Canadian mining companies in South America, mineral companies in Africa or Asia, these entities have become de facto Canadian ambassadors, in some cases being the only Canadian representation that people in those countries will ever encounter, and the impressions they leave behind on the citizens is not always helpful to our country or theirs.

NDP MP from Burnaby-New Westminster Peter Julian currently has a Private Members’ Bill C323 before the house entitled “An Act to Amend the Federal Courts Act (International Promotion and Protection of Human Rights)”. It is an attempt to give the government some sort of regulatory control over Canadian companies working outside Canadian jurisdiction, particularly in cases of international law or when Canada has treaty obligations. Bill C323 seeks to institute a framework for holding these companies accountable for human rights and labour rights standards to be maintained at a level acceptable to all Canadians, regardless of the company’s operating jurisdiction.

We have seen previous attempts at this sort of legislation. In the previous Conservative minority government session of Parliament, Liberal MP for Scarborough-Guildwood John Mckay introduced Bill C-300 to put the accountability in the hands of the individual ministers of International Trade and Foreign Affairs. That bill fell short of support from the Conservatives and even from some Liberals and NDPers.

What this bill focuses on is primarily extending the jurisdiction of Canadian Federal Courts and Court of Appeals to all jurisdictions outside of Canada when violations of international law, particularly human rights, are involved. Additionally, this bill aims to allow citizens of other countries to file for legal redress in Canada when their tort perpetrator (alleged abuser) is a Canadian Corporation.

On Friday, March 16th there will be an all-day conference held on Parliament Hill, entitled Walking the Talk: Human Rights Abroad, Take II. The conference is organized by the team that put together Bill C323 and will be hosted, Centre Block, by Peter Julian, with over a dozen guest speakers and discussions.

Over the course of the day, attendees will hear direct testimonial of the specifics behind what Canadian companies are inflicting on people’s habitats in other countries, what some of the legal battles fought by the peoples in these countries have resulted in, and why there is the need here and now (as there was with previous efforts) for legislation keeping our companies accountable to be put in place.

Early in 2009, I became aware of the activities of the Copper Mesa Mining Company operating in the Intag region of Ecuador. Three Ecuadorian villagers and their Canadian lawyers were traveling the country to generate awareness about the lawsuit they were launching in Canadian Court, not just against the mining company, but against the entire Toronto Stock Exchange as well.

Early in 2010, the Toronto Stock Exchange de-listed the Copper Mesa Mining Company from the stock scrolls and the company lost 60% of its stock value over the next 48 hours. Today, the mining continues in the Intag region of Ecuador, only the name of the company has been changed — it is now the CODELCO mining company doing the drilling, no longer Copper Mesa.

The local people have been embroiled in disputing the credibility of studies being produced by the Ecuadorian Ministry of the Environment telling them that everything is OK with the drilling. This is what makes legislation like Bill C323 so necessary, for the sake of the affected citizens as well as for Canada’s reputation.

As Canada steps up its relationships with trading partners such as Colombia and Ecuador, maintaining our end of government-negotiated Free Trade Agreements is going to rely on Canadian government being able to hold Canadian Corporations accountable for their actions when representing all of us.

There is much cause for celebration in the Mexican community of Cerro de San Pedro.   Local residents, with the help of the Frente Amplio Opositor (FAO) and their supporters and affiliates in Canada have succeeded in getting the open-pit gold and silver mine operated by Vancouver’s New Gold shut down.

Profepa agent barring the gate of the Cerro de San Pedro mine on Wednesday

On Wednesday, agents of the PROFEPA, Mexico’s environmental protection agency, shut down mining operations in accordance with decisions rendered by the Ninth Circuit Administrative Court and the Federal Tribunal of Fiscal and Administrative Justice.   This move came after inaction and denial by the company following the ruling and by the persistence of activists and even politicians including NDP leader Jack Layton to get them to respect the ruling against them.

Since the mine first opened in 2006, the FAO and others have been very vocal, arguing that not only was it destructive to both the environment and the community (in terms of their health and heritage) it was also illegal.   They have performed many actions both in Mexico and Canada, some dealing specifically with the situation in San Pedro and others with the abuses of the Canadian mining industry in a broader international context.   Many of these actions included a strong theatrical component and the group even inadvertently got Montreal’s Mount-Royal protected from mining interests in the process.

Members of the FAO from Mexico performing an action in Montreal in 2007

In October, Mexican officials finally listened and nullified the environmental impact statement obtained by New Gold predecessor Metallica Resources which led to the forced mine closure earlier this week. This prompted a major drop in the price of New Gold stocks and the company has since gone into major damage control mode, arguing that the closure is just a temporary setback and the mine will be up and running again soon.

Cerro de San Pedro just before a mining explosion after the mine was ordered shut

One tactic supporters of the mine have used in the past is violence.   Enrique Rivera Sierra, a human rights lawyer now living in Montreal, fled Mexico to seek refugee status in Canada after he was severely beaten by paramilitaries for his support of the FAO.

For a while yesterday, it looked like history had repeated itself as allegations of attacks by miners against residents and members of the FAO surfaced. It turns out that fortunately so far there have only been verbal confrontations. Still, given New Gold and its predecessor’s track record on these issues, activists in Mexico and Canada are on high alert and the situation in Cerro de San Pedro is more than a little tense.

The media spotlight on New Gold may be what keeps members of the FAO in Mexico safe, the same people who, in turn, have now succeeded in keeping the community safe from the mine. While this is huge news for Cerro de San Pedro, it is just one small step towards dealing with the Canadian mining industry, though it is an important one.

*Images are screen captures from videos by Youtube users yolistaak, Optativevideo and Lorenafrata

The Canadian Mining industry is huge already and continues to spread around the globe, leaving open-pit mines in places like Mexico, Honduras and even in Quebec with the Toronto Stock Exchange acting as a key player.   Meanwhile governments in Canada and elsewhere turn a blind eye and in some cases assist both financially and legally with the destruction of communities and polluting of the environment that this industry is responsible for.

Oink, oink:   The Canadian mining industry at your service

One thing has become clear, this is a situation that shows no signs of stopping, only spreading.     Some argue that you could even look at it as an outbreak, an outbreak that must be contained, kind of like swine flu.   The swine in this case, however, being the mining companies and the TSX.

That’s the premise behind a scene performed last Wednesday (July 22nd) by members of FAO Montreal in front of the Montreal offices of the TSX on Sherbrooke Street.     This group recently succeeded, inadvertently, in getting Mount Royal protected against mining interests by staking a claim to it themselves under the name of RoyalOr, a fake mining company created for the event.

The Toronto Stock exchange pigglishly offers some blood-covered gold to a passerby

Wednesday’s scene was much more direct.   Actors dressed as big pigs in suits and top hats (full disclosure – myself included) representing the mining industry and the TSX sent out smaller pigs (all the different mining companies) to go and “develop” the villagers.   They did so with force and brought back blood-covered gold coins to invest back into the TSX.

This was followed by a search for more investors who donned small pig noses until they realized just what their investment was causing and pulled out.   Eventually, quarantine officers arrived on the scene and contained this particular outbreak of swine flu with caution tape.

Villagers after being “developped” by mining companies

The scene was part of the Global Day of Action Against Open-Pit Mining which saw actions in Toronto and Mexico City among other places.   In Mexico, the Frente Amplio Oppositor (Broad Opposition Front), which FAO Montreal is affiliated with, staged a sit-in at the Canadian embassy.   This group was formed to oppose the huge open-pit mine in Cerro de San Pedro put there by a local division of Metallica Resources (now part of New Gold).

Enrique Rivera Sierra, a human rights lawyer, was defending the FAO and speaking out against the Cerro de San Pedro mine when he was severely beaten by paramilitaries.   He came to Montreal to seek refugee status in Canada and is actively involved in speaking out against Canadian mining practices.

Enrique Rivera Sierra speaks to the crowd

Sierra, along with people from some of the other areas affected by Canadian mining and representatives of the Mowhawk community in Kahnawake spoke between the scenes and after the performance.   Yves Engler, author of The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy also spoke.   After Engler mentioned the situation in Honduras (Canada has yet to condemn the coup regime, most likely due to the new “government’s” support of mining), a visibly agitated man tried to grab attention and subsequently tried to take the mic attached to the megaphone once Engler was done.

He wasn’t successful as it was discovered that he worked for the conservative think-tank The Frasier Institute and had authored a very pro-mining report.   He wanted to complain about how there was too much red tape involved in ripping off mountaintops and told one member of the FAO that he thought the Cerro de San Pedro project was small and not that big a deal.

If he had been able to take the mic, he probably would have been booed as this clearly wasn’t his crowd and maybe given a bit of an education from those present who had experienced the ill effects of what he was trying to promote.   Still, his presence underlined the importance of getting the message out about what really is happening at the hands of Canadian mining companies.

Quarantine officers successfully contained the outbreak

It appears that some people and the public in general don’t know what is going on.   Until they do and start demanding action, maybe a quarantine is the only way to stop the outbreak.

Photos by Raymond Bégin

Guerilla theatre actions often produce unexpected results in keeping with their improvised and unpredictable nature.   While the goal is always to inspire change, this generally happens by causing reflection and encouraging debate.   Sometimes, though, the change is direct and doesn’t always take the form you expect.

Last week, I was part of an action designed to shed light on how Canadian mining companies are destroying communities around the world, generally in the global south, through open-pit mines that rip open historic mountaintops, forcibly relocate residents and wreak environmental damage on the area.

We wanted to let people in Montreal know how what it feels like to have an open-pit mine set up shop in their community.   We created a company called RoyalOr, which had a plan to stake a claim to the mining rights to Mount-Royal in the heart of Montreal.   Not only would we tell people that we owned the rights and deliver “eviction notices” in an over-the-top theatrical manner, but we would actually stake the claim for real.

RoyalOr surveying the mountain

It’s actually quite easy to do so in Quebec.   In fact, you can even “click and claim” mining rights online.   This ease of staking could possibly explain how easily Osisko was able to obtain the rights to build an open-pit mine in the community of Malartic in Abitibi-Témiscamingue.

On Sunday, we went to the Tam Tams (a weekly gathering on the mountain with drums and people chilling out) in character as Royal Orr.   We had surveying equipment, eviction notices, invitations to our official staking ceremony the next day and even a few chants: “If there’s gold in the ground, dig it up.   If there’s gold in the ground, dig it up.   If there are people in your way, it’s just not their day!   If there’s gold in the ground, dig it up.”

There were other surveyors there as well.   Members of McGill’s Geography Department were doing surveying exercises on the mountain that week as well.   They were almost instantly (and to a certain extent, unknowingly) integrated into our scene.   I spoke to some of them in character as Royal Orr president Alonse Barbe:

The next day was the press conference and the staking of the claim.   Despite the ease of staking a claim online, we brought actual, legally official stakes for the sake of visual imagery.   We also brought official papers to file with the Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune, the Quebec government agency responsible for mining.

There were representatives from Mexico, Honduras, Congo, Melartic and other communities affected by Canadian mining practises present at the event.   There were also quite a few members of both the corporate and independent media, including CTV, Le Devoir, CKUT, the Independent Media Centre, Allan Lissner,   Metro Newspapers and the Canadian Press, which filed a story that appeared in the online versions of The Globe and Mail, Macleans Magazine and other publications.   Francoise David of Québec Solidaire was also present and filed a video report for her website which is at the end of this post.

Carlos Amador of Honduras gets ready to hammer the mining steak

It was at the press conference that we discovered that our theatrical stunt had caught the attention of the Ministère des Ressources naturelles, which, fearing most likely a PR nightmare, decided to protect Mount-Royal and remove it from the claimable areas two days prior.   That means that up until last Saturday, Mount Royal was open to mining claims.

True, these claims were the sort that had to be approved by someone and true the Ministère was probably didn’t think that we were actually going to start digging, but that doesn’t change the fact that it took a theatrical protest to protect a historic landmark in the middle of the city.

Sadly, it also doesn’t change the fact that the Ministère has done nothing to protect the people of Malartic against their open-pit mine and probably won’t.   It also doesn’t change the fact that the Canadian and Quebec governments do nothing to curb the practises of Canadian mining companies abroad.