Tarnished image


Pontiac Perspective  Peter J. Gauthier

Pontiac Perspective  Peter J. Gauthier

Canadian mining companies have a major footprint in the international world of mineral exploration and extraction. In fact Canada is home for 75 percent of the world’s mining and mineral exploration companies. Its stock exchanges trade 40 percent of the world’s mineral and exploration capital. But behind these figures is another gruesome picture.

In the past few years major protests against Canadian mining companies have occurred in Columbia, Greece, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Dominican Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Israel, Tanzania, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Papua New Guinea, Democratic Republic of Congo and a number of other locations that have not made the headlines. The charges have concerned serious human rights violations (rape, murder, violation of labour rights), environmental pollution, bribing corrupt politicians, and economic exploitation.

In the face of well-documented evidence, Canadian mining concerns claim that these incidents are few and unrepresentative of the majority of Canadian overseas mining operations. However studies by The Canadian Centre For The Study Of Resource Conflict has shown that violations by Canadian mining companies is four times larger than that of Australian mining companies who placed second on the list of country-of-origin for serious violations. In short, corporate social responsibility is not a hallmark of Canadian overseas mining operations.

There are several reasons for this questionable record. The first is the issue of corporate governance. Most mining companies are registered in provinces or territories that do not have any national requirements for executives or shareholders. The result is that many “Canadian” mining companies are nothing more than a Canadian mailing address. The executives and shareholders have no connection to Canada other than to take advantage of our easy registration rules. They also feel no obligation to follow Canadian law and practice in foreign dealings. Added to this is the fact that the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and Canada’s Foreign Affairs department have a strong policy of supporting any proposal for foreign mining development by all Canadian companies regardless of the nationality of their owners or their record of foreign adventures.

And most significantly, Canada is the only industrial country that does not allow people or agencies that have suffered from mining activities to have their cases judged in the country where the mining company is registered. This means that victims of Canadian mining company exploitation have no recourse to justice if the country where the activity occurs has a weak or corrupt judicial system. Even more troubling, where countries or concerned groups have attempted legal action, the Canadian mining companies have made application to international courts claiming violation of their corporate rights.

Recently, Prime Minister Harper has announced that all Canadian mining companies will have to disclose any payments or financial deals they make with foreign countries. However, this limited attempt at transparency for Canadian mining companies does not address the real misdeeds of Canadian mining companies in their foreign adventures.