The Justin Trudeau government threw its diplomatic weight behind Canada’s most controversial mining company in the country where it’s committed its worst abuses. Canadian officials threatened to cut off aid to Tanzania and justified Barrick Gold’s killings, according to newly released internal government documents.
Barrick Gold’s African subsidiary, Acacia Mining, was embroiled in a major political conflict in the east African nation in 2017. With growing evidence of its failure to pay royalties and tax, Acacia was condemned by the president, had its exports restricted and slapped with a massive tax bill. In May 2017 a government panel concluded that Acacia significantly under-reported the percentage of gold and copper in mineral sand concentrates it exported. The next month a government commission concluded that foreign mining firms’ failure to declare revenues had cost Tanzania $100 billion. According to the research, from 1998 to March 2017 the Tanzanian government lost between 68.6 trillion and 108.5 trillion shillings in revenue from mineral concentrates.
The controversy over Barrick’s exports led President John Magufuli to fire the minister of mining and the board of the Minerals Audit Agency. Tanzania’s parliament also voted to review mining contracts and to block companies from pursuing the country in international trade tribunals.
While the political battle over royalty payments grew, human rights violations continued unabated at Barrick’s North Mara mine. A MiningWatch fact-finding mission discovered that “new cases have come to light of serious un-remedied harm related to encounters between victims and mine security and police who guard the mine under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the companies involved and the Tanzanian Police Force. New cases documented in June 2017 include: loss of limbs, loss of eyesight, broken bones, internal injuries, children hit by flying blast rocks, and by teargas grenades thrown by mine security as they chase so-called intruders into the nearby villages. As in past years, villagers reported severe debilitating beatings, commonly with gun butts and wooden batons. Some are seriously wounded by teargas ‘bombs,’ or by so-called rubber bullets. Others are shot, including from behind. As in past years there were a number of deaths.”
In 2016 a government inquiry reported that the police had killed 65 people and injured 270 during a decade of clashes at the North Mara gold mine. (The company admitted to a slightly lower number while Tanzanian human rights groups estimated as many 300 mine-related deaths.) In March UK-bssed Watchdog RAID reported at least four more recent deaths at the mine.
Most of the victims have been impoverished villagers who scratch rocks for tiny bits of gold and who often mined these territories prior to Barrick’s arrival. The mine had agreements with local police to provide security at the site, but villagers complained of excessive violence by the officers. The Financial Times reported that not a single police officer or security guard working for the company had been killed on duty.
Internal emails uncovered through Access to Information legislation in 2019 showed that officials in Ottawa and staff at the embassy in Tanzania were little concerned with allegations of human rights abuses at Barrick’s mine. Instead, they focused almost entirely on defending the mining powerhouse in its tax dispute with the government.
Recently the Globe and Mail Report on Business revealed the extent to which Canadian diplomats worked with the firm in “Canadian foreign aid was discussed during Barrick tax dispute in Tanzania, internal e-mails show”. As part of assisting Barrick in their dispute with the government, officials repeatedly raised Canada’s aid to Tanzania, which was then the country’s fourth biggest donor. Talking points to prepare Canadian High Commissioner Ian Myles for a meeting with Tanzania’s mining minister suggested he defend Acacia’s human rights record by stating the company had taken “important steps” to address alleged abuses.
Amidst the violence at North Mara and escalating battle over unpaid tax, Myles set up a meeting between Barrick Executive Chairman John Thornton and President Magufuli. After accompanying Barrick’s head to the encounter in Dar es Salaam, Myles told the press: “Canada is very proud that it expects all its companies to respect the highest standards, fairness and respect for laws and corporate social responsibility. We know that Barrick is very much committed to those values.”
A Tanzania Business Ethics columnist was not happy with the High Commissioner’s intervention. In response, Samantha Cole wrote: “It is so insulting that these Canadians and British still think they can trick us with their fancy nonsense ‘spin’ politics and dishonesty. What values is Barrick committed to? Have our nation not witnessed with our own eyes killings? rape? arson and burning our homes? destruction to our environment? poison in our water? corruption? fraud? hundreds of legal cases with local Tanzanian companies who are abused, bullied and suffer? and the list goes on. What ‘values’ is Ambassador Myles boasting about? How dishonest and unethical to stand there and lie about values. He should rather say NOTHING because every country where Barrick operates has a long, long list of illegal activities and crimes.”
Lobbying for Barrick Gold in Tanzania is yet another example of the Trudeau government’s morally bankrupt foreign policy.
On Sunday I will be speaking on “Canadian Mining in Africa: Looting a continent”