Op-Ed

A new report details abuses by Canadian mining companies in Latin America. Photo: Courtesy of the Solidarity Centre.

Violence linked to Canadian mining companies in Latin America just business as usual

A recent report by the Justice and Corporate Accountability Project (JCAP) details an alarming number of violent incidents linked to Canadian mining companies operating in Latin America over the last 15 years.

During this period, 28 Canadian mining companies with operations in 14 Latin American countries were involved in 44 fatalities, 403 injuries, and 709 cases of “criminalization,” which included arrests, detentions, and charges. Victims are often human rights advocates and environmental defenders.  

The Canadian government, having failed to implement a mechanism to hold these companies accountable, continues to enable the systematic human rights abuses linked to their mining operations in Latin America—this needs to change.

Concerning as they are, these numbers represent a mere fraction of the total number of human rights abuses at Canadian mines in Latin America. The study only documented cases that could be corroborated by two independent sources and focused on only incidents of a particularly violent and oppressive nature.

For this reason, statistics on death threats, forced displacement, deliberate burning of crops and property destruction, reported assassination attempts, illness from environmental contamination, and psychological trauma were excluded.

The Canadian mining industry seems unfazed by such critiques of their human rights records, of which this report is hardly the first. In fact, violence is simply accepted as part of doing business, the report states. Many companies factor the “operational and material risks” of violent interactions into their standard risk analyses.

The government’s current “let them be and hope for the best” approach to regulating the international activities of the Canadian mining industry is largely ineffectual, and they need to do a lot more.

Mining companies enjoy voluntary and non-enforceable corporate social responsibility codes, which purport to govern their business practices. Meanwhile, the two Canadian offices tasked with reviewing human rights complaints have no power to investigate claims, sanction companies, or compensate victims.

Between the two of them, only 11 complaints have been handled since 2009. Having virtually no clout, it’s no surprise that the vast majority of victims and observers don’t bother to notify these offices of violent incidents involving the Canadian mining industry.  

Think of the current regulatory regime as a toolbox that contains a few nails, but no hammer to make them useful. The Canadian government, despite its commitment to upholding human rights at home and abroad, has done little to fix this. By failing to provide that hammer, the government continues to enable the violent conduct of Canadian mining companies in Latin America.

In response to the Canadian government’s inaction, the international community has lobbied for improved oversight of the Canadian mining industry.

Four United Nations bodies and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have condemned the same abuses detailed in the JCAP report and urged the Canadian government to implement stricter requirements to halt them. In June of 2016, 180 Latin American organizations called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to follow through with promises for a mechanism to ensure corporate accountability.

The Canadian government needs to take these concerns very seriously, and take seriously these failures in preserving human rights.