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Black eye for Barrick taints Canada, critic says

by Lisa Wright, Business reporterThe Star
May 19th, 2011

Protesters gathered outside Barrick Gold Corporation's annual general meeting in Toronto in April. (April 27, 2011). Photo: Allan Lissner

Barrick Gold Corp. has tainted Canada’s international mining image, say industry observers, as police and company officials investigate why seven people were killed at the gold giant’s troubled Tanzanian mine.

“I think it’s a big hit on their reputation. That’s a lot of people to die at one time on a mine site,” said Toronto activist Sakura Saunders, co-founder of the website.

Police at the North Mara mine near the Kenyan border, a site run by its African Barrick Gold division, opened fire Monday when about 800 villagers stormed the site with machetes, hammers and rocks to reportedly steal valuable gold ore.

All’s quiet since then at the site says a spokesman, while an internal investigation by the company — majority-owned by Toronto-based Barrick — and a separate one by Tanzanian police begins into the deaths and the estimated dozen injured in the violent confrontation.

“We are reviewing the security situation at North Mara but it will take some time to unravel,” said Charles Chichester, a spokesman for the London-based company.

There is no word on whether charges will be laid.

“Barrick is a symbol of Canadian mining in the world and claims to be the most ethically responsible, so this is a big black eye for them,” said Saunders, who has been monitoring Barrick’s operations abroad for the last five years.

But security issues are a major concern for all Canadian companies operating overseas, not just in the resources industry, which is enjoying unprecedented boom times around the world, says Chris Hodgson, president of the Ontario Mining Association.

“The trend is that more and more people want to steal (from companies) whenever prices go up or whenever money is involved, whether it’s banking or casinos or mining,” he said.

Gold’s meteoric rise to more than triple its value since Barrick acquired the troubled mine in 2006 only makes it more attractive to thieves lately, he said, adding Barrick does a “remarkable job” operating ethically in other countries.

“It’s always regrettable when people are killed or injured but this level of criminality is not unique to our industry,” said Hodgson, whose group represents the province’s mining companies.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, who won a federal seat in the last election, said in an interview Wednesday she will urge Parliament to address human rights abuses of multi-nationals around the world when it resumes.

“We have a significant problem with the Canadian mining sector overseas,” said May, who represents the riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands in British Columbia.

“It’s certainly worrying and I hope the company will be more forthcoming on how and why this serious incident occurred,” May said.


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