Canada risks tarnishing its reputation for human rights unless it legislates against the overseas activities of the large number of mining companies based in the country, say campaigners.
Around three-quarters of the world's mining and exploration companies have their head offices in Canada, with the sector contributing more than $39 billion to its GDP. However, its record for humans rights is poor. Nautilus Minerals was recently accused of ignoring indigenous opposition to its plans for deep-sea mining in the coastal waters off Papua New Guinea. Northern Dynasty Minerals is involved in a proposed gold mine that threatens Alaska's wild salmon industry.
This week a class action was filed in a Montreal court against Anvil Mining Ltd, accusing the company, by providing logistical assistance, of playing a role in human rights abuses, including the massacre by the Congolese military of more than 70 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 2004.
The class action, brought by the Canadian Association Against Impunity, alleges that in October 2004 Anvil provided trucks, drivers and other logistical support to the Congolese military to help them counter an attempt by a small group of rebels to take over the town of Kilwa, a key port for Anvil’s operations. Anvil’s vehicles transported Congolese soldiers, as well as civilians who were allegedly taken outside the town and executed by the military.
Anvil Mining, which operated a copper and silver mine in the DRC, denies the allegations of wrongdoing and says it intends to defend itself. A legal case brought in the DRC failed to result in any prosecution, with a UN report later citing the case as a prime example of how justice is not always done in the country. Campaigners say the Congolese victims have been left with little choice but to file the court case in Canada because of the lack of any other way of seeking justice against an overseas company.
'We must continue to fight against impunity. The victims’ families have never lost hope of seeing justice being done,' said Emmanuel Umpula Nkumba, executive director of ACIDH, a Congolese advocacy group that has been supporting the victims.
Ethical mining bill failure
An ethical mining bill, recently proposed by the Liberal opposition party, would have required mining companies based in Canada to adhere to environmental and ethical guidelines when operating overseas. It was narrowly defeated in a vote last month, however, with strong opposition from Conservative MPs. The mining sector claimed the bill would have seen it lose competitiveness against companies based in countries with weaker human rights and environmental standards.
'Passing C-300 would have boosted Canada’s national reputation and demonstrated that we take human rights seriously,' said Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada. 'The message we are now sending to victims is that a double standard will prevail - one standard for operations in Canada and one for negligence abroad.'
Karyn Keenan from NGO Halifax Initiative in Canada said that while it will not stop human rights or environmental abuses, the bill would have prevented mining giants that violated guidelines from getting government support, such as export credit. She said support was growing for a bill: 'I would say that it's highly likely that similar reform efforts will be made in the future. They are badly needed.'
Campaigners said they hoped the class action being brought against Anvil Mining would set a precedent and send a message to Canadian companies that they 'cannot enjoy impunity if they take part in, or benefit from, violent crimes.'
Background on the case against Anvil Mining
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