Who writes eulogies for Peter Munk’s victims?

an edited version of this piece appeared in the Now Magazine print edition.

After Emmanuel Magige was killed in a clash with Barrick’s security, his body was dumped in a coffin on the side of a dirt road. He was one of seven people killed on the same day at Barrick’s North Mara mine in Tanzania and the police had forcibly taken his and other victims’ bodies from the mortuary to prevent any public mourning of the massacre.

“It was inhuman. They did this like animals,” Magige’s 20-year-old wife, Mary told Jocelyn Edwards, a writer with the Toronto Star who happened to be nearby in Tanzania at that time.

For most killed at this Barrick mine (now owned by Barrick subsidiary Acacia), their killings go unreported and many are not even recorded. For instance, last August another villager was shot and killed by mine security at the same North Mara mine. This death, filed with the company’s grievance office on August 6, did not get any media mention within Canada’s media outlets. What’s more, as Mining Watch Canada explains in a letter to Barrick management, the lack of independence and transparency of the mine’s grievance mechanism means that the family who filed the complaint can not be assured equitable and rights-compatible treatment.

A 2016 Tanzanian government inquiry said that it had received 335 cases of abuse by Tanzanian police at North Mara, including 65 deaths and 270 injuries since 2006. Local human rights monitors and opposition forces, however, put that number much higher, claiming that there have been more than 300 violent deaths at the North Mara mine since 1999.

Peter Munk’s death made headlines across Canada and front-page news in Toronto. Valorized as a philanthropist and successful businessman, his praise cast a dark shadow on the primary source of his wealth: rural and largely indigenous communities suffering next to his company Barrick Gold’s giant mines.

His contributions to hospitals, notwithstanding his large tax write-offs, have no doubt helped Canadians. But when one considers that the only hospital in Porgera has been closed for 2 years due to lack of funds, right next to an active Barrick Gold mine, it begs the question: who benefits and who pays for Munk’s mining wealth?

And what is the impact of the mainstream media fanfare? The CBC, The Toronto Star, and The Globe and Mail all wrote glowing tributes of Munk and his mining legacy, with only one of those publications even making passing mention of any controversy involving his company and human rights abuse. Yet at the same time, each one of these publications at some point has covered a Barrick Gold abuse story: a village burnt down in Papua New Guinea, regular killings in Tanzania, widespread sexual assault at both mines, and five rivers poisoned due to poorly maintained equipment in Argentina. However, it seems that all of this was forgiven as part of Munk’s legacy, in exchange for sharing some of his ill-gotten gains.

How Peter Munk was memorialized should not be surprising, as public relations is written into his charitable donations. Take his historic donation to the University of Toronto to establish the Munk School. Not only is the school – which primarily survives off student fees and public funds – perpetually named after him, but Munk was also able to direct exactly how that money was spent. This included a budget of $250,000 a year towards a “Branding Fund”, which mandated consultation with the donor and a media tracking service to evaluate the branding strategy and “undertake such measures and actions as suggested by this evaluation,” according to the Memorandum of Agreement between the Munk Foundation and the University of Toronto.

Thus, it seems that the structures within Canadian society are well placed to allow unethical businessmen to continue their pillaging without social reprimand, except from the margins unseen by mainstream spotlights. The majority of human rights incidents remain unreported, and the cultural shift to end the most oppressive aspects of corporate colonialism still awaits its tipping point. Here’s to those that continue to push.


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