D&P mining campaign hits Parliament Hill

  • October 29, 2007
{mosimage}OTTAWA - The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace delivered 153,000 postcards to Parliament Hill Oct. 24, urging the Conservative government to ensure Canadian mining companies act responsibly when operating abroad.

A Development and Peace delegation presented the petition to foreign affairs parliamentary secretary Deepak Obhrai and asked the Conservative government to adopt the National Roundtables on Corporate Social Responsibility recommendations issued last March.  This report represented an unprecedented consensus among mining companies and civil society groups and non-governmental organizations.

“We had a very good, frank exchange of views,” Obhrai said in an interview the day after the meeting. “They put forward a concern that many Canadians do have, which is why the roundtable conferences were held.”

Describing the roundtable as “excellent,” Obhrai said his government is committed to a response to the recommendation “soon.”

Development and Peace also made a luncheon presentation Oct. 24 that drew up to 15 members of Parliament, mostly from the New Democratic Party and Bloc Quebecois. During the discussion several MPs talked strategy about how they could use Question Period and their presence on House committees to persuade the Conservative government to adopt the roundtable recommendations.

With Development and Peace banners in French and English behind them, featured speakers included Sierra Leone justice and development activist Abu Brima and NDP international trade critic Alexa McDonough. McDonough recently accompanied a team co-sponsored by Development and Peace and Caritas partners from the United Kingdom and Honduras to view first hand the problems caused by Canadian mining in the Central American country.

Brima, executive director of the Network Movement for Justice and Development, told the gathering about how Canadian diamond mining companies exacerbated and exploited an 11-year “brutal” conflict in Sierra Leone that destroyed the economy and infrastructure and left from 75,000 to 150,000 dead, with many more maimed. Brima said diamonds were “the main currency of the war,” not only fuelling the conflict, but financing it.

He criticized the companies for not conducting environmental impact assessments, displacing people from their land, causing blasting damage to nearby homes, schools and hospitals, drying up water supplies and for harassing local people who stood up against them.

The most damaging aspect is how the mining companies have “made governance impossible” through co-opting officials. He said the companies have exploited Sierra Leone’s poverty by buying vehicles and houses for the officials.

McDonough spoke about her trip to Honduras, but stressed she did not need to leave Canada to know the devastation mining can cause, referring to Nova Scotia’s Westray Mine disaster that killed 26 miners in 1992. The 2003 so-called Westray Bill toughened up Canada’s mining laws at home. She said she wanted Canada to enact Westray-type legislation to govern Canadian companies operating in the Global South as well.

“It is absolutely unacceptable that we’ve seen no action from government,” she said, pointing out it had been 209 days since the roundtables' report was presented.

McDonough said Canadian companies were “giving mining a bad name,” when many countries need the mining and extractive industries to help their economies if activities are carried out responsibly.

Development and Peace is in the midst of a two-year mining campaign. Its new postcard campaign, unveiled at the luncheon, demands “the immediate establishment of an ombudsperson’s office.”  The creation of this office is one of the roundtable recommendations. This office could hear and investigate complaints against Canadian companies.

More on the campaign is available at www.devp.org.

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