Dousing the Embers of Hope: Canadian Gov’t Fails to Address Mining Abuses in RP

The Canadian government is not taking any drastic action against human rights and environmental abuses of Canadian mining companies abroad, including the Philippines

By Jennifer del Rosario-Malonzo
Ibon Features
Posted by
Bulatlat.com

The chances of getting the Canadian government to act on the proposals of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade (SCFAIT) to check Canadian mining firms’ conduct in underdeveloped countries were slim. Yet it was a glimmer of hope for people affected by mining operations in the Philippines, such as the indigenous Subanon community in Mindanao, who have been complaining about the activities of TVI Pacific, Inc. This glimmer has been eclipsed a few days ago.

Despite the urging of prominent Canadians, environmentalists and human rights advocates, the Canadian government is not taking any drastic action against human rights and environmental abuses of Canadian mining companies abroad. On October 18, 2005, after four months of deliberation, the government of Canada released Mining in Developing Countries– Corporate Social Responsibility, which dismissed the SCFAIT recommendations to adopt regulatory measures and instead left the fate of people and the environment on the voluntary goodwill of mining firms.

Three days earlier, on the sidelines of a mining conference in Manila, Canadian Ambassador to the Philippines Peter Sutherland was quoted saying, “We will support TVI in every ways we can as we consider this matter (local opposition to TVI) as a purely private sector initiative to resolve.” This reliance on the voluntary approach to corporate social responsibility is precisely why transnational corporations boldly violate human rights and degrade the environment in the name of profit.

The SCFAIT report was a product of several parliamentary hearings from March to June this year. The report expressed deep concern on the possible impact of Canadian mining company TVI Pacific Inc. on the Subanon community and the human rights of people living around TVI’s mining project in Canatuan, Zamboanga del Norte in Southern Philippines.

The hearings had several witnesses– including Canadian experts and NGO representatives, as well as two representatives of the Subanon community– and also received written communications from community organizations and individuals, who raised serious concerns about: (1) environmental, social and political impact of the project; (2) the impact of the project on indigenous rights and the human rights of the people living in the area; (3) TVI Pacific’s use of military-trained-and-controlled forces, which has allegedly led to militarization of the region and related human rights abuses; and (4) the support TVI has received from the Canadian government.

The committee recommended that the government of Canada “conduct an investigation of any impact of TVI Pacific’s Canatuan mining project in Mindanao on the indigenous rights and the human rights of people in the area and on the environment, and table a report on this investigation in Parliament within 90 days; and ensure that it does not promote TVI Pacific Inc. pending the outcome of this investigation.”

The report said, “the hearings have underlined the fact that mining activities in some developing countries have had adverse effects on local communities, especially where regulations governing the mining sector and its impact on the economic and social wellbeing of employees and local residents, as well as on the environment, are weak or non-existent, or where they are not enforced.”

The Canadian government’s response to this recommendation was to point to the Canadian National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises for a formal submission on the conduct of TVI Pacific in order for a dialogue to be arranged. But the Subanon people do not need a dialogue; they need justice and protection.

It also passed the buck on the Philippine government to ensure corporate compliance with domestic and international law. But it is precisely because regulations are weak in Third World countries like the Philippines that the committee recommended Canada to take action. The Arroyo government, for instance, has long been urged to hold mining companies liable for their environmental and social crimes instead of pursuing mining investors, but to no avail.

People’s Resistance to TVI Pacific

The Canatuan project mines a gold and copper-rich deposit and is TVI Pacific’s most advanced mining project in the Philippines. TVI Pacific started its operations at Canatuan in December 2002 by supposedly initiating a clean up of the extensive environmental and social degradation created by the small-scale miners previously operating at Canatuan. This is seen as part of their effort to earn the trust of the people and discredit the small-scale miners in the area.

TVI Pacific’s previous attempts had been stalled by protests from the indigenous Subanon community represented through their organization the Siocon Subanon Association Inc. (SSAI), as well as local small-scale miners.

Locals alleged that the company imposed an economic blockade barring the entry of essential goods, which caused great hardship and human rights violations including shootings. There were also reports that leaders of the indigenous community who oppose TVI’s mining operations have been singled out for attacks.

The community also complained that coastal fisheries and fish farming in the fields and estuaries downstream from the mine are already being affected by run-off from the cyanide processing plant. IBON Features/Posted by Bulatlat

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