Category Archives: mining

Should Canadian foreign policy continue to be enmeshed with mining interests abroad?

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“Should Canadian foreign policy continue to be enmeshed with mining interests abroad?”

That is one of 10 questions put forward in an open letter calling for a “fundamental reassessment of Canadian foreign policy” following Canada’s second consecutive defeat for a seat on the United Nations Security Council. The letter organized by the of Canadian Foreign Policy Institute has been signed by hundreds of politicians, artists, activists and academics including David Suzuki, Naomi Klein, Stephen Lewis and Linda McQuaig as well as sitting MPs Leah Gazan, Niki Ashton, Alexandre Boulerice and Paul Manly and former MPs Roméo Saganash, Libby Davies, Jim Manly and Svend Robinson.

Mining is remarkably important to Canadian foreign policy. While it may be of tertiary concern in relations with the US, China or Britain, the industry is of paramount importance to the Canadian diplomatic apparatus in dozens of countries. Even with a large, medium income, nation nearby.

Earlier this month leftist Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador complained about Canadian mining firms failing to pay their taxes and then a week later raised the issue during a call with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. 70 per cent of foreign-owned mining companies operating in Mexico are Canadian based and the embassy has repeatedly backed controversial Canadian mining projects.

Last week 50+ Ecuadorian organizations collectively criticized Canadian ambassador Sylvie Bédard for promoting mining as an economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Their open letter explains, “we are concerned by the fact that the representatives of the Canadian government have found an opportunity in this global pandemic, a pandemic which has produced irreparable damage and tragedy in Ecuador, to promote your country’s economic interests.”

Among a series of interventions in support of a sector in which Canadian companies dominate, the open letter cites a recent interview in which Ambassador Bédard praised mining companies for their “very Canadian way of doing business…especially with respect to their relationships with communities, what we call, responsible business conduct.” But, there have been numerous high profile conflicts between Canadian firms and local communities over the years and Mining Watch has reported on a number of recent disputes with Ecuadorian farmers and Indigenous peoples.

In some African countries mining is even more central to Canadian policy. In an article titled “‘Les compagnies minières canadiennes sont parmi les plus transparentes au monde’, selon Carol McQueen, ambassadrice du Canada au Burkina”, Canada’s ambassador told news site Lefaso.net that Canada is the largest investor in Burkina Faso. Referring to some $3.9 billion in assets, McQueen noted, “we do everything to preserve this wealth and see how production can continue despite these challenges [an attack that killed dozens of mining employees].”

Canada’s ambassador to the former French colony added that Burkina Faso “is lucky that Canada and Canadian mining companies are so present because they are among the most respectable and transparent companies in the world.” But, Canadian firms in Burkina Faso have been accused of various abuses.

Canada’s aid/diplomatic apparatus doesn’t simply support specific firms. It shapes mining codes and nurtures extractivism in countries where there is little or no mining. As part of a multi-year Canadian backed push to develop an industrial mining sector, Nigeria established a Precious Metals Buying Centre last week. The Canadian High Commissioner aided the initiative seeking to “stimulate necessary developments in and of the Gold & Precious Metals’ subsector of the Solid Minerals sector of the Nigerian economy.”

Two days after Canada lost its Security Council bid mining injustice activist Sakura Saunders tweeted, “the majority of the world’s mining companies are based in Canada without any laws preventing them from abusing human rights, Indigenous rights and environmental abuses, despite over a decade of fighting for such protections. Mining injustice is Canada’s foreign policy.” She is exaggerating, but not by much in many places.

For his part, Rick Salutin dismissed those who said Canada’s Security Council defeat was partly about “our mining companies that ravage African and Latin American countries.” While critical of mining firms, Salutin argues the Security Council defeat was all about Canada’s anti-Palestinian voting record at the UN. The Toronto Star columnist is right in saying Palestine was more important but wrong to downplay the extent to which mining has contributed to a negative perception of this country internationally. In recent years a half dozen UN bodies have called on Ottawa to hold Canadian mining companies accountable for their abuses abroad.

Since elites in most countries seek to cash in on mining its impact on the Security Council vote was less straightforward than Palestine (outside the US and Israel, no country saw an upside to Canada’s anti-Palestinian positions). As Bianca Mugyenyi put it in an Ottawa Citizen article titled “Why Black and brown countries may have rejected Canada’s security council bid”, “Canada is increasingly identified with mining companies internationally. While many among the African elite see benefits from foreign mining firms, they are also troubled by the community conflicts and ecological destruction often engendered by these companies as well as their tendency to skirt royalty and tax payments. Mining companies generally operate as though their only concern is making as much money as quickly as possible, yet Canadian diplomats all too often offer their assistance.”

The debate over mining’s impact on Canada’s international standing is significant. More important, however, is that Canadians debate weather this country’s foreign policy should “continue to be enmeshed with mining interests abroad?”

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Trudeau government seeks West African gold

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Despite the prime minister’s show of visiting a place where thousands of people were sold as commodities, the point of his trip was not to acknowledge the great wrong done to Africa during the slave trade but rather for Canadian companies to get their hands on Senegal’s resources.

During Justin Trudeau’s expedition to Senegal last month foreign minister François-Philippe Champagne “attended the issuance of operating licenses for Teranga and Barrick Gold alongside the minister of mines and geology, the minister of economy, planning & cooperation as well as the minister of environment of Senegal.”

Barrick Gold is Canada’s most controversial mining firm. Pick a continent and you will find a Barrick-run mine that has ravaged the environment and spurred social tension.

But, in Senegal Teranga Gold is the dominant player, operating the first industrial scale gold mine in the country. Taking its name from the Wolof word for “hospitality”, Teranga markets itself well. A search online generated a series of short videos and corporate social responsibility reports detailing the Toronto company’s purported good deeds and local support. But reality is more complicated. In 2010 a hundred soldiers were deployed to Teranga’s mine site to drive off long-standing artisanal miners whose digging helped the company determine where to prospect. One small-scale miner told Allo Dakar that “we prefer to die here rather than give the land to the company.” Despite the security presence, many continued to dig with the police periodically tear-gassing and arresting the artisanal miners.

According to Amnesty International’s “Mining and Human Rights in Senegal: Closing the Gaps in Protection”, a half-dozen families were displaced to make way for a Teranga waste disposal pond. They were given new homes a few kilometres away but felt their situation had significantly deteriorated. Amnesty documented another small community unhappy with Teranga and worried they would also be displaced as the mine expanded.

The mayor of a larger town, Sabadola, claimed the company misled the community. “At first we thought that we’d benefit from many things: electricity, housing and infrastructure,” said Mamadou Cissokho. “But we received none of that.” Instead, Cissokho decried the pulmonary infections caused by dust from the mine and the company’s encroachment on their land. “Even our fields, they took them. We do not know where to go. Certainly, they do this to suffocate us and to clear us off.”

In 2014 the director of Teranga’s Senegalese subsidiary, Macoumba Diop, was fired. His supporters told the press that Diop was let go because he protected Senegalese workers, largely confined to subordinate positions, from mistreatment by the foreign managers who were described as “colonialist”. In 2017 an employee died from an injury while working in the process plant of Teranga’s Sabodala mine.

Senegalese tax authorities accused Teranga of diverting funds to an offshore bank. In 2011 they claimed the Toronto-based company skipped out on $24 million in payments and then again failed to pay $2 million more in 2015.

Claiming the royalties mandated by Senegal were above the agreed upon rate, Teranga employed the services of former Québec Premier Jean Charest to navigate the issue with this active member of la Francophonie. “With his credibility and contacts, he was the right person to get the attention of the government and a fair deal for both sides,” Teranga CEO Richard Young told La Presse in 2013.

The controversy surrounding Teranga has failed to deter Canadian officials from backing the company. In early 2014 Canadian Ambassador Philippe Beaulne visited its mine with Senegalese president Macky Sall and Beaulne spoke during the public release of Teranga’s 2013 corporate social responsibility policy. In 2012 Prime Minister Stephen Harper met Teranga’s CEO and some other Canadian mining officials in Dakar. During the part of the meeting open to reporters the prime minister suggested, reported Canada.com, that Canadian companies’ “ethical practices gave them an edge over the competition.” Harper also told the press that Senegal “really has the opportunity to become the hub for Canadian investment in this entire region of Africa.” To prepare for an expansion in Canadian mining, Ottawa signed a foreign investment promotion and protection agreement (FIPA) with Senegal in 2014.

Canada has funded various mining projects in Senegal. Millions of dollars in Canadian aid has gone to a Senegalese school for geomatics (combining geography and information technology to map natural resources). In 2014 the federal government announced the launch of branch offices of a professional society, the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum, in Senegal and Burkina Faso. A press release stated: “The opening of a second office [in West Africa] allows Canada to further share best practices with the region and will make the knowledge and experience of Canadian miners, geologists and managers more available to their African counterparts.” Supported by the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service, the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum created the Institut Minier Ouest Africain. A series of other aid projects such as the 2016 “West Africa Governance and Economic Sustainability in Extractive Areas” supported mining initiatives in Senegal.

As with other countries in Africa, Ottawa is helping Canadian companies exploit Senegal’s minerals.

The PM’s trip to House of Slaves was a sideshow, what they want is the gold.

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Trudeau promotes mining exploitation in Africa

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The Trudeau government, just like the Harper Conservatives, has used Canadian foreign policy to protect the profits of wealthy mining companies against ordinary Africans desire to benefit from resource extraction.

During a recent visit Justin Trudeau announced negotiations on a Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) with Ethiopia. FIPAs empower international investors by giving corporations the right to sue governments — in private, investor-friendly tribunals — for pursuing policies that interfere with their profit making. As such, they undermine governments’ ability to democratically determine economic and ecological policy. (Since few African companies invest in Canada there is little chance Ottawa will face a suit or feel domestic policy pressure as a result of a FIPA with an African country.)

The Liberals have signed FIPAs with Nigeria, Moldova and negotiated them with a half dozen more states. Following his participation in the November 2018 Africa Investment Forum, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade, Omar Alghabra, wrote: “To further help Canadian companies compete and succeed in this thriving region, the Canadian government has negotiated foreign investment promotion and protection agreements (FIPAs) with Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Mali, Senegal and Tanzania. These agreements encourage increased bilateral investments between our countries by helping to reduce risk and by increasing investor confidence in our respective markets. We continue to advance FIPA negotiations with a number of other African countries.”

With African countries, FIPAs are overwhelming designed to protect mining companies. As an indication of how these bilateral investment treaties are driven by mining interests, the government has announced a number of them at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) conference in Toronto. In a March 2017 release titled “International Trade Minister promotes Canada’s mining sector at Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada convention”, Francois-Philippe Champagne “announced that the Canada-Mongolia Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) is now in force. This agreement provides substantial protections for Canadian investors in Mongolia, where there are already significant Canadian-owned mining assets.” At the 2014 PDAC conference the Harper government announced they were signing a FIPA with Cameroon and negotiating one with Kenya.

There are many examples of Canadian mining companies turning to bilateral investment treaties to sue governments. As the Council of Canadians pointed out, “Canadian mining companies are using FIPAs with developing countries to claim damages from community opposition to unwanted mega-projects.”

At a broader level the aim of a FIPA is to counter “resource nationalism”. Having benefited from 25 years of privatizations and loosened restrictions on foreign investment, mining companies fear a reversal of these policies. These concerns can be somewhat alleviated by gaining rights to sue a government if it expropriates a concession, changes investment rules or requires value added production take place in the country. Writing in Canadian Dimension Paula Butler notes: “Canada appears keen to negotiate FIPAs with some of the most economically and politically vulnerable but resource rich African countries before they develop a taste for resource sovereignty.”

The deputy head of Africa forecasting at political risk firm Exclusive Analysis, Robert Besseling, told the Toronto Star in 2013 that resource nationalism was Canadian miners’ top concern. The paper described “a trend toward what some call resource nationalism that’s seen a number of African governments — after opening doors to foreign investors — begin to reverse or revise regulations. Under pressure from civil society groups and labour unions, governments are driving a harder bargain or changing the rules of the game part way through.”

Any government that increases resource royalty rates or nationalizes extractive industries is a threat to Canadian mining interests. Yet, large numbers of Africans believe natural resources should be publicly held, or at minimum, heavily taxed. Some simply want minerals to remain underground. Ottawa’s “goal” in signing FIPAs with African countries, note Paula Butler and Evans Rubara, “is to prevent control of mining policy throughout the continent from falling into the hands of nationalist, pro- African, pro-community political forces who will promote a vigorous ‘resource nationalism’ agenda.”

Or, to put it even more bluntly, the Trudeau Government, like the Harper regime, defends the profits of a few wealthy owners of mining corporations over the economic and social interests of millions of Africans.

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