Development and Peace rallied for mining accountability in Ottawa May 2014. Boxes were filled with over 80,000 postcards addressed to Canadian MPs to call for support for a mining ombudsperson. Photo from Development and Peace

Justice after 11-year battle to protect human rights in mining industry

By 
  • February 5, 2018
“Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart” (Luke 18:1). So begins the parable of the widow and the unjust judge. 

Since the day I began working at Development and Peace more than 11 years ago I have felt like that widow time and time again, seeking justice. Our members and supporters all across Canada have felt like that widow. We send postcard after postcard, literally hundreds of thousands of them, to people in government — people with power. We ask them for justice for the poorest of our brothers and sisters in the world.

About 500,000 of those postcards, the first sent in 2006, called specifically for mining justice, including the establishment of an independent ombudsperson. An ombudsperson, we said, would have the power to investigate claims of human rights violations carried out overseas by Canadian extractive companies and to make its findings and recommendations public.

On Jan. 17, more than 11 years after that first postcard was sent, the widow was given justice. In a press conference on Parliament Hill, Federal Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne announced the creation of the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE).

This office will help to ensure that the voices of people in the global South who allege their human rights are violated by Canadian companies are heard. It will investigate allegations of abuse and make its findings public. In response to a request from the mining industry, the mandate will expand beyond extractives like mining, oil and gas to include the garment industry.

Eventually it is expected to cover all business sectors operating internationally. Even better.

As a Development and Peace rookie many years ago, I had no idea there were issues involving Canadian mining companies. But I learned there were many and, of all the stories, the story of Pedro Landa’s ring finger had the biggest impact on me.

Pedro is from Honduras. I met him in 2008 while he was on a Canadian speaking tour to tell people how Development and Peace donations were being used to help Hondurans affected by our mining companies. We heard stories of rivers being sucked dry for open-pit mining operations, displaced communities and, most horrifically, people being allowed to drink from wells that a company knew had been poisoned by a mine.

We got to know each other, spending many hours on the road during the tour. I learned about his wife and children. Pedro was happily married and yet I noticed that he did not wear a wedding ring. I asked him about it. He told me that because of what gold mining had done to Honduras, he and his wife could no longer see in their rings a symbol worthy of the sacrament of marriage. It was a greater sign of their marriage, they decided, to melt down the rings and use the money to further their work for mining justice.

When Development and Peace first launched our mining campaign, few Canadians understood what was going on. Eleven years later a veritable movement from across Canadian civil society has led to a wide awareness about the issue.

With the Jan. 17 announcement, it has also resulted in a big part of a solution. And the Church was a part of it.

Through Development and Peace, the Church exercises her voice for justice. No other body in Canada has the ability to gather 500,000 signed postcards from every corner of the country and deliver them to Parliament Hill.  

There are so many stories and images that flood my mind as I recall all the work to arrive here. From teaching kids about the issue through our cookie mining activity to organizing our voice for justice rally on Parliament Hill, one realizes there is a complex beauty to the length of time that social change involves. It is worthwhile to reflect on that in our hyper-speed world where everybody wants everything by yesterday. Social media is an instant. Social change is 11 years. 

Ask the widow. She knows. And today we celebrate with her.

(Luke Stocking is Central Ontario animator with the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace.)

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