In case you didn’t already know, Canada is a world leader in mineral extraction. Canadian companies have extensive mining operations in Africa and Latin America — and places in between.
You may or may not be also aware that some of these companies have incredibly poor reputations in many of the countries in which they invest heavily. Operations in Mexico (Calgary-based Blackfire Exploration Limited), Peru (Vancouver-headquartered Dorato Resources Inc.), and Guatemala (Vancouver-based Goldcorp), to name but a few, have each had their fair share of Canadian mining company horror stories.
Canadians travelling in Guatemala, for instance, have been told by the locals to maintain a low profile and to keep their flag lapel pins out of sight.
People in these countries have witnessed their land forcibly confiscated by the military and police, seen little in the way of financial compensation, and have watched corrupt local officials ostensibly sell-out their communities. Mining Watch Canada has done a good job of documenting many of these abuses.
There has also been tremendous community backlash against the environmental fallout from often unfettered mining, including poisoned water systems, harmful effects on farming animals, and even structural damage to their homes. It is important to stress that not all Canadian mining firms are engaged in these kinds of practices — nor have allegations been proven in a court of law.
On a positive note, these companies bring badly needed jobs, income-generating activities, and infrastructural development. But many of these communities are dirt poor, desperate for any economic benefits, and in a weak position to regulate or to impose conditions on mining investments. Simply put, they have few choices and virtually no avenue to seek redress for any damages.
That is, until a recent Ontario Superior Court decision did what several attempts by Canadian members of Parliament had failed to do — namely, to hold Canadian mining companies to account for their operations in faraway places. (The Harper government, for its part, has fought against such efforts and has preferred to leave any enforcement of rules or legal accountability in the hands of host governments and their local courts.)
In late July, three lawsuits (initiated by 13 indigenous Mayans) against HudBay Minerals Inc. over alleged shootings and gang-rapes at a Guatemalan nickel site have been — according to extensive coverage in the Globe and Mail — allowed to proceed in Canada.
I believe that this is the first time that Canadian mining firms have faced legal liability and negligence for their activities in foreign countries. To be sure, this will send shockwaves throughout the corporate mining community in Canada.
As Murray Klippenstein, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, told the Canadian Press: “Mining companies, and maybe other companies operating abroad, need to take a very, very, serious look at the possibility or likelihood that shenanigans abroad that they thought would never result in liability may result in accountability in Canadian courts.”
For the rest of this column, click here: http://thechronicleherald.ca/opinion/1148098-mckenna-a-reckoning-on-home-soil-for-mining-firms