burma. who bears the guilt

disappeared from the Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon. Around Burma, thousands of monks and other pro-democracy activists are missing.

disappeared from the Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon.

Around Burma, thousands of monks and other pro-democracy activists are missing.

Once again, the Burmese pro-democracy movement has surfaced and, once again, been battered into submission.

In 1988, the Burmese military junta slaughtered thousands of pro-democracy activists.

In the ensuing decades, the same gang has brutally subdued the democracy movement and persecuted ethnic minorities, burning or shelling their villages, killing, torturing and raping them, and forcing them into refugee camps.

They’ve kept democratically elected leader Aun Sang Suu Kyi under house arrest for most of the past 30 years.

Less high-profile activists have simply disappeared.

Burma is one of those dark spots on the map, where aside from the occasional news flare-up, the world tends neither to know nor to care what goes on.

Out of sight of Western media, the regime runs a genocidal campaign against the Karen and other ethnic minorities.

The latest violence against protestors, and the subsequent persecution of monks and dissidents, is just another act in the play.

Since 1962 these atrocities have been perpetrated by a small gang of thugs presenting itself as a government, whose only mandate is the power of a large and well-equipped military, and the complicity of foreign investors.

Halfway round the world in Canada, it’s hard to know what to offer the brutalized people of Burma.

To judge from most of the press coverage, we don’t seem to be engaged with that distant land at all.

In fact, Canada has been deeply involved with the generals for years.

In 2003, a study released by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions listed seven Canadian companies doing business in Burma despite voluntary sanctions imposed by the Canadian government.

One of the largest of these, Ivanhoe Minerals, has strong ties to the generals, and operates the largest mine in Burma, Monywa Copper.

According to the Burma Campaign UK, roads and railway lines into Monywa were built using slave labour.

Ivanhoe president Robert Friedland now claims to have pulled all his operations from Burma, citing human rights abuses.

Friedland told reporters, “We share the revulsion of right-thinking people everywhere against unwarranted assaults on Buddhist monks and civilians.”

But in an article in Sunday’s Tyee, Christopher Pollon demonstrates that Ivanhoe’s reasons for leaving Burma are all about business.

Ivanhoe has been mining in Burma since the early 1990s.

They’ve put millions in the hands of the generals, who according to a 2006 UN report, spend more than a third of the national budget on the military.

If they’re genuinely pulling out today it’s because their newest partner, the British mining giant Rio Tinto, insists on it, and because the generals arbitrarily raised their taxes.

If Stephen Harper manages to bully his parliamentary opposition into an election this fall, one of his campaign slogans will be “Canada is back on the international stage.”

Translation: we have combat troops in an American war again.

In every other way that counts, Canada never left.

Burma is just one place where Canadians onstage have helped to finance some of the most brutal oppression in the world.

You may have noticed that this column has a lot in common with my last one, which was all about Canadian mining companies in Africa, and their investments in murder, torture and rape.

For that matter it’s not very much different from the column before, which was about Canadian investments in the horror that is China’s manufacturing industry.

I could write another next week on Guatemala.

When companies that operate in Canada, trade on Canadian stock markets, and have Canadian owners that are complicit in crimes against humanity, Canada is responsible.

We can regulate what our corporations and citizens do offshore, and if we choose not to bother, we’re as guilty as they are.

Al Pope won the 2002 Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.