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Human Rights vs. Canadian Mining

Thursday, February 19, 2009

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Written by Andrew Garvie

Grahame Russell, a non-practicing lawyer and co-director of Rights Action is set to hit Guelph Tuesday February 24th. Russell did his undergraduate at UofG and will be back to talk on the subject of "Canada, Human Rights, and Mining in Central America". Concerns over the practices of Canadian mining companies around the globe raise issues of human, indigenous, environmental and labor rights. In fact, even the folks in Ottawa have admitted to at least the potential for problems. In 2005, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs determined that "Canada does not yet have laws to ensure that the activities of Canadian mining companies in developing countries conform to human rights standards, including the rights of workers and indigenous peoples".

A recent article authored by Grahame Russell tells of one man's encounter with the Canadian mining giant Goldcorp. Emetrio Perez, a Mayan man is living next to Goldcorp's controversial "Marlin" mine in Guatemala. He was forced to sell his small plot of land to Goldcorp under the threat of eviction. However, the displacement of the indigenous campesinos was just the beginning. Skin rashes caused by blood poisoning soon began to appear on children, new-borns and the elderly, including Emetrio and his wife. Emetrio's skin problems were accompanied by pain and weakness, and his stomach began to swell to an enormous size. Cyanide and other chemicals are used in mining to separate the gold and silver from earth. Heavy metals such as mercury, arsenic and lead are released into the air and water from explosions used by open pit mining. According to EarthWorks and Oxfam, it takes 79 tons of waste to extract one ounce of gold. A quantitative study on how much the health of the surrounding community has to suffer to extract one ounce of gold is more difficult to come by.

Emetrio's son works part time cleaning the roads around the Marlin mine. When the worker took his father to Goldcorp's health clinic he was turned away and sent to a hospital that prescribes cream and anti-biotics, which do nothing for skin problems caused by blood poisoning. Grahame Russell uses this personal account as a singular case study to represent grim mining tales from around the world. He hopes sharing these stories will wake Canadians up to the negative impact our mining companies are having abroad. He writes that "while the harms and violations caused by mining are experienced by people like Emetrio, in poor, mining-affected communities, almost 100% of the benefits from the mine flow back to Canada, the USA, etc. – to company directors, shareholders and investors". Events like the one going on this Tuesday in Guelph are aimed at giving Canadian students the information needed to act in a socially responsible manner.

There has been some recent positive news from the global campaign against human rights abuses inherent in current mining practices. In early February, Norway's Government Pension Fund announced it was dropping its shares in Barrick Gold. Barrick Gold is another Canadian mining giant with a mine in Papua New Guinea which has prompted similar controversy to that of Goldcorp's Marlin mine in Guatemala. The Norwegian Pension Fund concluded that "the company’s assertions that its operations do not cause long-term and irreversible environmental damage carry little credibility", and that there was “an unacceptable risk of the Fund contributing to serious environmental damage”. Investors in Goldcorp include the Canadian Pension Plan. Perhaps with enough public pressure a victory could be won closer to home.

According to the Rights Action website , the organization "helps build north-south alliances and carries out education, political and legal work for global equality and justice, for global human rights, the environment and a just 'development' model". Funds from Rights Action also go directly to southern based community organizations that carry out on-the-ground projects in Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and El Salvador.

Grahame Russell of Rights Action will be speaking on Tuesday, Febuary 24 in UC Room 442 at 5:30 pm. This is hosted by the Critical Knowledge Collective and is a free event. Free cuisine will also be provided!

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