Category Archives: mining

‘Ugly Canadian’ mining policies continue with Trudeau 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, delivering remarks to supporters at a Liberal Climate Action Rally in Toronto, ON, on March 4, 2019. (Photo by Arindam Shivaani/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The Liberal government continues to promote an often-controversial industry across our planet.

Canada is home to 75% of the world’s mining companies. Present in most countries, Canadian-based or listed firms operate about 4,000 mineral projects abroad, which works out to over 20 per UN member state.

There have been an astounding number of conflicts at Canadian-run mines. Pick almost any country in the Global South — from Papua New Guinea to Ghana, Ecuador to the Philippines — and you will find a Canadian-run mine that has caused environmental devastation or been the scene of violent confrontations.

Recently Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) criticized Americas Gold and Silver. The Toronto-based company is accused of blocking workers from unionizing at their mine in northern Mexico.

AMLO has repeatedly criticized Canadian mining companies’ failure to pay outstanding taxes. But Canadian diplomats have gone to bat for the companies embroiled in a tax dispute with the Mexican government. Seventy per cent of foreign-owned mining companies operating in Mexico are Canadian-based and the embassy has repeatedly backed controversial mining projects.

Straight south, Canadian firms have dominated mining in Guatemala as well. In March a case was brought before the Federal Court alleging the minister of foreign affairs had improperly withheld information about its support for a Vancouver company that ran roughshod over indigenous communities in the Central American country. The federal government has refused to release details about its communications with Goldcorp, Guatemala and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights after the commission called for the closure of Goldcorp’s Marlin mine due to its lack of consultation with Indigenous communities.

A different Canadian court is currently hearing another case about a mining firm in Guatemala. Hudbay Minerals (previously Skye Resources) is being sued for its role in the gang-rape of eleven Indigenous women. The Intercept recently published “Evicting Lote Ocho: How a Canadian Mining Company Infiltrated the Guatemalan State” that reported on internal corporate documents released during the precedent-setting lawsuit. The files paint a picture of corporate influence and abuse.

In Brazil Belo Sun Mining has benefited from far-right President Jair Bolsonaro’s hostility to indigenous rights and the environment. The Toronto-based company was recently allowed to move forward with a highly contentious gold mine in one of the most biodiverse regions on Earth. It’s use of heavy metals and cyanide in the Amazon’s Xingu River will “prompt the last stages of ecocide”, according to Rosana Miranda of the Sao Paulo-based Amazon Watch.

In March, protesters pelted Argentinian President Alberto Fernandez’s bus over his support for mining in Patagonia. Local and indigenous communities in the southernmost part of the hemisphere strongly oppose projects by Canadian firms Pan American Silver, Yamana Gold and El Dorado Gold. Mining and real estate interests have been pushing for mining bans to be lifted in the region. Suspected as a way to weaken opposition to capitalist encroachment, a wave of fires thought to be caused by arson, have destroyed land that Indigenous communities have protected from miners and developers.

Around the world Canadian-run mines commonly destroy farmland, harm endangered species and contaminate drinking water. They have also spurred beatings, kidnappings, arbitrary arrests and killings in the communities nearby. Canadian mines often undermine Indigenous self-determination and are pushed through despite overwhelming local opposition.

Over the past two decades thousands of articles, reports, documentaries and books have detailed Canadian mining abuses abroad. At least five UN bodies have called on Ottawa to hold Canadian companies accountable for their international operations. In 2015 the UN Human Rights Committee noted: “The State party [Canada] should (a) enhance the effectiveness of existing mechanisms to ensure that all Canadian corporations under its jurisdiction, in particular mining corporations, respect human rights standards when operating abroad; (b) consider establishing an independent mechanism with powers to investigate human rights abuses by such corporations abroad; and (c) develop a legal framework that affords legal remedies to people who have been victims of activities of such corporations operating abroad.”

To comply with international criticism and present a progressive face the Liberals promised to establish an independent ombudsperson on mining prior to their 2015 election. But Trudeau’s government waited nearly four years to announce the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE). Another two years passed before CORE started taking cases last month.

In a House of Commons committee recently Liberal MP John McKay reportedly “confronted” minister for Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade Mary Ng over the government’s failure to provide CORE with sufficient power to properly investigate abuses by companies. All 14 union and NGO representatives on the government’s “multi-stakeholder advisory body on responsible business conduct” resigned in May 2019 after their concerns about the ombudsperson were disregarded. Instead of a robust, independent, position they promised to create in January 2018 CORE “relies on companies’ goodwill to voluntarily provide information that it requires in order to do an investigation,” said Emily Dwyer, coordinator of the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability. “It has not been given the basic, minimum kind of mandate and tools that it would need to have any effect.”

The mining industry successfully thwarted legislation to constrain their abuses abroad. According to a report titled “Lobbying by mining industry on the proposed Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE)”, the two main industry associations met government officials hundreds of times between when the government announced it would establish an ombudsperson and its presentation of what turned into a largely powerless position. Between January 2018 and April 2019 the Mining Association of Canada and Prospector and Developers Association of Canada lobbied the federal government on 530 occasions. They met officials in the Prime Minister’s Office 33 times. The industry lobbying campaign was likely even greater since individual mining companies also organized dozens, if not hundreds, of visits.

While the government announced an independent position, they effectively created an advisor to the minister of international trade. But minister Mary Ng is an aggressive lobbyist for Canada’s global mining juggernaut. In March, her department put out a release noting “Minister Ng promotes Canada’s mining industry at virtual Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada 2021 Convention”. During the convention Ng addressed a Canada-Africa Chamber of Business event labeled the “biggest African Mining Event in North America”. Just before the global pandemic hit Ng traveled to South Africa to attend Mining Indaba, the largest African focused mining conference.

Justin Trudeau has placed the power of Canadian foreign policy behind the industry. Canadian diplomats regularly visit officials with mining company representatives and raise mining interests with top government officials.

Extractive companies are big beneficiaries of Export Development Canada’s services. The crown corporation has provided tens of billions of dollars in financing and insurance to the extractive sector, including many controversial international projects. To the benefit of mining firms, the Liberals have demonstrated little interest in establishing human rights and environmental standards for EDC.

The Liberals have also boosted the Global Affairs run Trade Commissioner Service (TCS), which supports many mining projects. TCS officials based at Canadian diplomatic outposts assist firms with market assessments, problem-solving, contacting local officials, etc. “The TCS plays a pretty big role,” said Ben Chalmers, senior vice‑president Mining Association of Canada in 2019. Trade commissioners “stand behind us and give us the additional credibility that being associated with the Government of Canada abroad brings.”

Largely designed to protect Canadian mining investment, the Liberals have continued to negotiate and sign Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements (FIPAs). 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.” These investors’ rights accords circumscribe governments’ capacity to regulate corporations by giving them the right to sue governments — in a private, investor-friendly, international tribunal — for pursuing policies that interfere with their profit making.

The Trudeau government has also channeled large sums of aid to international mining. They’ve put up more than $100 million in assistance for international projects with names such as “West Africa Governance and Economic Sustainability in Extractive Areas”, “Enhanced Oversight of the Extractive Industries in Francophone Africa” and “Enhancing Resource Management through Institutional Transformation in Mongolia”.

In other words not much changed between the previous taxpayer-subsidizing corporate mining Conservative government and the current Liberals. Notwithstanding some “progressive” rhetoric, the sober reality is that Trudeau has largely continued the Stephen Harper Conservatives’ “Ugly Canadian” mining policies abroad.

Comments Off on ‘Ugly Canadian’ mining policies continue with Trudeau 

Filed under Justin Trudeau, mining

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


“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 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?”

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

Filed under mining

Trudeau government seeks West African gold


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, 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.

Comments Off on Trudeau government seeks West African gold

Filed under Canada in Africa, mining

Trudeau promotes mining exploitation in Africa


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.

Comments Off on Trudeau promotes mining exploitation in Africa

Filed under Canada in Africa, Justin Trudeau, mining