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A SLAPP in the Face

Reaping Abroad, Sowing Shut Mouths At Home

Delphine Abadie, Alain Deneault et William Sacher, 21 April 2009

In January, the Norwegian government
decided to exclude Canada’s Barrick
Gold from its pensions investment
fund, deeming the activities of the
mining company in Papua New Guinea
as “an unacceptable risk of extensive
and irreversible damage to the natural
environment.” This sort of indictment is not
unique; Canadian mining multinationals
in Africa face numerous allegations of
environmental damage. Worse, their
reputation for a lack of ecological respect
pales in comparison to their other alleged
activities, such as the violent confiscation
of property, tax evasion, corruption, and
the financing of armed conflicts.

The Canadian government’s reluctance
to sufficiently regulate Canuck mining
companies, coupled with the continuous
growth of foreign investment in Africa,
suggests that the worst is likely yet
to come for the people of the Dark
Continent. In 2007 the value— spread
across 35 countries— of Canadian
assets in the mining sector was $14.7
billion (all figures CAD). In September
2008, the 2010 forecast was up to
$21 billion. And, even if the current
economic crisis forces some companies
to temporarily scale back their activities,
some sectors— see gold— are currently
enjoying record highs.

Congo’s Rich Veins

In the vast Democratic Republic of Congo
(DRC), Canadian assets are estimated at
$2.5 billion. Mining companies registered
in Canada have multiplied their assets
in the DRC since the 1996 rebellion of
Laurent-Desired Kabila— a rebellion that
many of these companies have helped
finance. During the ensuing wars, fought
between 1997 and 2003, Canadian
mining companies such as Kinross
Gold, Emaxon, Banro, Lundin Mining,
First Quantum Minerals, and the AMFI
all signed opportunistic contracts within
a war-ravaged country with signatories
desperate for cash that could be
converted into weapons.

During 12 years of war, the ore trade, for
instance, helped finance the efforts of
armed factions that carried out a litany
of atrocities: large-scale displacement,
massacres, rape, sexual slavery, the
recruitment of child-soldiers. The UN’s
Final Report of the Group of Experts
on the DRC of December 2008 clearly
establishes a link between the mining of
cassiterite, wolframite, and coltan, and the
conflicts that occurred in the fall of that year.
In a preceding report, several Canadian
mining companies were identified by the
UN Group of Experts because of their
pillaging of resources in the area. The
report stressed that “governments with
jurisdiction over these enterprises are
themselves complicit when they do not
take remedial measures.”

Skulduggery in Tanzania

In Tanzania, Canada is the principal
foreign investor. The aforementioned
Barrick Gold and the Tanzania Royalty
Exploration Corporation control 50%
of the country’s gold-bearing projects.
Empowered by the Tanzanian president
to “review mining contracts and
recommend corrective measures,” a
commission chaired by Judge Mark
Bomani published its findings last
September. He revealed that when
opening a mine, mining companies
collaborated with local leaders without
consulting with the general population
that was to be displaced by a given
project. These populations did not, for
the most part, receive the compensation
due to them by law. The commission
also reported on cases of rampant
corruption involving local leaders and
the mining sector. As this report did
not cast the mining sector in a good
light, Canadian officials in the country took charge of public relations.

In July of 2008, the Tanzanian newspaper
This Day revealed that the Canadian
High Commissioner in Tanzania, Janet
Siddall, and other civil servants “were
in Dodoma on an intense mission to
lobby MPs about their positions on the
Bomani committee report findings.”

Since 1996 and the massive expropriation
of the Bulyanhulu mine, during which
artisanal minors would have been buried
alive—allegations also acknowledged by
the Norwegian government—the Canadian
government’s reflex to meddle in Tanzanian
affairs hardly seems to have abated. In
March 2008, a document produced by
a coalition of Tanzanian and Norwegian
religious organizations entitled A Golden
Opportunity reported that the gold sector
regularly under-declares its profits and
evades taxes— practices that, in less than
ten years, have cost Tanzania $400 million
dollars in lost revenue as well as the jobs
of 400,000 artisanal miners.

A SLAPP heard round the world

Meanwhile, in Canada, public debate
is being stifled by time and resource
consuming SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits
Against Public Participation, a term
used for dubious civil claims brought
by corporations against individuals and
community groups who oppose them
on issues of public concern) of which
the authors of Noir Canada, a book
exposing the practices of Canadian
mining companies in Africa, and
publishing house Écosociété have been
on the receiving end.

On Parliament Hill, the left-leaning NDP
and Bloc Québécois, together with an
array of NGOs, are mobilizing to push the
Conservative government into providing
a minimal framework of transparency,
standards, and guidelines for the Canadian
mining industry’s international ventures.
Following the Norwegian government’s
example, Ottawa should turn neither a
blind eye, nor the other cheek. Rather,
they should slap back by reining in— and
shedding light upon— the activities of the
Canadian mining companies that have
given Canada a black-eye in Africa and
throughout the world.

WILLIAM SACHER are the authors of Noir
Canada: Pillage, Corruption et Criminalité
en Afrique (Ecosociété, 2008)
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