A small Quebec publishing house is giving the green light to a book linking Barrick Gold Corp. to the alleged deaths of Tanzanian miners in 1996, despite the threat of libel lawsuit.
Toronto-based Barrick, the world's biggest gold miner, tried to delay the publication of the book Noir Canada: Pillage, corruption et criminalize en Afrique (Black Canada: Plundering, Bribery and Crime in Africa), published by Ecosociété, by threatening a lawsuit last week.
The authors of the book - described as three academics - review a series of abuses and crimes in Africa that would have been committed by Canadian-owned mining, oil and pharmaceutical companies.
Barrick is targeted, among others, and linked to an incident in which 52 miners were allegedly buried alive at the Tanzanian mine of Bulyanhulu in 1996.
The mine was owned at that time by Vancouver-based Sutton and sold to Barrick in 1999. But the authors suggest that Barrick acted with Sutton to prepare the deposit for large-scale development.
The Bulyanhulu property in Tanzania is said to be the largest gold deposit in east Africa, containing an estimated 8.8 million ounces of gold.
Barrick was tipped off by the publisher's summary of the book posted on its website that linked the mining company to the incident. It promptly threatened to sue the publishers and authors for libel.
Although it has not yet reviewed the full book, Barrick argued in its lawsuit that the allegations are "false and libellous," were never substantiated and are defamatory.
The company also stressed that the events took place three years before its purchase of the property.
The publishing house was "shocked" by the lawsuit threat and held an emergency meeting Sunday night to decide whether to go ahead with the distribution of the 1,750 copies of the book today, as planned.
Calling the lawsuit a "means of intimidation," Ecosociété announced yesterday afternoon that it was going ahead.
"We are not going to draw back from those threats," the publishing company said in a statement. "It's a question of freedom of expression."
The lead author of the book, Alain Deneault, said in an interview that the book doesn't directly hold Barrick responsible for the incident, but rather brings together a "variety" of opinions on the Bulyanhulu case.
"We also give Barrick's point of view," he noted.
Deneault explained that the authors' goal is to shed some light on crimes committed by Canadian companies in Africa.
"It's not just Barrick. There are a lot of other cases. We are not saying that all the allegations are true, but it would be almost impossible that all the allegations were false," Deneault said.
Barrick spokesman Vince Borg said the company would review the book before proceeding with the lawsuit.
"If it repeats allegations that have no basis in truth, we'll have to consider further remedies," Borg said.
On its website, Barrick has posted a report from the World Bank's Office of the Compliance Adviser/Ombudsman, which investigated the allegations in 2002.
The CAO found that there is nothing to substantiate allegations of 52 murders at Bulyanhulu, or allegations that people in the local communities are being intimidated or undermined by anything or anyone.