The Sermon On Responsible Mining: ‘I was ashamed to be a Canadian’

A sermon of a different kind, condemning the activities of Canadian mining companies abroad, was delivered by Reverend Shaun Fryday on the steps of Parliament Hill today.

Fryday, from the United Church of Canada, hosted a rally supporting Bill C-300, which seeks to make Canadian mining companies accountable for human rights and environmental violations. The Bill is due for a final vote next Wednesday. Fryday witnessed the negative impact companies had in the Philippines this year.

Working as an independent election observer in Abra, he recalled “that part of the country is so rich in mineral resources that little flakes of gold literally grow up on the stems of the rice in lush, green fields.” He stated, “Indigenous peoples have lived along the rivers and on the deltas and on the tributaries for thousands of years.”

Fryday told the 70-strong, banner-waving crowd of how Canadian mining companies like Ivanhoe had desecrated these ancestral lands and the environment. The people were forced to leave their homes, the river is now polluted with lead and copper, rice can no longer be grown in the toxic earth and the area is now widely militarized. Fryday alleged that 1,800 villagers who resisted the forced migration have been killed.

He stated, “For the first time in my life, I was ashamed to be a Canadian.”

Coincidentally on the same day of the rally, a report listing Canada as the worst offending nation was leaked to the Toronto Star and Mining Watch Canada. The report was commissioned by the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada in 2009 but was never released to the public. The Association represents the interests of the Canadian mineral exploration and development industry.

Catherine Coumans, from Mining Watch Canada, argued the report was never released, as the results were not flattering to the Canadian mining industry. The report, compiled over a period of 10 years, showed that Canada four times as many documented offences as second- and third-placed India and Australia.

However, Bernarda Elizalde from the Association, argued that the leak of the report on the day of the rally was unethical and that it was not for publication as “the allegations had only come from NGOs”. She stressed the “need for more sources of [corroborative] information.”

Reacting to criticism from the mining industry that the proposed Bill is too harsh in its sanctions, Coumans stated they were “no more punitive than any other law. If you break the law, then of course there’s going to be repercussions.”

Sanctions include the withdrawal of foreign consular support, and withholding of certain funding.

MP John McKay, the driving force behind this Bill, stressed “this is a subject that won’t go away.” He scoffed at the notion that the measures are punitive. McKay stated there “are no penal sanctions, and no clauses allowing communities to sue the government.”

Fryday echoed these sentiments reasoning that “if Canadian mining companies are actually following proper ethical, corporate standards, they have nothing to hide, or nothing to fear.”

However, the mining industry has argued that Bill C-300 assumes guilt, is draconian and encourages businesses to leave Canada. It also believes the new Extractive Sector office that monitors alleged corporate social responsibility violations renders the Bill unnecessary, as it is a duplication of functionality.

Coumans denied this, stating the new office has “no teeth. They are very voluntary processes. Mining companies can just say  ‘No, we don’t want to participate’.”