`Fall brings change. As we see the snowline creep down the mountains around Whitehorse, we know that all too soon the white of winter will fill the Yukon River valley. While we wait, we wring enjoyment out of the last warmth of the golden days of our ever-so-brief fall.
Social change doesn’t come in so predictable a manner as the round of seasons. It does come none the less. Over the course of my life, I have witnessed amazing global changes: the civil rights revolution, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the remarkable emancipation from gender barriers, the awakening of an environmental consciousness and on and on.
However, I have also come to understand that moves towards goals such as equality, justice, and environmental sustainability demand sacrifice and commitment. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability but comes through continuous struggle.”
Three years ago this fall, Bill C-300, the Responsible Mining Act, was narrowly defeated. This proposed legislation would have required extractive companies operating in developing countries to comply with certain international human rights and environmental standards widely accepted by industry as best practices. Tailored on the consensus recommendations of the Roundtables Advisory Group, which included representatives from the extractive industry and government as well as civil society, it sought to rehabilitate the industry’s global reputation by promoting ethical corporate conduct. Yukon’s then member of Parliament, Larry Bagnell, took a principled stand in support of this bill.
This issue has not gone away. Conflicts around the world this past year involving Canadian mining corporations highlight that fact. Three Roman Catholic bishops – Pedro Barreto, Archbishop of Huancayo, Peru; Jose Bantolo, Bishop of Masbate, the Philippines; and Nicolas Djomo Lola, Bishop of Tshumbe, the Democratic Republic of the Congo – came to Canada last week to address the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops annual meeting on this specific concern.
These bishops helped launch the A Voice for Justice campaign of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace as well. This educational campaign calls on the Government of Canada to establish an independent ombudsman for the Canadian extractive sector, which can investigate complaints brought by communities overseas where these companies operate.
The Canadian meetings occurred against a backdrop of an initiative by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, which is headed by Cardinal Peter Turkson, a miner’s son from western Ghana. He convened a Day of Reflection on September 7 on environmental and social questions relevant to the mining industry.
According to a Vatican news release, leading executives from some of the world’s most important mining companies participated, such as African Rainbow Minerals, Anglo American, Baker Hughes, BHP Billiton, China Minmetals Corp., Curis Resources, Newmont, Rio Tinto and Zamin Resources, along with several Church representatives expert in issues of mining, the International Council on Mining and Metals, the World Gold Council, Caritas Internationalis and Oxfam America. It sought “to study the principal ethical problems arising from their activities, especially in Africa and in other developing regions of the world.”
Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone noted in his welcoming remarks that “the extraction industries are seen, not always without reason, as unjustly exploiting resources and local populations, resorting even to slavery and to the forced removal of entire populations … Mining, like many other industrial activities, has ecological and social consequences, which go well beyond national borders and pass from one generation to the next.”
Bishop Jose Salmorin Bantolo from the Philippines will speak in Whitehorse, Saturday, Oct. 5 at 7:30 p.m. at Vanier Catholic Secondary, 16 Duke Street. His talk will focus on the need for social, ethical and environmental stewardship and responsibility on the part of extractive industry leaders and explain why the Church in the Philippines is taking a strong stand against current mining practices and advocating for change. All are welcome. Coffee and potluck dessert will follow. For more information contact Michael at 633-6579.
Grahame Russell of Rights Action will speak at the Old Firehall on Wednesday, Oct. 16 on his organization’s support of the Mayan Qeqchi victims of repression seeking to hold Hudbay Minerals of Canada responsible for the violence suffered by their Guatemalan community.
A reminder that the All Schools Food Drive in support of the Whitehorse Food Bank will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 9. Please be generous.
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.