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.
DELPHINE ABADIE, ALAIN DENEAULT, WILLIAM SACHER are the authors of Noir Canada : Pillage, Corruption et Criminalité en Afrique (Ecosociété, 2008) You can help by slapping back at http://slapp.ecosociete.org/en