Students mining change – by Matt Prepost (Winnipeg Free Press – April 22, 2013)

GIVING up her computer would be difficult, but Anna MacDonald would quickly toss her cellphone if it meant an end to years of war in Africa over the mineral that helps keep her plugged into the 21st century.

MacDonald will be one of hundreds of Winnipeg high school students taking part in a noon-hour rally at the legislature today, protesting the practices of Canadian mining companies in the Democratic Republic of Congo and calling on the province to pressure Ottawa into legislating change.

“The issue isn’t that we have to get rid of our phones and everything will be fine, this issue is about holding these companies accountable,” said MacDonald, a Grade 12 student in the Met School Justice League at Garden City Collegiate, which is organizing the rally.

“I could probably give up my cellphone, but we can fight this without giving up ourselves. We can use phones and computers to fight this conflict and use them as weapons of change.” In the last decade, Congo has found itself at the epicentre of the trade in the ore coltan, as mining companies around the world sweep in to capitalize on the country’s vast reserves — estimated to be around 64 per cent of the world’s supply. Coltan is mined and stripped down into tantalum, which is needed for everyday electronics, from cellphones to computers to video-game consoles.

As demand deafens for the latest technological advancements, the mining, however, has come at a violent cost.

Companies often hire private militias to clear out villages standing on top of valuable deposits, leading to more than five million people being killed since 1998, MacDonald said. Rape is widespread, child labour in mines is common, and the country’s environment continues to be degraded, she said.

Canada wears much of the conflict’s blood, MacDonald said, because of poor industry oversight and a lack of legislation ensuring Canadian mining companies adhere to ethical practices respecting human rights and environmental standards that would be found in Canada.

The students will be rallying with the city’s Congolese community and calling on Manitoba politicians to support two private member’s bills making the rounds on Parliament Hill. NDP MP Paul Dewar’s Bill C-486 and Liberal MP John McKay’s Bill C-474 outline practices on how companies should mine, trade and use minerals from countries in conflict and publicly report payments made to foreign governments.

For a country on the cusp of opening a museum dedicated to human rights, the time to act is now, MacDonald said.
“That would not be allowed in Canada,” she said. “It’s really embarrassing that the country I’m living in now is allowing all these human rights violations.”

About 100 students from the Seven Oaks School Division, along with students from Gordon Bell, Churchill, Miles MacDonell and Grant Park high schools, will be taking part.

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