A newly-released report documents hundreds of violent incidents related to Canadian mining projects in Latin America
One community, four years, five brutal murders. One victim was found in a well with his fingernails removed — a telltale sign of torture. Another victim was eight months pregnant. A third victim survived the first attack, in which he was shot eight times in the back, but was killed in a subsequent attack four months later. All five victims had vocally opposed a mining project that Canadian mining company Pacific Rim had sought to develop in their El Salvadorian community. These unsettling stories are some of many examples of targeted attacks often seen in communities that host a Canadian mining project.
On 24 October 2016, under the leadership of Osgoode Professor Shin Imai, the Justice and Corporate Accountability Project (JCAP) released a staggering report documenting violence that occurred near Canadian mines in thirteen Latin American countries. With the help of law students across Canada, JCAP collected information from a variety of English and Spanish media sources, as well as reports from non-profit organizations, government agencies, and Canadian mining companies. Each incident included in the study’s data was verified by two independent sources, a decision that demonstrates JCAP’s commitment to accuracy over shock value.
Despite this self-imposed limitation, the report documented forty-four deaths, 403 injuries, and over 500 arrests and detainments at the sites of twenty-eight Canadian mining projects in Latin America between 2000 and 2015. While the report also documented fifteen victims that had experienced sexual violence, JCAP was quick to state that the endemic underreporting of sexual violence made it difficult to assess whether their findings were reflective of this crime’s true figure. JCAP did not document a myriad of other crimes associated with Canada’s mining activities, such as death threats, property destruction, and forced displacement. This report has so far seen coverage in the Toronto Star, teleSUR, La Presse, and the Centre for Research on Globalization.
As the title of the report – The Canada Brand – suggests, our country’s name is being increasingly associated with this pattern of violence surrounding resource extraction. As Professor Imai stated, “The world is taking notice of Canadian companies for all the wrong reasons.” While The Canada Brand was the first report to provide details of these allegations and sources as well as name the companies involved, the incidents of violence near Canadian mining projects are neither new nor newly-exposed. In fact, the United Nations has been calling on Canada to develop a more robust accountability mechanism for the last fourteen years!
At this time, Canada’s sole measure of company conduct is voluntary, non-enforceable Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) codes. Created in 2009 by then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper in response to a wave of public pressure, the position of CSR Counsellor is responsible for monitoring these codes. Since its inception, however, the CSR Counsellor has responded to a mere six complaints and has not mediated a single resolution. The Counsellor position does not have the power to launch investigations, call meetings, or even produce reports. Its sole ability is to recommend that our government withdraw financial support and/or its embassy support. MiningWatch Canada refers to the Counsellor position as “ineffective and embarrassing,” and Canadian grassroots groups have begun to pressure Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to develop a more robust and effective accountability mechanism.
In addition to the scolding from the international community and the rising calls for action from Canadians, Trudeau has also been implored to take action by the affected communities themselves. In a letter sent this past June, 180 Latin American organizations collectively urged Trudeau to take a stand against this violence by implementing a stronger mechanism to increase corporate accountability.
The Canada Brand has been released at a timely moment. This past October, the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes ruled against Pacific Rim, the company complicit in the five murders detailed above. Pacific Rim had sued the El Salvadorian government for the loss of potential profits due to its own inabilities to meet regulatory requirements and obtain a permit. While this ruling appeared to be an affirmative step in the journey of justice for mining-affected communities and countries, the amount awarded to the government of El Salvador was $4 million short of covering their legal fees and costs.
Canadian mining heavy-hitter HudBay Minerals Inc. is presently awaiting trial at the Ontario Superior Court for three lawsuits, one of which includes the alleged gang-rape of eleven Guatemalan women by members of the company’s subsidiaries. In the past, trials in the countries where the events occurred were marred by corruption, or more often, no trial took place at all, as the local authorities did not take action. As the Toronto Star stated this past June, “The legal and mining communities are watching these lawsuits closely because they have potentially explosive consequences.” If the judges hold HudBay accountable for these acts of violence in an Ontario court, they could establish common law corporate behaviour obligations for the actions of Canadian mining subsidiaries outside of Canada. This precedent would send an important message to Canadian mining companies since their actions overseas could be held to the same standard as their actions within our borders. A successful trial could also set the stage for countless other victims and survivors to consider a similar route to justice. As the Former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Ian Binnie stated, “one of the most fundamental precepts of our legal system is that if there is a wrong there should be a remedy. And at the moment, these people… have no remedy.”
Learn more about The Canada Brand at https://justice-project.org.