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Opening remarks to ‘Shout Out Against Mining Injustice’ conference, June 1

Opening remarks by Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow to the ‘Shout Out Against Mining Injustice conference on June 1 in Vancouver.

Last year, I travelled to Guatemala to visit the site of Goldcorp’s Marlin Mine, an operation so controversial, it is called the “Project of death” by the local community. Marlin practices open pit, mountaintop removal and cyanide leaching to extract its copper and gold and uses and destroys 250,000 litres of water every day, contaminating the local water supply and endangering the health of the local indigenous people.

Such is the company’s reputation that the Inter American Commission on Human Rights has asked the Guatemalan government to suspend operations of the mine, something the government has refused to do.

When I was there, I met Diadora Hernandez who was shot in the face in front of her five year old grand daughter by a masked thug after refusing to sell her subsistence plot of land to the company, and left for dead. Diadora recovered and is still on her land, but she told me her life is in danger every day.

Diadora, and German Chub, a young man paralysed from the waist down after being shot by thugs looking for activists fighting another Canadian mining company, and thousands like them throughout the Americas, have no recourse, not from their police or governments and certainly not from ours, whose sole mandate regarding mining is to promote the interests of Canadian mining companies no matter what their behaviour.

The extractive mineral industry is exploding around the world. Mining Watch reports that every year, mining companies dump 180 million tonnes of toxic mine waste into oceans, lakes and rivers – 1.5 times the amount of municipal solid waste the US sends to landfills every year.

The tailings contain as many as 3 dozen dangerous chemicals, including arsenic, lead, mercury, and cyanide.

The global mining industry is becoming more and more contentious in its relentless search for new solutions, leaving in its wake increasing environmental and human rights abuses.

However, it is Canada’s “dirty little secret” we are gathered here to talk about tonight, namely that the biggest and worst mining operations in the world are Canadian.

Seventy five per cent of the world’s mining companies are headquartered in Canada and they are growing. The industry predicts $130 billion in new investments in the next five years.

With the price of gold at an all time high, the stakes are huge as are the profits. Barrick Gold has grown from a company worth $642 million a decade ago to $4.5 billion today. Its CEO, the highest paid CEO in Canada, made $24 million two years ago. That comes to $13,000 an hour! Not far behind is the CEO of Goldcorp who earned $11.4 million.

A study commissioned by the industry and leaked to the media said that Canadian mining companies are “far and away” the worst human rights and environmental abusers of any country.

And do they ever have a friend in Stephen Harper, who refuses to put any leash whatsoever on their practices. Canadian mining companies are notorious for refusing to cooperate in investigations in Latin America that involve violence against local anti-mining activists, knowing they face no penalty back in Canada at all.

Harper and his government defeated a private member’s bill that would have given the government limited authority to at least withhold funding from some companies charged with violations by local communities in the global South.

And they are aggressively promoting trade agreements that give mining corporations the right to sue governments if their right to profit is limited by new environmental or human rights rules. The government is deep into CETA – the Canada EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement – that will give big European corporations permanent access to Canadian mineral resources as well as the water it takes to mine them.

The same corporate friendly trade rules give Canadian mining companies similar rights in other countries. Vancouver based Pacific Rim is suing the government of El Salvador for refusing to grant the company a license for a gold mine that would have polluted 10,000 litres of water a day.

Now, the Harper government is cutting its ties with traditional aid and development groups such as KAIROS and openly adopting Canadian mining companies and cooperative charities (who might better be described as enablers) as their new partners in delivering aid to countries in need.

This shift is coordinated with the departments of International Trade and Natural Resources to ensure that all aid is now tied to a plan that directly fuels economic growth and international trade at home and benefits Canadian mining companies abroad.

Further, the Harper government has made it clear that it will tie aid to those countries who make our mining corporations welcome with friendly investment policies. CIDA has already approved $50 million in projects linked to the mining industry since the Harper government took power.

But the trend is clear and growing: Canadian aid money is leaving Africa and other places desperate for help and moving to mining-rich countries in Latin America where Canada has mining interests.

This means that Canadian tax dollars, aid agencies and even some embassies may be implicated in the violent suppression of local anti-mining communities in the global South. It is certain that this government has put a huge chill on advocacy here in Canada.

Shame on the Harper government! This is a wicked policy. These mining companies are seen as our ambassadors in Latin America and bring us shame.

The stage is being set for further power to be granted to the mining industry back here in Canada. The Harper government is gutting environmental assessments and the Fisheries Act for his friends in the energy and mining sector. This is the most anti-environmental government in our history, wiping out decades of protections built by past generations.

The new regime coincides with a massive extractive industries invasion across Canada. In Ontario, it is called the Ring of Fire, 5000 square kilometres of pristine wilderness to be opened up for $30 billion worth of chromite mining.

In Quebec, it is Plan Nord, a plan so vast, it is expected to bring in $80 billion in investment. Plan Nord would allow forest and mining exploration in 1.2 million square kilometres – 72 per cent of Quebec’s geographic area!

Not to be outdone, the British Columbia government is looking at approvals for over 60 mining projects, some new, some expanded. These include:

The Ajax Mine, an open pit operation on the doorstep of Kamloops expected to yield 500 million tonnes of copper.

The Raven Coal Mine on Vancouver Island, that would produce 1 million tonnes of highly bituminous coal each year and pose a permanent threat to the local watersheds.

The Taseko Mine, a huge open pit copper and gold mine near Fish Lake, home to the Chilcotin people that was rejected once by the federal government but the company has come back for another try under Stephen Harper’s new, corporate-friendly environmental rules.

Christie Clark’s government is planning to build a massive 344 kilometre industrial transmission line into West Central BC all to promote industrial and mining operations (11 mines already planned) in this beautiful wilderness, headwaters of three mighty rivers and home to salmon and grizzly habitat.

If you hear anger in my voice, it is because I am angry. These stories sometimes bring me to tears. But our dear friend Margaret Atwood would remind us that the world seen clearly, is seen through tears.

We have come here tonight to expose the practices and profits of an industry out of control and the governments who aid and abet them.

We have come together to say we understand the first and worst assaults are on indigenous territories, here in Canada and across the Americas.

We pledge tonight that we will not stand by and let First Nations communities struggle alone against this abuse.

We also come together to support MP Peter Julian’s private member’s bill to bring the rule of law and public accountability to the Canadian mining industry.

And we have come together to build a powerful peoples’ network of solidarity and action that will challenge these mining giants and their current immunity from justice.

Those with power never cede it without a fight. Let’s give them one!