Ottawa will not punish Canadian mining corporations involved in human rights abuses overseas.
The Liberal party retreated Wednesday from one of its private members bills intended to provide a complaint process for those who suffer at the hands of Canadian mining abroad.
The result was a slim win, 140 votes to 135, for the Conservative party, who pitted human rights against national economic self-interest, a narrative that put Yukon front and centre.
“I am very surprised that Larry Bagnell supported this legislation at second reading because in the long term it will harm Canadian companies wanting to explore and develop in Yukon,” said Dean Del Mastro, a Conservative MP from Ontario, in a news release.
Leona Aglukkaq, the Conservative MP from Nunavut, also argued the bill would have hurt the northern economy.
“I am very disappointed that Yukon Liberal MP Larry Bagnell and Northwest Territories NDP MP Dennis Bevington supported this legislation at second reading,” said Aglukkaq.
On Tuesday, the Yukon Party MLAs set their sights on Bagnell in the territorial legislature.
Steve Nordick, the MLA for Klondike, presented a motion calling for Bagnell to vote against the bill. Nordick refused comment for this article.
“The bill will kill jobs and impede mining exploration and development in Yukon,” said Nordick in the house.
The territorial New Democrats put forward a motion urging Ottawa to vote in favour of the bill.
In the end, Bagnell voted for the bill.
But his leader, Michael Ignatieff, didn’t show up for the vote and national newspapers reported the party whip was quietly asking MPs to avoid the vote.
In all, 13 Liberals were absent.
Asked why Ignatieff didn’t come out strongly for the bill, Bagnell replied in an e-mail that Ignatieff was in northern Ontario for an open-mike event.
The political battle for votes in northern mining communities stole the thunder from the problem the bill actually addresses – the Canadian mining industry’s bad reputation in the developing world.
There’s been an increase in the number of high-profile incidents involving Canadian mining firms in recent years, especially in Latin America.
The San Marlin Mine in Guatemala, owned by Vancouver-based Goldcorp, has been criticized by local residents for polluting water, damaging villages and failing to consult with those near the mine.
Goldcorp denies the claims and operates with the sanction of the Guatemalan government. A coalition of indigenous communities near the mine voted against building a mine before it was set up.
A CTV W5 investigative team went to the mine earlier this year, where they found a population living in fear of reprisal for protesting against the mine.
In May, the Organization of American States called the Guatemalan government to halt production at the mine.
A month later, a mine protester was killed and neither Guatemala’s national civil police or its attorney general’s office have investigated, according to Canadian mining watchdog, Miningwatch.
In next door Honduras, authorities filed criminal charges against Entremares, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Goldcorp, for environmental damage.
At Goldcorp’s San Martin mine in Honduras, a local Catholic group unveiled a report that found high levels of acidity and metal concentrations in the water.
The information was found in a report done by the Honduran government that neither the government nor Goldcorp acted upon.
In Mexico, there were multiple protests in the Mexican state of Chiapas after a protester who brought attention to a Canadian-owned mine was killed.
Three men linked to Calgary-based Blackfire Exploration have been charged in connection to the murder. The dead protester was vocal about pollution near Blackfire’s mine in Chiapas.
And while companies deny any wrongdoing, industry representatives have discovered Canadian mines are some of the worst companies mining in the developed world.
Canadian companies have four times as many social responsibility infractions compared to other countries with leading major industries like Australia, India and the United States, according to a report commissioned by the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada in 2009.
The report was never released to the public, but was uncovered by Miningwatch earlier this month.
“We conclude that voluntary uptake of global corporate social responsibility norms needs to be instituted in tandem with appropriate government accountability mechanisms,” says the report.
In 2007, a roundtable on corporate social responsibility in the mining industry was put together to advise Ottawa on what to do about bad behaviour in other countries.
A report released in 2007 recommended that Canada work with foreign governments to improve corporate social responsibility as well as improve the monitoring of standards.
The private members bill shot down on Wednesday, known as bill C-300, was meant to complement those recommendations.
It would have established a complaint process for those with grievances against Canadian companies.
The complaints would be investigated by the minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, who would determine if they were valid or if they were frivolous.
If the complaint was legitimate, the company would lose subsidies from the Export Development Bank of Canada and investments from the Canadian pension plan.
Carl Schulze, head of the Yukon Chamber of Mines, felt that the complaint process would cast a shadow on the reputations of good companies.
“There’s no way to determine if there was a legitimate complaint,” said Schulze.
Asked if the minister’s office is capable of doing a good job of investigating complaints, Schulze replied that the minister is capable.
“But, a bad reputation can live on if it’s proven wrong,” said Schulze.
He compared the situation to a hypothetical complaint process against reporters that could be used by people who don’t like a news organization.
“That complaint would stick,” said Schulze.
When Schulze was told his example isn’t any different from defamation law, in which a frivolous charge could be brought forward but eventually proven wrong, and that all citizens live under the shadow of having false charges brought against them, he insisted the bill’s complaint process was unfair.
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