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Canadian mining goes on the offensive

Protest

UPDATE: July 23, 2015

OTTAWA – The United Nations’ first human rights report card on Canada in 10 years was released Thursday, with some not so flattering results. Along with criticism regarding gender equality, violence against women, missing and murdered aboriginal women, Bill C-51, and police use of force, the report had this to say about Canadian mining operations abroad:

The UN Committee expressed concerns “about allegations of human rights abuses by Canadian companies operating abroad, in particular mining corporations and about the inaccessibility to remedies by victims of such violations.” It recommends “establishing an independent mechanism with powers to investigate human rights abuses by such corporations abroad.

The full report can be downloaded here.

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OTTAWA – Canadian mining company Gabriel Resources has gone on the offensive in Romania, impatient that they have not yet received the go-ahead to build four open-pit gold mines that would destroy four mountaintops and wipe out three villages in the effort to obtain 314 tons of gold and 1500 tons of silver in the town of Rosia Montana.

According to Canadian Mining Weekly, at issue is Romania’s refusal to grant an environmental permit.

The project has drawn fierce criticism from environmental and civil rights groups, who have been arguing that it will destroy ancient Roman sites and lead to ecological disaster. But because Gabriel Resources has already invested in the proposed project ($550 million of a proposed $1.5 billion construction budget), it has the right under investor-state dispute settlement provisions (ISDS) in a bilateral treaty between Romania and Canada to sue the Romanian government.

“Investor-state dispute settlement provisions are a Pandora’s box,” says Sujata Dey, Trade campaigner for the Council of Canadians. “Canada has suffered under NAFTA, where we are the most sued nation, and we will suffer under other trade agreements with these provisions. They give undue power to already powerful transnational corporations at the expense of environmental and human rights. We need a new approach to trade agreements and we need it now.”

“Countries have the right to decide what policies they need to protect the best interests of their people and their natural resources,” says Maude Barlow, National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians. “The fact that this is being eroded with each successive trade agreement – NAFTA, CETA, TPP – should tell you something about the urgency of the situation.”

Canada has suffered domestically from these corporate lawsuits. Recently, an arbitration panel ruled in favour of Bilcon, an American company who sought to develop a quarry in Nova Scotia in spite of strong environmental concerns. It is now seeking $300 million in damages. According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Canada is the most sued country under NAFTA, with claims totalling in the hundreds of millions.

Abroad is another story, where Canadian mining companies play the role of aggressor both on the land and in the courts in a number of countries including Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Columbia, Chile, Peru and Papua New Guinea. A coalition of groups from Canada and El Salvador, including the Council of Canadians, have been pressuring Vancouver-based Pacific Rim to drop their $301-million lawsuit against the government of El Salvador. Currently experiencing severe water and environmental stress, El Salvador has halted all mining efforts in an attempt to stave off crisis. Under investor-state provisions, however, this is cause to go to court.

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IMAGE: Romanian protestors, 2013. Flickr user Swithun Crowe.