Yves Engler: The Canadian Harper government actively interferes in the affairs of other countries on behalf of mining companies registered in Canada
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
We’re continuing our series with Yves Engler, the author of the book The Ugly Canadian: Stephen Harper’s Foreign Policy. And Yves now joins us again from Vancouver. Thanks for joining us, Yves.
YVES ENGLER, AUTHOR: Thanks for having me.
JAY: So, as I explained in the first segment, we’re working our way through different aspects of Prime Minister Harper’s foreign policy. And today we’re going to talk about Canadian mining. So, Yves, why don’t you pick up from there? Canada’s, I guess, one of the, if not the leading mining nation in the world globally, and also is extensively involved in some of the most controversial mining.
ENGLER: Yeah, Canada is far and away the biggest mining country in the world. Something like 70 percent of world mining companies are listed on Canadian stock exchanges. From 2002 to 2011, Canadian mining investment abroad went from $30 billion to $210 billion.
And it’s an important element in the more rightward shifting Canadian foreign policy, because so much of Canadian mining investment abroad is dependent upon extreme free-market capitalism. And those Canadian investments throughout Africa [inaud.] really intimately tied to the rise of the structural adjustment programs in the 1980s and 1990s and the opening up of natural resource sector in those countries to foreign investment.
And alongside this huge rise in Canadian mining investment abroad has been innumerable conflicts that Canadian mining companies had with local communities and where, you know, they spur violence, security officials from companies in Guatemala, you know, kill people in local community, or there’s incredible ecological decay.
JAY: Give us some specific examples that you explored, that you researched.
ENGLER: In the case of Goldcorp in Guatemala, they’ve been in a very aggressive conflict with the local community. In the case of Argentina, Barrick’s operations in Argentina, the former environment minister with the Argentinian government, in a standing committee of the House of Commons, she accused Barrick Gold of buying off the officials in her department and threatening people on her staff and threatening her; and in the case of Mexico, a Canadian company involved in killing people in the community. At this point, really, you can pick any country in the Global South and there is an example of a Canadian-run mine that has spurred social conflict, that has spurredâ€”.
JAY: Tell us the story of Canadian mining in the Congo.
ENGLER: In the case of the Congo, there’s more $3 billion in Canadian mining investment in the Congo. There’s innumerableâ€”there are a number of different sort of kind of horror stories. There’s one example that’s particularly controversial from the standpoint of the Canadian government, which is that in late 2009, the Congolese government rescinded a mining concession from First Quantum, which is a Vancouver-based company. And in response to the Congolese government rescinding this concession, the Harper government blocked the Paris Club of debtor nations and debt forgiveness to the Congolese governmentâ€”this is debt forgiveness that was agreed to by all of the other members of the Paris Club of debtor nations. This was debt that was accrued during the Mobutu dictatorship. This is odious debt the majority of Congolese, impoverished Congolese should not have had to repay. And like I said, it was agreed to by the majority of the Paris Club of debtor nations. And to put pressure on the Congolese government after they had rescinded First Quantum’s concession, the Harper government blocked this debt forgiveness.
Ultimately, they were only able to stall the debt forgiveness, but they did so in the context of First Quantum having gotten their concession in highly dubious circumstances. They hadâ€”according to a 2002 UN report, they had paid bribes and kickbacks to government officials to win the concessionâ€”and this was in the context of the still-ongoing civil war or multicountry war in the Congo. And despite the dubious circumstances in which First Quantum had won their concession in the Congo, the Harper government was willing to block the Paris Club of debtor nations and then, in fact, even get a whole declaration in the final G8â€”2010 G8 meeting in Toronto, get a whole declaration criticizing the Congo for its treatment of foreign investors. So the Harper government has really aggressively lobbied for Canadian mining companies, no matter what the circumstances of those Canadian mining companies are in the local community.
JAY: Well, the Harper government would probably argue that that’s their job, to help defend Canadian business interests abroad. And I think they would probably argue that these companies, if they’re breaking local laws, it’s up to local authorities to deal with them, and on the whole I assume Harper argues they’re not breaking local laws. I mean, what’s wrong with that argument?
ENGLER: I think that most Canadians don’t like the idea that all that the Canadian state is about, internationally, is defending the interests of corporate Canada, and particularly when these companies are involved in conflicts with local communities. And, of course, as we know, the power dynamics in the local context are often not what they should be in terms ofâ€”the ability of foreign investors to skirt any local laws can be pretty wide. And as you referred to in the case of the Congo, there’s an example of a different Canadian company that was involved in a massacre of as many as 100 people, where the Canadian company was actually providing their trucks and different resources to Congolese army officials, who went in and killed dozens and dozens of people who were opposed to the mining company and were in conflict with the central government.
So in those cases, of course, the Congolese courts are not going to pursue the case particularly aggressively in the courts, because of this heavy level of government complicity. But at the end of the day, there’s a number of different Latin American officials who’ve said privately to different academic researchers that basically what they see, the Canadian ambassador in their country, as a representative of the mining companies. That’s most of what the Canadian embassies are doing in countries like Ecuador and Guatemalaâ€”advancing the interests of Canadian mining companies, and no matterâ€”again, no matter what level of opposition there is internally.
And you haveâ€”when Stephen Harper goes on diplomatic trips, you know, afterâ€”when he went to Chile in 2007â€”not long before he was in Chile, there was a couple of thousand people that had demonstrated against a Barrick Gold-planned operation in Chile. Harper made sure when in Chile to go to the Barrick Gold office in Chile and say Barrick Gold follows Canadian standards of corporate social responsibility; similarly when he was in Tanzania, not long after Barrick had fired hundreds of striking miners at their Tanzanian operations. At another Barrick-run mine in Tanzania, there’s been dozens of people killed in conflict, and Harper went out of his way to laud Barrick Gold when in Tanzania.
And what that’s doing is that there’s already a certain power dynamic within Tanzania or Chile around the mining companies, obviously, local interests that support the mining operation and some local interests that don’t support the mining operation, and the Harper government is clearly intervening in the internal politics to side with the mining company even though there’s often very widespread local popular opposition, which I don’t think most Canadians would support.
JAY: Well, there was some talk about a code of conduct for Canadian mining companies abroad. Where is that at, and what’s been the attitude of the Harper government towards that?
ENGLER: Bill C-300, which was a private members bill put forward by a Liberal member of Parliament, was voted down mostly because all the Conservatives’ MPs voted against it. And basically what Bill C-300 did or would have done is it would have ended official public support to mining companies found to be engaged in abuses abroad. So it would endâ€”Export Development Canada’s financial support to Canadian mining companies would end, and the support of Canadian embassies to companies found to be involved in abuses. And this is a pretty modestâ€”in my opinion, quite a modest bill to bring some controls over Canadian mining companies’ operations abroad. It wasn’t legislation that would allow local communities to sue Canadian mining companies in Canadian courts.
And one of the reasons why so many companies set upâ€”mining companies set up in Canada is that the legislation is so weak, one element being that in the case of the U.S., you can hold American companies accountable in American courts for what they do abroad. You can’t do that in Canada.
So there’s been other efforts to bring legislationâ€”similar legislation to what exists in the U.S. to Canada. That’s also beenâ€”that’s been shot down in different committee phases.
JAY: Okay. We’re going to continue our series with Yves Engler on Stephen Harper’s foreign policy. So look out for the next chapter, and please join us on The Real News Network. And don’t forget we’re in the midst of our fundraising campaign, year-end campaign for $100,000 matching grant. Every dollar you give gets doubled. So if you see the Donate button here, please click it, ’cause if you don’t do that, we can’t do this.
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