Mining feminism to support Canadian corporations abroad 

An important component of Justin Trudeau’s international branding exercise is his “feminist foreign policy”. Government officials emphasize feminism/women’s empowerment in public statements, diplomatic twitter accounts, Global Affairs websites, etc. As part of these efforts, government officials have increasingly promoted women’s role in the patriarchal mining industry.

The Trudeau government’s feminist rhetoric on mining largely seeks to legitimate aid to Canada’s odious global extractive behemoth. Three weeks ago, for example, international trade minister Mary Ng tweeted a photo with company officials and the statement, “Add women. Change mining. This is the kind of sentiment which sets Torex apart and sets the standard for the mining industry, in Canada and abroad in Mexico.” A few days later Canada’s ambassador to Ecuador Stephen Potter participated in a Women in Mining event in that country to support an “inclusive mining industry”. In the Spring Canada’s ambassador to Peru Louis Marcotte spoke at a feminist mining forum and last month tweeted “Did You Know: Women only represent 6% of the workforce in the mining sector in Peru. So much talent that is not being used… But things are changing thanks to initiatives such as those advanced by La Sociedad Nacional de Minería, Petróleo y Energía, Australian embassy in Peru and Women in Mining Peru.” Three months ago Canada’s ambassador to Panama Kim Ursu posted, “Thank you, Women in Mining, for the opportunity to dine with this inspiring group of leaders in Latin American mining. Increasing representation and diversity will build the sustainability of this important sector.”

While a feminist lens is much needed in the male-dominated sector, the Liberals are mostly putting a ‘progressive’ gloss on their encouragement of corporate pillaging. Minister Ng boosted Torex Gold despite the company’s highly controversial mine in southern Mexico displacing hundreds and being linked to the killing of four workers involved in union activities. In February the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability actually published a case study headlined “Torex Gold Resources Inc. – Freedom of association and threats of violence/death”.

In her tweet calling for increased “representation” ambassador Ursu tagged Barrick Gold. From Tanzania to Papua New Guinea hundreds of women have been sexually assaulted by Barrick employees. While the company has provided nominal compensation to some sexual assault victims, Barrick founder Peter Munk dismissed the controversy over its operations in Papua New Guinea in 2011 by claiming “gang rape is a cultural habit” in the Oceania country.

Sexual assault plagues many communities near Canadian-run mines. The ecological destruction caused by mining also disproportionately burdens women. As the primary caregivers, the deleterious health effects of mining pollution generally fall on women’s shoulders.

Various initiatives have been proposed to curtail Canadian mining companies’ international abuses. After promising to take the issue seriously in their 2015 election campaign the Liberals committed to a rigorous corporate ombudsperson in a 2018 proposal. But, when the industry pushed back, the Liberals broke their promise and created a toothless ombud’s position, which acts as little more than an advisor to the trade minister.

At the same time the government has ignored a proposal, put forward in a Liberal MP’s private members bill, to enable those harmed by Canadian corporations abroad to seek redress in Canadian courts. (Over more than a decade eleven indigenous Guatemalan women, claiming they were gang-raped during an eviction orchestrated by Toronto-based Hudbay Minerals, have been pursuing a case in Ontario court that has broken legal ground on foreign suits.)

Rather than adopting legislation to curtail mining abuses, which disproportionately impact women, the Liberals have aggressively promoted highly retrograde mining firms just because they are Canadian based. Their feminist mining rhetoric is a really just a way to justify those immoral policies and should anger all actual feminists.

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