On October 9th 2009, the Social Justice Committee teamed up with the McGill Institute for the Study of International Development and the McGill School of the Environment to shine light on the human rights violations of Canadian-based mining companies in developing countries. The event, entitled Human Rights and Natural Resource Extraction in Guatemala: Canada’s Role, consisted of three guest speakers and a roundtable discussion.
Yuri Melini, a Guatemalan human rights and environmental activist, and director of the Center of Legal Action in Environment and Social Issues emphasized that all human beings have a vital natural right to a clean environment. The long time horizon of the environmental destruction caused by extractive industries compromises this right not only in the present, but also across generations, thereby denying children of basic amenities such as clean water and fertile soil. Because foreign investment creates jobs in developing countries, the governments of these countries are willing to weaken their mining laws to entice international extraction companies. Since there are no laws that require site remediation after the mine has been exhausted of its valuable ore, the mining companies do not invest in restoration, leaving behind severe soil and water degradation.
Catherine Cumans of MiningWatch Canada and Catherine Duhamel of International Resource Centre discussed Canada’s role in regulating mining activities to prevent human rights infractions and ecological damage in developing nations. Seventy-five percent of the world’s mining companies are based out of Canada, and 48% of Canadian-based mining activities take place outside of Canada. While Canada is a leader in environmental destruction of foreign communities, the Canadian legal system does not allow cases of human rights violations overseas to be heard in courts in Canada. Currently, the Canadian government has virtually no power to control mining practices outside of Canada or to require compensation for the victims of environmental degradation.
Much of the roundtable discussion was centered on Bill C-300, a private members bill which provides a procedure for hearing complaints regarding Canadian mining firms and allows the Canadian government to deny financial and political support to such firms. While these initiatives are aimed to strengthen Canada’s governing role over minimizing ecological damage and upholding human rights during resource extraction in developing countries; what action is being taken at home? Given the reputation of the mining industry within Canada and the failure of the Canadian government to protect the environment and the rights of its own people living in remote communities, where toxic chemicals taint waterways and cancer rates are well above the national average, perhaps Bill C-300 ought to be amended to enforce ecologically sound mining practices and human rights protection in Canada as well.