accountable for the killings, neither in the World Bank “mediation” process (where murder charges can’t be filed), nor in any court in El Salvador or Canada.

IMMUNITY

These abuses happen because it is Canadian public policy to push for the expansion of our mining and investor interests around the world, while opposing attempts to enact enforceable civil and criminal law standards that could be used to hold our companies and investors accountable.

North American mining companies benefit from immunity from prosecution in many countries where they operate mines – like Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. 

In the sphere of international law, they operate with immunity.

And, they operate with immunity from prosecution and accountability in Canada where the major corporate and investor decisions are made. There are no criminal or civil laws on the books to hold Canadian companies and investors accountable for harm or violations caused directly or indirectly by their business operations elsewhere.

Over the past few years, there were efforts in Canada to pass legislation - Bill C-300 – that would have provided an judicial framework for some government oversight and possible sanction (withdrawal of public funds a company might be receiving) in the case of mining company wrong-doing. Bill C-300 would not have provided for criminal law sanctions where crimes were committed; it would not have provided for civil law sanctions, or for remedies to the victims of mining company activities if wrong doings and harms were proven. Even at that, Bill C-300 was defeated in October 2010.

Recently filed civil cases in Toronto - “Choc v. HudBay Minerals” (for the killing of Adolfo Ich) - are based on common law remedies and provide a possible crack in the Canadian wall of immunity from prosecution and legal accountability, and will need substantial political and financial support. 

The DOUBLE-STANDARD This opposition to enacting criminal and civil legislation to hold our companies accountable is self-serving and hypocritical. I wager that the mining company executives, investors and politicians who opposed the enactment of enforceable legislation swear by the values of democracy and the rule of law – just not when applied to their corporate and investment activities abroad. Were these executives, investors and politicians victims themselves in their home communities of environmental and health and human rights violations caused by corporate activities, they would demand nothing less than full legal accountability and sanctions for the wrong doing and remedy for the harms and losses.

PUBLIC POLICY ISSUE

It is a public policy issue. Canadian governments, independent of which party is in power, support the expansion of Canadian mining and investor interests across the world, claiming that mining is good for “development”, while ignoring or outright denying that Canadian companies have directly and indirectly caused harm and violations to communities around the world.

INVESTOR’S ISSUE

It is an investment issue. Investors from the wealthier sectors of society, and their private investment funds, through to a majority of Canadians with deductions paid into federal and provincial pension funds, benefit from the profits that mining companies – and other resource extraction companies and weapons producers – generate around the world. Yet, there is little demand from investors that corporate activities be regulated by enforceable environmental, health and human rights standards. Assurances of “responsible investing” by pension trustees and the management of bcIMC, for example, amount to little more than ‘window dressing’ in an attempt to hide what is really happening in the marketplace.

Issues in Culture and Media

With notable exceptions, our media relegates corporate and investor issues to the business and financial pages and does not properly report on environmental destruction, harm to personal health and other human rights violations that Canadian companies can and do cause.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT UNJUST ENRICHMENT?

Most people would not, I believe, agree with unjust enrichment - the fact that their investments (private and/or public pension funds) benefit from corporate operations that are directly or indirectly causing environmental destruction, harm to personal health, and other human rights violations.

Until Canadian citizens hold our investment funds, corporations and government accountable to abide by enforceable environment, health and r human rights standards, in all business and investment activities, at home and abroad; then the price of these metals will remain profitable for companies, shareholders and investors, and deadly for communities around the world.

Grahame Russell is a non-practising lawyer, an Adjunct Professor in the Geography Program at UNBC (University of Northern British Columbia), and author since 1995. He is a co-director of Rights Action. Rights Action funds supports community development, environmental defense, disaster response and human rights projects in Guatemala and Honduras, as well as Chiapas, El Salvador and Haiti. To learn more about these issues, in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, and about the education and activism going on across Canada, contact Grahame (info@rightsaction.org(www.rightsaction.org). For more information about Canadian mining related issues and struggles around the world and in Canada (www.miningwatch.ca)

"Until Canadian citizens hold our investment funds, corporations and government accountable to abide by enforceable environment, health and r human rights standards, in all business and investment activities, at home and abroad; then the price of these metals will remain profitable for companies, shareholders and investors, and deadly for communities around the world."