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Significant concerns lead to human rights section in YESAB’s Coffee Gold project report

YESAB acknowledges alleged human rights abuses by Newmont and Gold Corp. outside of Canada

Tory Russell was disappointed, but not surprised, when she learned that her third revision to her submission on the Coffee Gold Mine project had been rejected for publication by the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board (YESAB) in March.

Russell describes herself as a concerned Yukoner in her mid-fifties who believes in being informed and contributing to public conversations.

So, when she learned the Coffee Gold public comments period was open in January, Russell knew she had relevant information and started typing.

That spurred a back-and-forth throughout January between Russell and a YESAB assessment officer. YESAB was struggling to ensure Russell’s comments were not defamatory or libelous. They said they needed time to verify the sources Russell was quoting in her submission, and the deadline for the end of January was looming.

Ultimately, Russell’s submission was not accepted.

Andrew Reid, senior assessment officer at YESAB, spoke with the News on March 29. He explained that YESAB’s executive committee considered Russell’s submission very carefully. YESAB’s executive committee decided the submission couldn’t be verified in time after consulting with in-house legal counsel.

Reid said Russell’s submission was “on the edge” of being accepted.

At issue was the inclusion of testimonial statements of people who had lived and worked around the Marlin mine in Guatemala. The mine was owned by Gold Corp, the same company that combined with Newmont and is the proponent of the Coffee Gold Project.

YESAB accepted Russell’s quotes about the well-documented and rampant human rights abuses at the Marlin mine, but felt they needed time to verify and vet the sources in the book, Testimonio: Canadian Mines in the Aftermath of Genocides in Guatemala.

Russell had been hoping that hearing from people in communities impacted by gold mining would foster understanding, improve practices and prevent future harms.

The book had been vetted by a prominent defamation lawyer, Peter Jacobson, prior to publication, yet Reid said that YESAB needed to vet the original sources themselves.

Significant concerns

However, YESAB realized from the number of submissions they received, that there were significant concerns regarding alleged human rights violations, especially in relation to Newmont’s activities in Peru. Reid said there were “a number of court cases happening with Newmont around the world.”

For that reason, the Coffee Gold screening report includes a section on human rights.

Reid said it was the first time in thousands of screening reports that he recalled such a section. “So, while we weren’t able to incorporate this comment [Russell’s] in particular, the themes that were there were certainly something that the committee took seriously and did consider in its publication of its [screening] report.”

Photo of Marlin Gold Corp. mine in Guatemala. (submitted by Maya Mam community members)
Photo of Marlin Gold Corp. mine in Guatemala. (submitted by Maya Mam community members)

Other Matters Considered

A section on human rights was added to a broader section, “Other Matters Considered.” This section includes sub-headings for Placer Mining, Mental Health and Wellbeing and Climate Change.

The human rights section has a subtitled piece “Alleged Violations in Peru,” with a footnote that includes “Newmont Peru as a legally autonomous corporate entity from Newmont Goldcorp, Canada.”

Though the human rights sections are exactly the same in the earlier screening report and the revised final referral document in February 2022, the introductory section was softened in the latest report.

The proponents’ “alleged human rights violations” became a proponent with “a poor reputation.” The second version adds that the committee assesses projects, not proponents, and that the committee must assume that a proponent is truthful and honest and will follow the laws.

It’s the project, not the proponent

The executive committee attempted to create distance between mining practices in other locations and the Coffee Gold project in Yukon. The first report said the location was different, the second cited the socio-political context as different.

Both versions of the report read, “Comments submitted suggest the Proponent’s corporate behaviour is forecast by the history of its affiliates in Peru. However, the EC does not evaluate a Proponent’s actions in jurisdictions other than Yukon.”

Russell, in her interview with the News on March 24, said that Marlin’s operations are relevant to the Yukon project and that it was the similarities that motivated her to write her submission.

“It’s the same operator, and the same mining technique,” she said, both affecting Indigenous communities which rely on the land.

Two worldviews

On March 31, Catherine Coumans of Mining Watch Canada described walking into the corporate enclaves of mining companies — how the rock samples displayed in glass cases shimmer and the photographs of expansive open pits serve as badges of success. In the mining industry, accomplishments are measured in ounces of gold mined and shareholder profits.

Russell’s submission says, “When Goldcorp operated the San Martin mine in Honduras and the Marlin mine in Guatemala, it was one of the three wealthiest gold mining companies in the world.”

Now the combined company, Newmont Goldcorp Corporation, is the world’s largest gold producer by market value, output and reserves.

The proponent of the Coffee Gold project near Dawson City, Christian Roland, has worked on several of the company’s previous projects. He was previously the Mine General Manager for the San Martin Mine in Honduras, Cerro Blanco Project in Guatemala and the Marlin Mine in Guatemala between 2004 and 2018.

Russell’s comments pertained to these same three projects. The devastating consequences to water quality, the actions of security personnel, the stories of human loss and social upheaval are detailed in chapter three of Testimonio about the Marlin mine. These are the sections YESAB rejected for inclusion in her submission.

Russell’s submission reads, “Strict enforcement of the highest social and environmental standards will be the only way to ensure Newmont (merged with Goldcorp) does not rely on and replicate the type of harmful practices that have made Canadian gold mining companies wealthy around the globe.”

Lenore Morris, a Whitehorse lawyer, was one of many others who submitted their concerns about the track record of Newmont Goldcorp.

“This is not a good corporate citizen,” Morris wrote. “History indicates that they will do the bare minimum necessary. We would be reckless not to take that into consideration.”

Contact Lawrie Crawford at