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Mining Injustice Solidarity Network hold 4th annual conference

By: 
Reg McQuaid

May 11, 2012

The weekend of May 5-6 saw over 200 mining activists gather at U. of T. for the annual conference of the Toronto-based Mining Injustice Solidarity Network (MISN). The event was sponsored by 15 organizations, including CUPE, OPSEU, United Steelworkers and OPIRG. Another 19 organizations, such as Barriere Lake Solidarity, No One Is Illegal and Science for Peace, are listed as endorsers.

About two dozen workshops and caucuses spread over two days featured a number of international panelists from countries where Canadian mining companies are in conflict with local communities. Represented were Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala and Peru (Latin America), as well as Congo and Tanzania (Africa), and Philippines (Asia). There were also panels on a number of Canadian situations, in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta, mostly dealing with the impact of resource extraction on First Nations communities.

The keynote speakers were Avi Chomsky, Coordinator of Latin American Studies at Salem State University in Massachusetts, and Francisco Ramirez Cuellar, Secretary of the Federation of Colombian Energy Unions. Chomsky spoke of efforts to stop strip-mining of coal in Appalachia, and of building solidarity with Colombian coal miners. These took place in the context of a successful local campaign to shut down a coal-fired electricity plant in Cambridge, Mass.

Cuellar spoke of Colombia’s mining code, which gives resources away to foreign companies, 52 per cent of which are based in Canada. Some contract terms are for 90 years, or even in perpetuity. An estimated $400 billion in mineral wealth has already left the country, while 65 per cent of the population lives below the poverty level. Paramilitaries are used to control the mining infrastructure, with hundreds of assassinations. The best hope may be to sue companies in their home countries for their criminal behavior in Colombia and elsewhere. Also pension funds, unions and churches must divest their holdings in these companies, which include Occidental, BP, Cerrejon, Glencore, and Greystar Resources.

The operations of Barrick Gold in Tanzania were singled out as particularly brutal. They are able to expropriate people’s livelihoods through collusion with local authorities. However, people from Argentina told of a successful community campaign whereby Barrick was forced to cancel a harmful project.

First Nations representatives spoke of their ongoing struggles with mining companies around Barriere Lake in Quebec and Lake Abitibi (Wahgoshig) in Northern Ontario. In Southern Ontario they are demanding an end to chemical pollution of their lands near Sarnia, and blocking of the proposal to install a mega-quarry (2,300 acres) in an environmentally sensitive area of Melancthon township. This latter struggle is crucial to preserving the watersheds of five major rivers in Southern Ontario, and is being led by North Dufferin Agricultural and Community Taskforce (www.ndact.com). The Indigenous Environmental Network is also active in resisting tarsands exploitation and pipeline construction.

Last fall NDP M.P. Peter Julian (Burnaby-New Westminster) introduced private members’ bill C-323, which would amend the Federal Courts Act to allow criminal activity by Canadian companies abroad to be pursued in Canadian courts. The bill has zero chance of passing during the mandate of the current majority Conservative government, but is an important tool in keeping the issue alive and before the public. Hopefully it could be enacted after 2015 by the next government.

The Mining Injustice Solidarity Network (www.solidarityresponse.net) is an extraordinary instance of South-North community solidarity around the mining issue. It is doubly important for Canadians to keep our mining companies accountable for their actions not only in our home communities, but also in communities abroad. We have access to legislative and investment tools which are an important complement to life-and-death struggles on the ground in South America, Africa and Asia, and in many northern Canadian communities. Mining Watch Canada (www.miningwatch.ca) is another important resource on this topic.

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