OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwire -03/06/12)- This week, Canadian taxpayers will cover the costs of eleven journalists from eight Latin American countries - and Mongolia - to attend the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada's (PDAC) 2012 conference. Most of them will also make paid visits to mine sites in Quebec.
"This seems like an attempt on the part of the Canadian government to manage the message instead of seriously addressing the roots of mine conflicts in countries such as Argentina, Honduras, Guatemala, Peru and Ecuador where Canadian companies are operating," says Jen Moore, Latin America Program Coordinator for MiningWatch Canada. "Are these journalists going to go home and acknowledge that the stories they write have been sponsored by the Government of Canada? I don't think so."
Such conflicts are not minor or localised:
-- Opposition to Osisko Mining's exploration project in the province of La
Rioja, Argentina, over potential impacts of mining on water supplies,
led to a month long blockade in January. The blockade was only lifted
after the company issued a statement saying it would not carry out
exploration work until it could obtain local support for the project.
-- In February, thousands of peasant farmers marched on the capital of Peru
demanding new protections for watersheds and opposing mine expansion
projects by companies such as Barrick Gold that jeopardize water
-- Ecuadorian organizations will kick off a similar march on the national
capital at the end of this week, starting from the south of the country
where communities and their representatives have demonstrated against
projects owned by companies such as Kinross, Iamgold and International
Minerals Corporation. Eight women were detained Monday during a protest
in Quito against the signing of an agreement with Ecuacorriente, which
changed hands from Vancouver-based Corriente Resources to a Chinese
consortium in 2010.
-- In Honduras, mine-affected communities and environmental and indigenous
organizations are protesting a proposed mining law that Honduran
authorities are promoting at PDAC this week, also with support from the
Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs.
"Government and industry representatives are sure to give these journalists a glowing picture of Canada's disingenous Corporate Social Responsibility framework for mining overseas, while trying to demonstrate that mining is developing without a hitch here at home," remarks Ramsey Hart, Canada Program Coordinator for MiningWatch Canada, "but it's not that simple."
On Tuesday, members of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI First Nation) will be at PDAC to demonstrate against the failure of the Ontario provincial government to ensure that mining exploration company God's Lake Resources respects their right to free, prior, and informed consent. In June 2011, KI declared their opposition to industrial developments on their territory in order to protect the watershed that is the core of their territory.
Also in Ontario, three lives have been lost in fatal accidents at Vale-owned nickel mines in Sudbury during the last year.
Osisko Mining's open-pit gold operation in Malartic, Quebec, which visiting journalists might tour, has led to discontent among community members who claim the company betrayed its promises to ensure that they would face no major problems during the mine's construction. Noise, dust, plummeting housing values, and a disappointing relocation process have led citizens to protest.
"Do we need to warn all the other citizens of Quebec," they wrote in a recent open letter to Quebec premier Jean Charest, "(...) not to trust the nice promises mining companies make while trying to sell their projects?" They continued, "You will create some well-paid jobs, (...) but we've learned from experience that the modest citizens will pay the price. With the current law, accepting a mine near you, open pit or not, is an expensive choice destined to become a poisoned present that one quickly learns to regret having accepted."
The delegation of reporters may also visit Goldcorp's project on Cree territory in Eleonore, Quebec. It is unlikely that the vast differences in conditions under which the Cree negotiated a successful agreement with this gold mining behemoth will be constrasted with those facing indigenous Maya communities whose right to consultation and consent has been consistently undermined. In the Guatemalan highlands, growing evidence of water contamination and public health impacts of such a short-lived mine operation are predicted to spell long-term impoverishment for an already troubled area.
"The government-sponsored tour is also unlikely to acknowledge other conflicts that have arisen that are important to understanding the difficulties that aboriginal and non-aboriginal people in Canada face in having their rights respected and community health protected," adds Mr. Hart.
For example, at Barriere Lake, in unceded Algonquin territory, the Quebec government refuses to acknowledge its responsibility to consult with the First Nations over mineral exploration projects on their territory. In New Brunswick, citizens in the town of Penobsquis are also fighting for compensation over the alleged loss of their well water, damages to their properties, and impacts on their quality of life from underground potash mining. Meanwhile, in British Columbia, the Tsilhqot'in People are having to re-engage in a review process of an already-rejected proposal for an open pit gold and copper project,and where the proponent recently launched a lawsuit against an environmental group critical of its project.
"I hope that at least a couple of these journalists will take the opportunity to ask a few hard questions," concludes Ms. Moore, "so as not to further reinforce the misinformation that is frequently spread in Latin America that our companies are being held to international standards, when in fact we have no effective mechanisms to ensure that."
The reporters, visiting at the invitation of Canadian embassies in their respective countries, should ask federal government representatives why the Conservative government turned its back on a 2007 consensus report between civil society, industry, and government representatives that recommended a series of corporate accountability measures that would have helped provide recourse for mine-affected communities abroad. And examine why our national broadcaster recently criticized one of the pillars of Canada's CSR strategy as a waste of money.