Backgrounder: A Dozen Examples of Canadian Mining Diplomacy

Canadian Embassies have regularly gone to bat to protect the interests of Canadian mining companies in cases where communities don’t want them and where there have been egregious human rights and environmental abuses. Their interventions have been strategically timed with regard to mining project or policy decisions related to Canadian commercial interests and demonstrate systematic disregard for the perspectives and interests of the affected communities.

1. Galicia, Spain: Edgewater Resources – July 2013

Five days after the autonomous administration of Galicia, Spain suspended Edgewater Resources’ Corcoesto project pending evidence that, among other things, the company can demonstrate solvency to cover at least 25% of the anticipated investment necessary to build the mine, Canadian Ambassador to Spain Jon Allen made a trip to meet with President Alberto Nuñez Feijóo. According to the news outlet El País, it was the first official visit of a Canadian Ambassador to Galicia. The actual content of the meeting was not reported, but several members of Galicia’s executive branch, the Xunta de Galicia, including counsellors for Economy and the Environment also participated and Edgewater’s project was clearly on the agenda. People opposed to the mine project, represented by the coalition Salvemos Cabana, lamented the “purely mercantile” attitude of the Embassy in its visit to Galicia.

Sources: http://ccaa.elpais.com/ccaa/2013/07/15/galicia/1373911985_451516.html;  http://www.abc.es/agencias/noticia.asp?noticia=1459270

2. Santa Rosa, Guatemala: Tahoe Resources – April 2013

Canadian Ambassador Mr. Hughes Rousseau participates as a witness of honour in the signing of a pact between the Guatemalan government and Tahoe Resources to voluntarily raise royalty payments from 1 to 5% upon putting the company’s Escobal silver mine into production. The pact is aimed at trying to legitimize an unwanted project. So far, twelve plebiscites have taken place at the community and municipal level in southeastern Guatemala, in the area of Tahoe’s silver project in which local residents have voted overwhelmingly against the project. The insistence on pressing forward with the project on the part of the company, Guatemala and Canadian authorities is contributing to an increasingly volatile situation. Two days before Rousseau participated in the official act, six men were shot by private security at the Escobal silver mine as they walked past the company’s property. Two were seriously wounded and hospitalized. The head of security for Tahoe was arrested for attempted homicide while trying to flee the country. An illegal armed group is also operating in the area, to which several recent attacks have been attributed and for which reason human rights organizations and international groups are calling for an investigation on the part of the international Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). Three days after the royalties pact was signed, the Guatemalan government declared a state of seige in the area of Tahoe’s silver project, suspending civil rights, including the right to protest or to public gatherings, and permitting police to conduct raids and detain people without warrant.

Sources: http://upsidedownworld.org/main/guatemala-archives-33/4270-state-of-siege-mining-conflict-escalates-in-guatemala; http://nisgua.blogspot.ca/2013/05/guatemalan-govt-declares-state-of-siege.html; http://www.mimundo.org/2013/05/03/2013-05-02-tahoes-san-rafael-mine-conflict-leads-to-state-of-siege/

3. Thrace, Greece: Eldorado Gold – March 2013

Canadian Ambassador Mr. Robert Peck met with the Mayor of Alexandroupolis, Mr. Vaggelis Lampakis to pressure him into accepting Eldorado Gold’s open-pit and underground gold mine project that has been vociferously opposed by the local population given threats to local forests and more sustainable livelihood activities. Peck says the “Canadian government guarantees the seriousness, responsibility and environmental sensitivity of Eldorado Gold Corporation of the company,” and claims that “there are 350 mines operating next to and inside our cities without any problems.” It is unclear where Peck got this statistic from, given that there are less than 100 operating mines in Canada. Peck also ignores how even some communities in established mining areas in Canada are upset about new mining developments close to town. Lampakis asks Canadian authorities “to leave us alone so that we can develop our agriculture, our [live]stock farming, our fishery, our tourism, our forests. We want to develop our municipality the way we desire, keeping it pure from pollution.”

Sources: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dhAT8f2TrkQ; http://www.miningwatch.ca/blog/gold-and-democracy-don-t-mix-eldorado-gold-faces-determined-opposition-greece

4. Morelos, Mexico: Esperanza Resources – February 2013

Ambassador Sara Hradecky intervened in favour of Esperanza Resources whose gold and silver open-pit mine project has been hotly contested by residents in the surrounding area, environmental groups, state and federal environmental authorities, and the state Governor of Morelos for being situated only a kilometre from the popular arqueological site Xochicalco. The governor of Morelos who met with the Ambassador told the Mexican press that he gave the Canadian representative information from the Secretary for Sustainable Development to explain by the project is inviable and justifying his opposition to the project. Jumil hill where the project is located is known to be rich in endemic flora and fauna; the Tembembe River is also believed to be at risk from the project. As of February, the state of Morelos was contemplating how it might prohibit open-pit mining.

Sources: http://www.proceso.com.mx/?p=334633, http://www.proceso.com.mx/?p=334294, http://www.televisaregional.com/cuernavaca/noticias/Propondran-Acciones-Contra-la-Mineria-a-Cielo-Abierto-193161461.html

5. Honduras: Mining Law Reform  – 2010-2012

In the wake of the 2009 military-backed coup in Honduras, a coup that Canada tacitly supported such as by refusing to consider sanctions against the de facto regime and pressuring other OAS members to do the same, the Canadian Embassy began lobbying for a new mining law. Several years earlier, in 2006, thirteen articles in the existing mining law were declared unconstitutional and a moratorium put in place on all new mining projects pending the passage of a new law. Honduran civil society had been lobbying for a ban on open pit mining and stronger protections for community participation in decision making over mining projects, among other reforms. At the time that then President Mel Zelaya was ousted in 2009, a draft law was ready to be debated that incorporated their proposals. But the debate never took place. From January 2010 to January 2013, Canadian representatives worked hard to help pave the way for a law that would be more favourable to the interests of Canadian companies. For example, in early 2010 then Canadian Ambassador Neil Reeder travelled to Honduras and arranged meetings between Canadian mining executives, President Lobo and members of his cabinet. They also “discussed with a Breakwater Resources executive possible strategies to influence the development of a new mining law.” Later, in early 2012, when a Honduran legislative committee announced that a new mining law had been drafted sparking outcry from Honduras civil society, Ambassador Cameron MacKay organized a meeting of government officials, companies and NGOs under the banner of Corporate Social Responsibility at which MacKay emphasized the positive relationship between Canada and Honduras. This and other Canadian support to get a new mining law passed in January 2013, including a technical support project funded by the Canadian International Development Agency, run contrary to the interests of Honduran society, who according to one public opinion survey undertaken in the fall of 2011 are 90% opposed to open pit mining.

Sources: http://www.miningwatch.ca/sites/www.miningwatch.ca/files/Canada_and_Honduras_mining_law-June%202012.pdf; http://www.miningwatch.ca/article/canada-s-development-aid-dollars-odds-communities; http://www.miningwatch.ca/news/honduran-mining-law-passed-and-ratified-fight-not-over

6. Philippines: TVI Pacific – 2011-2012

In 2011, the provincial board of Zamboanga del Norte passed an ordinance banning new open pit mines in the province and giving existing open pit operations one year to wind up operations. In an effort to overturn the ban, TVI said it would “enlist support of the Canadian Ambassador/Embassy.” In a news report then-Ambassador Christopher Thornley noted  "We are discouraged that on a certain front, our mining investments are being frustrated by actions which are not in the jurisdiction of the parties taking those actions,” and he confirmed that the Canadian embassy has consulted with the DENR [Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources], which oversees and regulates mining operations in the country. “So the government of the PH is aware of that and we are very satisfied with their response so far,” he said, “It’s now up to them to take the necessary action, but clearly, we’ve raised this on a government to government level….” In November 2011 Ambassador Thornley made a high profile visit to the Canatuan mine site and helped break ground on a resettlement project. In November 2012 prime Minster Harper visited the Philippines and was met by a demonstration at the Canadian Embassy against Canadian mining interests in the Philippines that highlighted TVI Pacific.

Sources: http://www.slideshare.net/tvipacific/tvi-pacific-corporate-presentation; http://www.tvipacific.com/social-principles/write-from-the-mine/Write-from-the-Mine-Details/2011/Canada_Miners_Not_Expected_to_Pull_Out_Yet/default.aspx; http://www.tvipacific.com/Investors/news/News-Release-Details/2011/Canadian_Ambassador_Thornley_Tours_Canatuan_Mine-/default.aspx; http://bulatlat.com/main/2012/11/11/canadian-pm-harper-met-by-protest-of-environmental-groups/

7. Costa Rica: Infinito Gold – August 2010

In an interview with La Nación newspaper, Ambassador Neil Reeder warned Costa Rica about the negative image it could gain if contractual obligations with Canadian mining company Infinito Gold were not met. Although Reeder recognized this as essentially a “private matter”, he was quoted: “Our government is requiring of good (corporate) behaviour, and I believe that they [Infinito Gold] have respected all the rules of the game.” He made his defence of Infinito Gold while the Costa Rican Supreme Court was considering an appeal to an earlier court ordered injunction that halted operations at the company’s controversial mine site known as Crucitas. Costa Ricans had recently protested in the thousands against resumption of the open pit gold mining operation and Reeder indicated awareness of the controversial nature of Infinito’s actions saying he could understand that Costa Ricans were worried about negative impacts on the environment. Nevertheless, he emphasized that were the Supreme Court to permanently close the Crucitas mine this “… could send a message of uncertainty to international investors at a time that Costa Rica is seeking greater international investment.” In November 2010, the Supreme Court ordered the Crucitas mine site permanently closed. Despite this and other questionable activities related to Infinito’s presence in Costa Rica, the Canadian Embassy advertised 2011 Canada Day celebrations in San Jose featuring Infinito Gold as a corporate sponsor.

Sources: http://www.nacion.com/2010-08-09/ElPais/FotoVideoDestacado/ElPais2476329.aspx, http://www.insidecostarica.com/dailynews/2011/june/20/costarica11062007.htm

8. Chiapas, Mexico: Blackfire Exploration – 2007-2010

Documents released from the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) under an access to information request demonstrate that throughout a conflict involving Blackfire Exploration’s mining activities in the municipality of Chicomuselo, Chiapas that saw an activist, Mariano Abarca, shot and ultimately triggered an RCMP investigation over corruption, it appears the Embassy provided instrumental and unconscionable support to the operations of the Canadian mining company. Overall, the released documents suggest that in the case of Blackfire, the Embassy provided virtually unconditional support in spite of the company’s behaviour and the Embassy’s awareness of the tensions around the mine site. The documents also establish that Mariano Abarca was known to the Embassy before he was murdered. In July 2009, Mariano delivered a speech outside the Embassy in Mexico City, and in August 2009 the Embassy reported receiving 1,400 letters about Abarca following his arrest and detention based on a complaint filed by a Blackfire representative in Mexico. Even after Abarca had been killed, the mine had been suspended, and corruption allegations had surfaced, the Embassy continued to defend the company to Mexican state officials and provided it with information on how to sue the state of Chiapas under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for closing the mine.

Source: http://www.miningwatch.ca/news/report-reveals-how-canadian-diplomacy-supported-deadly-blackfire-mining-project

9. Ecuador: Mining Law Reform – 2008-2009

Then-Canadian Ambassador to Ecuador, Christian Lapointe, helped facilitate high level meetings for Canadian mining companies during controversial talks over a new mining law.  The degree of Embassy support for a policy favourable to Canadian industry, led Ian Harris, then the Senior VP of EcuaCorriente, a subsidiary of Vancouver-based Corriente Resources Inc., to write that, “The Canadian Embassy in Ecuador has worked tirelessly to affect change in the mining policy – including facilitating high-level meetings between Canadian mining companies and President Rafael Correa.” Ecuador’s mining law was put in limbo in April 2008 by a mining decree issued by the National Constituent Assembly, which was then rewriting the country’s political constitution. The mining decree suspended all large-scale mining across the country, which was dominated by Canadian mining companies, such as Corriente Resources. Community opposition to projects such as that owned by Corriente had galvanized in a national movement against large-scale mining in Ecuador. The mining decree ordered that most mining concessions should be revoked, based on criteria such as overlap with water supplies and protected areas, lack of prior consultation with affected communities, or for having been obtained through insider knowledge. Nonetheless, although this should have annulled concessions belonging to most Canadian companies, even before the decree had been issued, the business press reported that key Canadian projects would not be affected. When the mining law reform process put in place, the Ambassador’s efforts helped to guarantee representatives of Canadian companies a favoured place at the dialogue table, marginalizing affected community members and representatives of environmental and human rights groups who saw the process as a sham.

Sources: http://www.dominionpaper.ca/articles/2054; Moore, J. and Velásquez, V., “Sovereignty negotiated: anti-mining movements, the state and multinational mining companies under Correa’s ‘21st Century Socialism’”, In: Social Conflict, Economic Development and Extractive Industry: Evidence from South America, Ed. Anthony Bebbington (2012), London and New York: Routledge.

10. Guatemala: Skye Resources – February 2007

Former Canadian Ambassador to Guatemala, Kenneth Cook, was found by an Ontario court to have slandered Ph.D. student and videographer Steven Schnoor when in February 2007 Cook made false statements about a documentary video that Schnoor made that was critical of the practices of a Canadian mining company operating in eastern Guatemala. In January 2007, Schnoor made a short documentary depicting the violent eviction of Mayan subsistence farmers from their homes in rural Guatemala at the behest of Skye Resources. This documentary includes footage of a woman who protests loudly about the evictions. In a meeting conducted at the Canadian Embassy in Guatemala City in February 2007, Ambassador Cook said that the woman in the documentary was paid to act in the video and that the photograph of the man in despair (by renowned photojournalist James Rodríguez) was not taken at the evictions, but was a stock photograph that had been used before. In June 2010, Justice Pamela Thomson determined that the Ambassador’s statements were defamatory and were not true. She further held that “the Ambassador was reckless”, and that “he should have known better”. Schnoor indicated the importance of the case, stating it “not just about me and one particular video. I am concerned that this is an example of how the Government of Canada is quick to discount the voices of people who are harmed by Canadian mining companies.” HudBay Minerals, who bought the Fénix nickel project and then merged with Skye Resources in 2008, is now the subject of three civil lawsuits for the violent rape of eleven women during a forced eviction in January 2007, as well as the murder of a land rights activist and shooting and paralyzing of another man in September 2009.

Quoted from: http://www.schnoorversuscanada.ca/ and http://www.chocversushudbay.com/

11. Philippines: TVI Pacific – 2004-2007

Calgary-based TVI Pacific Inc., through its Philippine affiliate, TVI Resource Development (Phils.) Inc., operates a copper-zinc mine in Canatuan, Zamboanga del Norte on indigenous land on the island of Mindanao, amidst a decades-old violent civil insurgency. TVI has been the focus of highly public and sustained opposition by local indigenous Subanon (who hold Ancestral Domain Claim to the area), as well as by local small-scale miners, downstream Christianized farmers and coastal Muslim fishing communities. Opposition to the mine has been raised a number of times by indigenous representatives at the UN level and has been highlighted by United Nations special rapporteur Rudolfo Stavenhagen. There have been violent conflicts involving TVI personnel and security forces. All of these issues are well known at the Canadian Embassy in Manila, as are charges of forced evictions at the site. Nonetheless, then-Ambassador Peter Sutherland maintained a high profile, public relationship with the company and has remained publicly supportive of the mining project. In 2004 TVI Pacific received funding from the Canadian Embassy in Manila for a development project that benefited women whose immediate families were TVI employees. Although the Canadian Embassy was aware of the violence and human rights abuses associated with the mining project, and the controversy caused by the TVI directed development project, it twice extended financial support for the income-generating project. Following recommendations by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade that the Government of Canada investigate the activities of TVI in the Philippines and not “promote” the company until the investigation is completed, Ambassador Sutherland was quoted in the Philippine media as saying “[w]e will support TVI in every way (sic) we can as we consider this matter (local opposition to TVI) as a purely private sector initiative to resolve.” 

Quoted from: Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability, “Dirty Business, Dirty Practices: How the Federal Government Supports Canadian Mining, Oil and Gas Companies Abroad,” May 2007; online: http://www.halifaxinitiative.org/sites/halifaxinitiative.org/files/DirtyPractices.pdf

12.   Guatemala: Glamis Gold – November 2004

In 2002, Glamis Gold Ltd. (acquired by Goldcorp Inc. in 2006) began development of the Marlin gold mine in Guatemala. Marlin was the first major mining investment in Guatemala since neo-liberal reforms were introduced to attract global mining capital and was an important test case for the mining industry. On November 4, 2004, a national newspaper released a survey indicating that 95.5% of people living near the Marlin mine, the vast majority of whom are indigenous, opposed the project. On the same day, in the same newspaper, then Canadian ambassador to Guatemala, James Lambert, published an article citing the benefits of mining to some 200 indigenous communities in Canada. The following month, the Canadian embassy co-sponsored a National Mining Forum to showcase the mining industry. These events cemented the perception among Guatemalan civil society that the embassy was more interested in promoting Canadian mining interests than human rights. On January 11, 2005, after a 40 day-blockade, hundreds of residents who opposed the Marlin mine engaged in a stand-off with 700 military and 300 police. One resident was killed and 10 others (including police) were injured. In June of the same year, indigenous communities in Sipacapa, an area affected by the project, held referenda on mining. An overwhelming majority voted against mineral development. In press reports, Ambassador Lambert defended his controversial article. He argued that the embassy has a mandate to promote both Canadian interests and Canadian values such as sustainable development, and that “the two are not mutually contradictory... Far from being damaging, the fact that we have real interests at stake in Guatemala enhances our credibility locally.”

Quoted from: Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability, “Dirty Business, Dirty Practices: How the Federal Government Supports Canadian Mining, Oil and Gas Companies Abroad,” May 2007; online: http://www.halifaxinitiative.org/sites/halifaxinitiative.org/files/DirtyPractices.pdf