Blog Entry

MiningWatch’s Viviana Herrera Testifies Before Canada’s International Trade Committee on a Possible Ecuador-Canada Free Trade Agreement

Viviana Herrera

Latin America Program Coordinator

On February 13, MiningWatch Canada’s Latin America Program Coordinator Viviana Herrera, alongside Amnesty International Canada and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, testified before the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on International Trade as part of its study of free trade negotiations between Canada and Ecuador. In her testimony, Viviana underscored the concern that Ecuadorian voices – particularly those impacted by Canadian mining investment – are largely being left out of consultations on a potential FTA, in violation of their rights to information and free, prior, and informed consent.

In MiningWatch’s written submission filed last year as part of public consultations, MiningWatch highlighted a statement released by 16 Ecuadorian organizations regarding a potential FTA: “We recognize Free Trade Agreements as instruments of transnational corporate power…that grant excessive legal protections to investors while deepening extractivism, deregulating labour and environmental protections,” the statement reads.

Even absent a Free Trade Agreement, Canada already leads when it comes to foreign direct investment in Ecuador, at $3.7 billion. The majority of that investment is in Ecuador’s mining sector, which has long been accused of perpetrating significant human rights violations and causing irreparable environmental harm. As negotiations advance towards a Free Trade Agreement, it is crucial that Ecuadorian voices - especially those who might be harmed by Canadian mining investment - be front and centre.

Read her testimony below.


House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade hearing in view of its study of Free Trade Negotiations Between Canada and Ecuador

Viviana Herrera, MiningWatch Canada
February 13, 2024

Thank you, and thank you to members of the Committee for inviting MiningWatch Canada to this hearing. My name is Viviana Herrera and I’m the Latin American program coordinator at MiningWatch Canada. We are a Canadian organization that, for over two decades, has worked in solidarity with Indigenous peoples and non-Indigenous communities struggling to protect their lives and territories from human rights abuses and environmental damage across Canada and by Canadian mining companies operating internationally.
For over two decades, MiningWatch Canada has worked in collaboration with Indigenous and rural communities affected by, and in resistance to, Canadian mining in Ecuador.

Our partners in Ecuador are concerned about the lack of transparency and consultation regarding a free trade agreement between Canada and Ecuador. In a statement signed by our partners and other Ecuadorian social and environmental organizations, they talk of high levels of socio-environmental conflicts related to territories where Canadian mining is active. They say that these territories “are treated as sacrificial – a mentality which will be even more difficult to reverse if an FTA further cements legal protections for these investments”. 
A central focus of this FTA will be support for foreign investment in mining. Given the often-violent imposition of mining development in Ecuador, it can be anticipated that a FTA with Ecuador will exacerbate environmental conflicts, human rights violations, the militarization of territories, and threats and intimidation against Indigenous leaders who speak out against Canadian mining projects. Meanwhile, Canada still has no meaningful mechanism to prevent or provide redress for such abuses.

The most recent cases of violence related to Canadian mining in Ecuador involve Adventus Mining and Atico Mining. In July 2023, in an attempt to impose a pro-mining executive decree, vast police repression and intimidation were unleashed against Indigenous and campesino communities opposing these two companies’ activities. Volker Türk, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed his concern over the violence and condemned the decree that allowed companies to start mining operations without free, prior and informed consent from Indigenous communities. He said, “People directly affected by mining projects or activities must be heard, not repressed.” The Canadian embassy had visited both mining sites in a visit organized by the mining companies just a few weeks before the military crackdown and failed to denounce the violence.

Despite a large social movement against opening the door to further mining investment in Ecuador, Canadian mining companies and embassy officials have been actively involved in promoting the expansion of Canadian mining projects in the country, undermining Indigenous self-determination and the rights of communities to protect their territories and water.

For example, in southern Ecuador, in a citizen-led initiative in 2021, 80% of residents of Cuenca voted overwhelmingly in favour of protecting water and against industrial mining in a fragile ecosystem that supplies water to tens of thousands of people in and around the city of Cuenca. In the Amazon, in 2019, the Indigenous Shuar Arutam People declared their territory free of mining and that their right to say NO to mining projects must be respected. Canadian Dundee Precious Metals and Solaris Resources continue to pursue these projects despite this clear rejection.

Canadian companies have a responsibility to respect human rights, but there are no binding rules in Canada to compel them to do so, and they often fail in that responsibility. A free trade agreement that would enhance corporate access to markets and capital would lead to greater impunity for Canadian mining companies that violate human rights given that no mechanism currently exists in Canada to hold these companies accountable for such abuses. 
Another major concern is the inclusion of an investment chapter with provisions for an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism – a mechanism commonly used by Canadian mining companies to sue countries in private supranational tribunals, for example, if they are denied mining permits. This restricts governments’ ability to deny permits in order to protect their territories and water or the human rights of their citizens. 
Canada must take ISDS off the negotiation table. As the Canadian government gets ready to initiate conversations with its Ecuadorian counterpart, we call on the Canadian government to halt diplomatic support for Canadian mining investment in territories which have already said no to mining and in new areas and critical ecosystems such as the Amazon. No free trade agreement should advance without Indigenous peoples’ free, prior, and informed consent. Canada suffers from a dearth of accountability in its mining sector. As such, Canada should not advance any new trade and investment agreement with Ecuador without an empowered independent Canadian ombudsperson for responsible enterprise (CORE), and without having enacted rigorous human rights and environmental due diligence legislation. Thank you.