Will Canadian mining impunity feature in the Munk Foreign Policy Election Debate?

With 75% of the world’s mining and exploration companies based in Canada, and with 40% of global mining capital raised on the Toronto stock exchange, it is easy to argue that Canada is the world leader in mining. Within Canada’s foreign policy objectives, mining interests influence international aid, dictate the activities of our foreign diplomats, and prescribe the conditions of our multi-lateral investment and “free trade” agreements.

While Canada is a leader in mineral exploitation, when it comes to mining abuse, Canada also reigns supreme. Targeted assassinations, the militarization of entire communities, and environmental devastation that goes unchecked and uncleaned are regular occurrences at Canadian mine sites around the world. Barrick Gold, the company founded by Peter Munk, of Munk Debates and Munk School namesake, does not escape this industry norm. Barrick Gold has even admitted to a mine security-led massacre and, at another of their mine sites, compensated 120 women and girls with just over $10,000 each for gang rape, in exchange for signing an agreement that they could never sue the company. Beyond being a perpetrator of regular human rights abuses, this company and Munk’s associated social enterprises, have been implicated on numerous occasions in thwarting efforts to correct the regulatory framework in Canada that allows for these on-going violations to continue. As such, it will be interesting to see how much Canadian mining impunity will feature in the Foreign Policy election debate hosted by none other than the Munk Debates in Toronto this month.

According to a 2005 report from the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, “Canada does not yet have laws to ensure that the activities of Canadian mining companies in developing countries conform to human rights standards, including the rights of workers and of indigenous peoples.” This landmark report, the result of years of advocacy on human rights abuses at Canadian mine sites, spurred a multi-year process known as the Canadian Roundtables on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and the Canadian Extractive Industry. The Roundtables included public forums, and closed doors meetings which engaged industry and civil society representatives. The result was a consensus report on human rights and environmental norms as a standard for Canadian businesses abroad. The report also recommended an ombudsperson to be appointed to investigate allegations of company abuses.

Despite the painstaking effort of coming to consensus with industry on these matters, the report and its recommendations were ignored by the Harper government, which released its own report in response to the Roundtables process. Harper’s report, entitled “Building the Canadian Advantage: A CSR Strategy for the Canadian International Extractive Sector”, recommended moving CIDA funds to support the community projects of Canadian mining operations and instead of an ombudsperson, created the office of the CSR Counsellor, a toothless position designed to mediate disputes between impacted communities and mining companies. In other words, one step forward, two giant steps back.

The First CSR Counsellor just happened to be Marketa Evans, a former director of the Munk Centre for International Studies (later known as the Munk School), while the CIDA grants for mining company CSR projects went exclusively to Devonshire Initiative NGOs. The Devonshire Initiative is a project initiated by Marketa Evans and named after the street on which the Munk Centre was located, Devonshire Place. Finally, the move to align CIDA funding with Canada’s trade objectives was a move that was publicly praised by Marketa’s successor at the Munk School, Janice Stein, who also is on the advisory board for the Munk Debates, alongside Peter Munk’s son and Barrick Gold board member, Anthony Munk.

With the Roundtables report sidelined, human rights advocates turned to a private members bill, Bill C300, to codify the Roundtable recommendations into law. The bill was sponsored by Scarborough Liberal MP John McKay, but McKay was betrayed by his own Liberal Party leader, Michael Ignatieff, who publicly criticized the bill, while rumours suggested that the party whip was encouraging MPs to “not to show up re: John’s bill.” At the time, Barrick Gold was singled out as the company most active in the campaign to defeat the bill, with their seven registered lobbyists visiting at least 22 Members of Parliament and 3 Senators to talk about the bill. Bill C300 ultimately lost by a mere 6 votes, during a time that the NDP and Liberals held a majority within Parliament.

At the time of the Bill C300 vote and debate, Ignatieff was publicly denying rumours that he was being offered a job at the University of Toronto’s Munk School. In response to media reports that the Munk School was offering the Liberal leader an “exit strategy” from politics, Ignatieff admitted to being in touch with both Peter Munk and Janice Stein.

“Peter Munk gave a great benefaction to the University of Toronto,” Ignatieff explained. “Janice Stein does wonderful work training the next generation of Canadian internationalists. And I wish them well. But I’ve got a job to do: to get this party ready for an election and fight and win an election.” Within 16 months of a stunning electoral defeat, Ignatieff had left politics and was employed by the Munk School.

Munk’s political influence extends beyond party lines. Harper’s former chief of staff Nigel Wright is the godfather to Anthony Munk’s son, and Anthony Munk contributed financially to Mulcair’s campaign to gain the leadership of the NDP. But despite these ties, if the space is given to issues of mining injustice, a lively debate should be expected. Unlike Palestine and the tar sands, the parties might actually have different positions on this important issue, and it will be interesting to see if the party leaders support progressive international mining reforms advocated by their MPs such as John McKay and NDP MP Peter Julian, who has long advocated that victims of abuse abroad should be able to sue in Canadian courts.

The state of mining injustice today is horrifying, and it is essential that these issues are given the space needed to change the current level of impunity enjoyed by mining companies abroad. This debate is an opportunity to do just that, and expect groups like the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network to agitate outside the debates, demanding that these issues be heard.

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One Response to Will Canadian mining impunity feature in the Munk Foreign Policy Election Debate?

  1. sakurablue says:

    update: mining was not mentioned in the foreign policy debate, and no question related to mining was asked.

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