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Indigenous Rights are the Best Defense Against Canada’s Resource Rush April 28, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Energy, Environment, First Nations, Idle No More.
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Roger’s note: Governments in power and political pundits are fond of invoking the “rule of law,” which is supposed to be sacred in a democracy.  However, when it is not in their self interest, the rule of law is ignored with impunity.  The actual operational principle is “might makes right.”  This article shows us how in spite of having the law on its side, the Canadian First Nations Peoples are not considered to be a legitimate force for lack of political clout.  The Idle No More movement is challenging this notion.  In the end, as has become evident to me over the years, it is not law or elections or government that determine social and economic justice, but rather organizing action outside of the electoral and juridical structures.  In the world of capitalism, government’s first loyalty is to the corporations who are in effect the owners of government; only massive social movements, fueled by anger and a sense of justice and human values can override this phenomenon.

First Nations people – and the decision of Canadians to stand alongside them – will determine the fate of the planet

In a boardroom in a soaring high-rise on Wall Street, Indigenous activist Arthur Manuel is sitting across from one of the most powerful financial agents in North America.

(Photo: Mark Blinch/Reuters)

It’s 2004, and Manuel is on a typical mission. Part of a line of distinguished Indigenous leaders from western Canada, Manuel is what you might call an economic hit-man for the right cause. A brilliant thinker trained in law, he has devoted himself to fighting Canada’s policies toward Indigenous peoples by assailing the government where it hurts most – in its pocketbook.

Which is why he secured a meeting in New York with a top-ranking official at Standard & Poor’s, the influential credit agency that issues Canada’s top-notch AAA rating. That’s what assures investors that the country has its debts covered, that it is a safe and profitable place to do business.

This coveted credit rating is Manuel’s target. His line of attack is to try to lift the veil on Canada’s dirty business secret: that contrary to the myth that Indigenous peoples leech off the state, resources taken from their lands have in fact been subsidizing the Canadian economy. In their haste to get at that wealth, the government has been flouting their own laws, ignoring Supreme Court decisions calling for the respect of Indigenous and treaty rights over large territories. Canada has become very rich, and Indigenous peoples very poor.

In other words, Canada owes big. Some have even begun calculating how much. According to economist Fred Lazar, First Nations in northern Ontario alone are owed $32 billion for the last century of unfulfilled treaty promises to share revenue from resources. Manuel’s argument is that this unpaid debt – a massive liability of trillions of dollars carried by the Canadian state, which it has deliberately failed to report – should be recognized as a risk to the country’s credit rating.

How did the official who could pull the rug under Canada’s economy respond? Unlike Canadian politicians and media who regularly dismiss the significance of Indigenous rights, he took Manuel seriously. It was evident he knew all the jurisprudence. He followed the political developments. He didn’t contradict any of Manuel’s facts.

He no doubt understood what Manuel was remarkably driving at: under threat of a dented credit rating, Canada might finally feel pressure to deal fairly with Indigenous peoples. But here was the hitch: Standard & Poor’s wouldn’t acknowledge the debt, because the official didn’t think Manuel and First Nations could ever collect it. Why? As author Naomi Klein, who accompanied Manuel at the meeting, remembers, his answer amounted to a realpolitik shoulder shrug.

“Who will able to enforce the debt? You and what army?”

This was his brutal but illuminating admission: Indigenous peoples may have the law on their side, but they don’t have the power. Indeed, while Indigenous peoples’ protests have achieved important environmental victories – mining operations stopped here, forest conservation areas set up there – these have remained sporadic and isolated. Canada’s country-wide policies of ignoring Indigenous land rights have rarely been challenged, and never fundamentally.

Until now. If it’s only a social movement that can change the power equation upholding the official’s stance, then the Idle No More uprising may be it. Triggered initially in late 2012 by opposition to the Conservative government’s roll-back of decades of environmental protection, this Indigenous movement quickly tapped into long-simmering indignation. Through the chilly winter months, Canada witnessed unprecedented mobilizations, with blockades and round-dances springing up in every corner of the country, demanding a basic resetting of the relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples.

Money is not the main form this justice will take. First Nations desperately need more funding to close the gap that exists between them and Canadians. But if Indigenous peoples hold a key to the Canadian economy, the point is to use this leverage to steer the country in a different direction. “Draw that power back to the people on the land, the grassroots people fighting pipelines and industrial projects,” Manuel says. “That will determine what governments can or cannot do on the land.”

The stakes could not be greater. The movement confronts a Conservative Canadian government aggressively pursuing $600 billion of resource development on or near Indigenous lands. That means the unbridled exploitation of huge hydrocarbon reserves, including the three-fold expansion of one of the world’s most carbon-intensive projects, the Alberta tar sands. Living closest to these lands, Indigenous peoples are the best and last defence against this fossil fuel scramble. In its place, they may yet host the energy alternatives – of wind, water, or solar.

No surprise, then, about the government’s basic approach toward First Nations: “removing obstacles to major economic development.” Hence the movement’s next stage – a call for defiance branded Sovereignty Summer – is to put more obstacles up. The assertion of constitutionally-protected Indigenous and treaty rights – backed up by direct action, legal challenges and massive support from Canadians – is exactly what can create chronic uncertainty for this corporate and government agenda. For those betting on more than a half-trillion in resource investments, that’s a very big warning sign.

Industry has taken notice. A recent report on mining dropped Canada out of the top spot for miners: “while Canadian jurisdictions remain competitive globally, uncertainties with Indigenous consultation and disputed land claims are growing concerns for some.” And if the uncertainty is eventually tagged with a monetary sum, then Canada will, as Manuel warned Standard & Poor’s, face a large and serious credit risk. Trying to ward off such a threat, the government is hoping to lock mainstream Indigenous leaders into endless negotiations, or sway them with promises of a bigger piece of the resource action.

But this bleak outlook intent on a final ransacking of the earth doesn’t stand up to the vision the movement offers Canadians. Implementing Indigenous rights on the ground, starting with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, could tilt the balance of stewardship over a vast geography: giving Indigenous peoples much more control, and corporations much less. Which means that finally honouring Indigenous rights is not simply about paying off Canada’s enormous legal debt to First Nations: it is also our best chance to save entire territories from endless extraction and destruction. In no small way, the actions of Indigenous peoples – and the decision of Canadians to stand alongside them – will determine the fate of the planet.

This new understanding is dawning on more Canadians. Thousands are signing onto educational campaigns to become allies to First Nations. Direct action trainings for young people are in full swing. As Chief Allan Adam from the First Nation in the heart of the Alberta oil patch has suggested, it might be “a long, hot summer.”

Sustained action that puts real clout behind Indigenous claims is what will force a reckoning with the true nature of Canada’s economy – and the possibility of a transformed country. That is the promise of a growing mass protest movement, an army of untold power and numbers.

Martin Lukacs

Martin Lukacs is a writer and activist, and an editor with the Canadian grassroots newspaper the Dominion

The Last Genocide In North America – Why Are They Ignoring Our Indians? January 23, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, First Nations, Genocide.
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By (about the author)     Permalink
OpEdNews Op Eds 1/22/2013 at 18:41:38

The Cree, the Sioux, the Apache, and the Iroquois have nothing to do with the descendants of Demalahamid, Temlaham. Nor does; the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), the AFN (Assembly of First Nations), the Idle No More Movement, or Attawapiskat Chief Teresa Spence. None represent the Tsimshian, the Gitxsan, the Haisla, or the Tahltan. It would be difficult to find anyone in Ottawa, Indian or otherwise, speaking for any of the Nations of Northwest BC, the Sacred Circle.

Indians living elsewhere in Canada, or anywhere else in BC outside of the Northwest, have virtually nothing in common with Damelahamid outside of being original, evolving inhabitants on the land.

The Northwest Coast was, and is, an identity all to itself. The first explorers and traders, followed by the missionaries, all described these people as having a unique but similar ‘Tsimshian’ language. This unifying tongue is still spoken and taught today.

The general population, except for those living directly in Northwest BC, reference the totem culture only with the Haida Indian and Haida Gwaii; the islands most still call the Queen Charlottes.   Almost none know of the peoples residing on the land west of the Omineca Mountain range through to the Pacific Ocean; the people of Damelahamid.


Original Map from the BC Knowledge Network with an addition to reference the region discussed by BC Knowledge Network

Most do not even know where the Nisgaa territory is, yet there has been a signed modern-day treaty for twelve years.

The area is so remote if you were to ask residents of B.C. about a lava bed from a volcano anywhere nearby, 99 percent would laugh and excuse this as a ridiculous notion. This stands true even for some living within 100 miles of the Nisgaa Lava Memorial fields.

As this location is a full eight-hour drive east-northeast of Prince George, remote is almost an understatement.  The highway into the territory is named the Highway of Tears after the numerous accounts of missing and murdered women from the Nations of Damelahamid along this often-deserted stretch of road.   To add to the tragedy for these people it was primarily the women of the Sacred Circle who were taken off the streets of Vancouver by Willie Pickton to be murdered on his Pig Farm, Piggies’ Palace.

The following attempts to address why these people still suffer in silence.   Why they are not represented at the Chiefs’ Table or featured in the Idle No More movement, even though the atrocity is so well documented.    It is difficult to unite in common purpose as the wounds are still raw, the emotions still at the surface; less than a generation has passed since some lived without roads or electricity.   Yes, even in BC, Canada, not 30 years ago some tribes had no direct link or contact routes.   It was only 150 years ago when this region was even entered to explore.

These were not nomadic people.    Huge 1000-sq-ft homes built of cedar along with settlements of dozens of these structures formed municipalities belonging to each Nation.    Seasonal travel for harvesting and extensive trading was engaged in with neighbouring tribes. North and east trading with the Carrier and Dene tribes, and to the south by huge 50-foot canoes with others.   Grease trails were recorded as protected trade routes throughout all of these Nations territories.   They knew their land and they owned their land.    Totems and Feast halls marked their territories.    Nation-to-Nation territorial treaties were commonplace.    Trespass could mean death, especially if you harmed any life form within the recognized territorial boundaries.     Yet other areas were recognized as neutral lands and water where all Nations could meet and share without territorial conflicts.


Totem Poles at the Core of the Sacred Circle, Damelahamid by Terrace Daily News

Maybe this is why the Tsimshian, Haisla, Gitxsan, Wetsuweten, Tlingit, Haida, Tahltan, and Nisgaa are ignored; as long as no one knows this special place exists their territories can still be quietly stolen.

It is specifically about these peoples’ lands the Canadian Government passed its recent legislation, Bills C38 and C45.  They did this to justify their continued assault, which began with the deliberate genocide of these peoples by germ warfare.   The Canadian government wishes to conduct a final solution on these people for the Mining and Petroleum industries.

While the Cree, Sioux, Apache, Iroquois, with the AFN, the UBCIC, and others achieve media prominence, the Sacred Circle genocide and social dysfunction continues.

All of the following material was compiled by researching online. The following are three links to much of the source material:

From HistoryLink.org the Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History

http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=5171

From the University of Victoria – Writings on vaccination vs inoculation regarding Small Pox in the area. – click here

Words directly attributed to Dr. Helmcken –   http://bcheritage.ca/salish/trad/jshelm.htm

This is a collection of evidence, extracts, to demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt that the first settlers at Victoria, specifically the ‘white’ government of the day, targeted the Indians of the Sacred Circle for extermination.

At the present rate of mortality, not many months can elapse “ere the Northern Indians of this coast will exist only in story.” The Daily British Colonist, June 21, 1862, p. 3.  


The Hon. John S. Helmcken, photographed by William J. Topley, circa 1854. by Wikipedia

After most of the northern tribes were forced from Victoria, the (Victoria) Daily Press published an editorial titled “The Indian Mortality.” It said in part:

“… What will they say in England? when it is known that an Indian population was fostered and encouraged round Victoria, until the small-pox was imported from San Francisco.

“They, when the disease raged amongst them, when the unfortunate wretches were dying by scores, deserted by their own people, and left to perish in the midst of a Christian community that had fattened off them for four years – then the humanizing influence of our civilized Government comes in – not to remedy the evil that it had brought about – not to become the Good Samaritan, and endeavor to ameliorate the effects of the disease by medical exertion, but to drive these people away to death, and to disseminate the fell disease along the coast.

“To send with them the destruction perhaps of the whole Indian race in the British Possessions on the Pacific …. There is a dehumanizing fatuity about this treatment of the natives that is truly horrible … How easy it would have been to have sent away the tribes when the disease was first noticed in the town, and if any of the Indians had taken the infection, to have had a place where they could have been attended to, some little distance from Victoria, until they recovered as they in all probability would have done with medical aid.

“By this means the progress of the disease would at once been arrested, and the population saved from the horrible sights, and perhaps dangerous effects, of heaps of dead bodies putrifying [sic] in the summer’s sun, in the vicinity of town … The authorities have commenced the work of extermination – let them keep it up …. Never was there a more execrable Indian policy than ours.”    (Daily Press, June 17, 1862 in Boyd, p. 182-183, endnote 7).

Full Knowledge of the Consequences

In June 1862, The Daily British Colonist, noting the devastation of the Indians up to that time, stated the obvious inevitable consequences of these escorted canoes. Referring to a group of Haida who recently departed Victoria, the newspaper wrote:

“How have the mighty fallen! Four short years ago, numbering their braves by thousands, they were the scourge and terror of the coast; today, broken-spirited and effeminate, with scarce a corporal’s guard of warriors remaining alive, they are proceeding northward, bearing with them the seeds of a loathsome disease that will take root and bring both a plentiful crop of ruin and destruction to the friends who have remained at home. At the present rate of mortality, not many months can elapse ‘ere the Northern Indians of this coast will exist only in story.’” (The Daily British Colonist, June 21, 1862, p. 3; Boyd, p. 173, 229).

The Smallpox Vaccine

The smallpox vaccine was discovered in England in 1798 and first used in the Puget Sound area in 1837. On March 18, 1862, when The Daily British Colonist published confirmation of smallpox in Victoria, the paper made the following statement:

“[W]e advise our citizens … to proceed at once to a physician and undergo vaccination … from the loathsome disease …” (The Daily British Colonist, March 18, 1862, p. 3).

Between March 18 and April 1, 1862, The Daily British Colonist reiterated to the citizens of Victoria at least five times the importance of getting vaccinated. The paper estimated that by April 1, one-half of the “resident Victorians” were vaccinated. In 1862, Victoria, the largest town north of the Columbia River, had a white population of from 2,500 to 5,000. The nearby Indian population was about the same size. There were probably at least 2,000 Northern Indians [all whose origins were from the coastal communities between northern Vancouver Island and Alaska] camping on the outskirts of Victoria, plus at least 1,600 local Indians who lived nearby.

Initially no demands were made to vaccinate these local groups. By March 27, 1862, Dr. John Helmcken (1824-1920), Hudson’s Bay Company physician, had vaccinated about 30 local resident Songhees Indians, who constituted less than 1 percent of the nearby natives.

The Songhees Were Saved

On April 1, 1862, 18 days after the Brother Jonathan departed, the first reports were published of an Indian, who lived in town, with smallpox. The Victoria authorities and residents did not react. As the virus spread it would be more than two weeks before the local newspapers reported local Indians receiving additional vaccines. On April 16, Dr. Helmcken vaccinated another 30 Indians. By April 25, The Daily British Colonist reported that since the outbreak Dr. Helmcken had vaccinated “over 500 natives” (April 26, 1862, p. 3).

Apparently, the doctor distributed most of his vaccine to the Songhees, a local tribe that resided near Victoria. Soon after smallpox symptoms emerged at the Northern Indian encampment, the Songhees departed their Vancouver Island village(s) en masse to a nearby island in Haro Strait. Because of the vaccinations and the tribe’s self-imposed quarantine, the Songhees survived the epidemic with few deaths (Boyd, 176, 177, 183).

Was There a Shortage of Vaccine?

It is unknown how large a supply of the smallpox vaccine was kept at Victoria. Boyd states that the vaccine was “available, though in short supply” (Boyd, p. 172). Possibly there was a shortage of vaccine when the smallpox epidemic started.

According to Boyd, Anglican missionary Alexander Garrett stated in his Reminiscences that there was not enough vaccine “within seven hundred miles to go around” (Boyd p 178-9).

Still, during the entire run of the epidemic The Daily British Colonist did not mention a vaccine shortage at any time. On the contrary, during the last half of March, after the first smallpox case was discovered, the paper mentioned numerous times the availability of the vaccine. In mid-June, about when the Indian epidemic along the coast reached its height, The Daily British Colonist (June 14, 1862) asked why “our philanthropists” and “missionaries” had not started “vaccinating the poor wretches” in mid-April?

If there was a vaccine shortage, it was just temporary. Apparently, by May 1, 1862, at the latest, there was plenty of vaccine to go around. During the first half of May 1862, Father Leon Fouquet, a Catholic Missionary, reportedly vaccinated 3,400 Indians along the lower Fraser River. At the same time, other missions along both sides of the Strait of Georgia and in Puget Sound received supplies to vaccinate nearby tribes people. The ravages of the epidemic bypassed these vaccinated groups (The Daily British Colonist, March 18, 26, 27, 28, 1862, April 1, 1862, June 14, 1862; Boyd, p. 183-184).

The Epidemic Could Have Been Stopped

In the spring of 1862, the government body that administered authority over Victoria was the House of Assembly of the Colony of Vancouver Island (in 1866 Vancouver Island merged with the mainland colony of British Columbia). The town of Victoria had not incorporated, so had no town council and no mayor. At least two members of the House of Assembly, along with the Governor of the Colony, undoubtedly were aware of the obvious consequences of not immunizing the Indians, and not placing them under quarantine.

In 1862, Dr. William Tolmie (1812-1886) and Dr. John Helmcken were both legislators in the Vancouver Island Assembly, Helmcken serving as Speaker, one of the highest elected positions in the Colony. The Hudson’s Bay Co. hired William Tolmie in 1833 and John Helmcken in 1850 as physicians.

In 1837, reports reached Fort Vancouver of smallpox in northern British Columbia. Before the disease reached Puget Sound, Hudson’s Bay Co. dispatched Tolmie to vaccinate the Indians near Fort Nisqually. By mid-July 1837, he had inoculated all the women and children and probably most of the men. In 1853 Tolmie again helped vaccinate “large numbers” of Indians near Fort Nisqually during a smallpox epidemic centered along Washington Territory’s Pacific coast (Boyd, 170). John Helmcken also served as HBC physician for a number of years, and then continued in private practice until he retired in 1910. They were both well aware of the issues surrounding smallpox.

Governor James Douglas Proposes Action

Shortly after the smallpox outbreak, James Douglas, the Governor of the Colony of Vancouver Island, submitted a proposal to the House of Assembly regarding smallpox. James Douglas had arrived on the coast in 1826 and was familiar with two previous Indian epidemics on the coast (1836-37 smallpox and 1847-48 measles). In his March 27, 1862, proposal to the Assembly he noted that because “several cases” of smallpox had occurred it “is desirable that instant measures should be adopted to prevent the spread of the infection …” and “strongly recommended” that the House immediately appropriate funds to build a hospital in a isolated location for all cases of smallpox (Journal of the Colonial Legislatures … vol. 2, p. 350).

Dr. Helmcken and Others Oppose Action

Four days later, the nine-member House of Assembly, including Speaker Helmcken and Tolmie, met and considered the Governor’s proposal recommending a smallpox hospital and “compelling” all patients to be sent there. According to a newspaper account, Speaker Dr. Helmcken stated he was against a fully staffed hospital and against forcing all cases of smallpox to go there. The doctor expressed concern about the cost of establishing and operating the hospital and that it would interfere with the liberty of the patients. Helmcken went even further and chastised the Governor for being an alarmist about the disease.

The majority of the other members agreed with Mr. Helmcken. The members did vote to construct a “suitable building” near the present hospital for white smallpox patients, but did not require them to go. The Assembly also rejected the establishment of a quarantine for the same reasons – cost and restricting liberty. Apparently only one member, Mr. Burnaby, spoke out in favor of a fully staffed Smallpox Hospital and the quarantine. The newspaper account did not mention any discussion about what to do to prevent smallpox from infecting the Indians (The Daily British Colonist, March 28, 1862, April 1, 1862).

This inaction of the Assembly and other government officials sealed the fate of nearly every group of Northwest Coast Indians from Sitka to northern Vancouver Island and south into the Puget Sound area. Robert Boyd estimates that from April 1862 to about the end of year, more than 14,000 Indians died of smallpox and untold hundreds of survivors were disfigured for life. Boyd states unequivocally: “This [Indian] epidemic might have been avoided, and the Whites knew it” (Boyd p 172).

The paper remarked on the consequences of the authorities’ intentional refusal to act to vaccinate and quarantine the Indians:

“Were it likely that the disease would only spread among the Indians, there might be those among us like our authorities who would rest undisturbed, content that the small-pox is a fit successor to the moral ulcer that has festered at our doors. … [But] chances are that the pestilence will spread among our white population [because] … [t]he Indians have free access to the town day and night. They line our streets, fill the pit in our theatre, are found at nearly every open door … in the town; and are even employed as servants in our dwellings, and in the culinary departments of our restaurants and hotels” (The Daily British Colonist, April 28, 1862, p. 2).

In the doctor’s own words: 

“Hyder [Haida] women and men came in flocks, to go away ruined forever, Indians from the North West coast met with the same fate, from which they have never and never will recover. In process of time Chinese women came and they in some measure took the business of the local Indians, Haidas, Chimpsehans [Tsimshians] and so forth and to end the matter the small pox and local demands drove them home in their own canoes, and hundred perished on their way to their own country. I may say here they nearly every Indian attacked with small pox died, whether he was taken care of in the Indian small pox hospital or not, and it was also said whether he had been vaccinated or not.

“I do not believe the last assertion because the Songish [Songhees] Indians kept comparatively free from the disease and many of them at various times had been successfully vaccinated by me, arm to arm.”

Has the prevailing attitude changed much today?

Allowing and continuing to name anything in Victoria, the Capital of BC, after this man (ie Helmcken Road General Hospital, Helmcken Memorial in Clearwater) is akin to naming things in Germany after Dr. Joseph Mengele.

Did he know better, or was it intentional?
From Wikipedia:

He was hired aboard the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Prince Rupert as a ship’s surgeon on its 1847 voyage to York Factory, Rupert’s Land. After completing his certification at Guy’s Hospital, he travelled to India and China. He had intended to join the Navy, but was persuaded instead to join the HBC in 1849 as a physician and clerk on to be stationed on Vancouver Island. On the long voyage, smallpox broke out aboard ship, but Helmcken handled the situation ably, and only a single life was lost.

Hmmmm, one can only wonder. Consider this – His success in preventing the spread of smallpox among the whites on the ship was a dozen years prior to his failure to take measures to stop the spread of the disease among the Sacred Circle natives. Only one conclusion can be had – His and the government he was the ‘speaker’ for, considered the highest post, - had but one intention, the death and destruction of the Northern tribes.

Conclusion

Still today these people from the Nations of the Sacred Circle are relegated to the shadows, their tragedies ignored.  While Indians across Canada stand up and demand recognition for the harm done over the course of the last 300 to 400 years, the harm in the Sacred Circle is so fresh it remains difficult for the surviving elders to speak of it.  Those who had their children abducted, their villages burned, their daughters raped and murdered, are still alive living with the pain right now.

It remains an ongoing tragedy that the efforts of the Idle No More movement east of the Ominica Mountain Range does not come close to addressing.   The genocide continues today.    These are not; Cree, Sioux, Apache, or Iroquois.   They are the people of Demalahamid, Temlaham.    They are the; Nisgaa, Tahltan, Gitxsan, Wetsuweten, Haisla, Haida, Tlingit and the Tsimshian.  The once most respected and admired traders in the Pacific Northwest.  A unique totem culture based strictly on a Matriarchal, Matrilineal hierarchy with government structures based on feasting and decency.  Something the British and Canadian governments abhorred and continue to destroy today.

The only reference to address the source of the women in the recently released government report on the missing and murdered women from the Vancouver Downtown Eastside, was encouraging a transit bus system along the highway of tears.   These women were the potential authority, the matriarchs.   A bus?  The government offers these women who had their children ripped from their arms, their communities burned, their ancestors graves disturbed, are offered a bus?

The systemic tragedy continues as the government leaders continue to claim there is no money, even for the bus.  It seems alright, still today, to not only rape pillage and plunder the land and resources, but also the people.

http://www.TerraceDaily.ca

Mid 50 year old male. Generally a blue collar worker. Heavy duty mechanic by trade, later, Diesel electrician, then alternative energy systems importer, seller, designer and installer. Then a home construction general contractor and now a web (more…)

Appeal of Conscience Foundation Awards Bad Behavior: Stephen Harper’s Richard Nixon Prize October 2, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Foreign Policy, Humor.
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by YVES ENGLER

At a ceremony in New York today the Appeal of Conscience Foundation will present Stephen Harper with its World Statesman of the Year award. Former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger will deliver the prize.

Canada’s Prime Minister is really racking up the hardware. This morning a coalition of international and community groups announced that Harper has won the first ever Richard Nixon Prize. The award is given to a leader for pursuing “principled, forthright and steadfast international policies in the interests of the rich and powerful, regardless of the consequences” to everyone else.

The decision to grant Harper the Richard Nixon Prize was made after a thorough review of his foreign policy.

The grantees cited Harper’s “consistent backing of the interests of North America’s top 1% of income earners, with a special emphasis on supporting those who make their billions from resource extraction, weaponry and banking.”

The committee applauded Harper for bombing Libya into democracy. It took special note that this was probably also good for certain oil and gas interests.

“In the best tradition of Richard Nixon who could always keep a straight face,” the committee praised Harper for at the same time “standing by Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak until the final hours of his 30-year presidency.”

In Afghanistan the Prime Minister has stayed committed to war even though most Canadians want to bring the troops home, the prize committee said in a statement. Harper’s decision to continue to deploy 1,000 troops as well as special forces is exactly what America’s 37th president would have done. “Canadian special forces play an important role in US-led nighttime assassination raids. When a parliamentary committee began asking inappropriate questions about Afghan detainees Harper refused to buckle and simply closed shop,” said the committee’s statement. “Richard Nixon would have been proud.”

The committee also analyzed several more obscure aspects of Harper’s international policy.

“We applaud Canada’s decision to send 2,000 troops to Haiti days after the 2010 earthquake. It took real courage to send troops to ‘secure order’ for Haiti’s elite when many other countries misguidedly focused on search and rescue teams to pull injured people from under rubble.”

Despite Harper’s Conservative government being the biggest backer of the world’s mining industry, ordinary Canadians just don’t understand how valuable this is to the wealthy, the committee said. “We appreciate the Prime Minister’s commitment to advancing Canadian mining companies’ interests abroad. All investors benefit.”

As for calls that Ottawa should regulate Canadian mining corporations’ behavior abroad, “Conservative officials have repeatedly pointed out that most companies have corporate social responsibility programs to take care of any problems they may face with noisy indigenous communities in Latin America or elsewhere. That’s exactly the position Richard Nixon would have taken.” The prize committee also noted that many of the individuals running big Canadian mining companies are good people who fund university programs, think tanks and other initiatives designed to defend the way of life of the 1%.

As for one of the most controversial foreign affairs issues he’s dealt with Harper’s made a simple – and correct – calculation, the committee said. While almost the entire world backs the Palestinians in their bid for a small state, why should we? As Richard Nixon certainly believed, Canada’s job is to support the United States and the West, in that order.

Finally, the Richard Nixon Prize grantees said they thoroughly support Harper’s international environmental policy. “The Prime Minister has firmly challenged those in Washington and Europe who call the tar sands “dirty oil”. At international climate negotiations Harper has made the tough decision to support more carbon in our atmosphere rather than simply accede to an overwhelming international consensus. His government repeatedly blocked climate negotiations and withdrew Canada from the Kyoto protocol, what he once correctly called a ‘socialist scheme’ to suck money out of rich countries.”

The Richard Nixon Prize will be given to Prime Minister Harper the next time he visits Honduras, where he helped overthrow the elected president, who was such a pain in the ass.

Yves Engler’s latest book is Lester Pearson’s Peacekeeping: the truth may hurt.

Showdown in Peru: Indigenous Communities Kick Out Canadian Mining Company September 21, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Latin America, Peru.
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Written by Benjamin Dangl
Wednesday, 21 September 2011 11:56
 

Source: The Dominion

 

Earlier  this summer, an anti-mining Indigenous movement in Peru  successfully  ousted a Canadian mining company from their territory.  “In  spite of  government repression, if the people decide to bring the fight  to the  bitter end, it is possible to resist the pressure of mining and  oil  companies,” Peruvian activist and journalist Yasser Gómez told The Dominion.

The  David and Goliath scenario of this anti-mining uprising  highlights the  vast economic inequality that has beset Peru. The  country’s economy  has been booming for the past decade, with a seven per  cent growth  expected this year—one of the highest growth rates  internationally.  Sixty-five per cent of the country’s export income  comes from the  mining industry, and investors are expected to spend over  $40 billion  in the next 10 years on mining operations.

Yet  this growth has not benefited a large percentage of the  population.  The poverty rate in Peru is just over 31 per cent; in the  countrysde,  two in three people live under the poverty line. Today,  there are over  200 communities organized against mining across Peru.

On  June 5, left-leaning presidential candidate Ollanta Humala  defeated  right winger Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of ex-president and  human  rights violator Alberto Fujimori. Humala, who won resounding  support in  the poor countryside, promised to redistribute wealth by  increasing  taxes on the lucrative mining industry.

But another political force, from the grassroots, may end up being a powerful force of change under Humala.

In  May and June of this year, hundreds of local residents in Puno   organized road blockades, strikes and protests to demand that the   government rescind a concession to the Vancouver-based Bear Creek Mining   Corporation. Activists also called for an end to future mining   concessions in their area, due to the industry’s impact on the   environment.

According  to Bear Creek, at the time of the protests the  company had already  invested some $25 million in the mine. Company  Director Andrew  Swarthout said the mining would not impact on Lake  Titicaca (a massive  fresh water lake shared by Bolivia and Peru) and  would create  approximately 1,000 jobs. But local residents were not  convinced.

Walter  Aduviri is the president of the Front for the Defense of  Natural  Resources in Southern Puno, and a leading organizer in protests  against  Bear Creek and mining in general in the area.

“It  is as though we, the Aymaras, do not have any politicians or   representatives in the congress,” Aduviri told a reporter from the   Peruvian newspaper La Republica.   He critiqued outgoing president Alan García, who he says governed only   for those who have money. “We do not ask for money, we ask for respect   for our rights, our property and territory,” said Aduviri.

“The  president [Alan García] has sold off our territory without  consulting  us,” Paolo Castro, a farmer who joined the protests against  Bear Creek  told Al Jazeera.   Farmer Alejandro Tucuuhami agreed, telling the news outlet, “We know   that in European countries, for example, mining contaminates a lot, so   that’s why they want to send the mines to underdeveloped countries.”

Indigenous  campesinos on the Bolivian side of the border began road  blockades in  solidarity with the Peruvian activists. Overall, the  blockades put a  standstill to inter-country traffic, stopping hundreds  of trucks, local  passengers and tourists.

On  June 24, following seven weeks of strikes, protests, road  blockades  and bloody police repression of activists, then President  García broke  with Peruvian political tradition and heeded the demands of  the  protesters by cancelling the Bear Creek contract, and putting a   three-year hold on future mining deals for the region. In addition,   recently inaugurated Ollanta Humala has pledged to move forward on   legislation that will make community input necessary before mining   operations anywhere in the country can proceed.

Just  hours after García overturned Bear Creek’s concession, a  conflict  erupted at the airport in Juliaca, north of Puno. There,  activists  protesting other mining operations and a hydroelectric plant  occupied  the airport only to be attacked by police who shot and killed  five  protesters. Major English media outlets inaccurately reported that   García’s decision against Bear Creek was linked to the massacre at the   airport, when in fact the airport protest was linked to separate proposed mining and hydroelectric projects.

Jennifer Moore, the Latin America Program Coordinator of MiningWatch Canada, told The Dominion that García’s decision to annul the concession “is an important   indicator of the strength of local organizing that we have been seeing   for awhile in Peru.” Moore said García has been “extraordinarily bent on   handing out mining concessions without consulting with local   communities first.”

In  response to García’s decision, Bear Creek has applied for a   constitutional injunction against the Peruvian government. Swarthout   contends that the cancellation of the concession is unconstitutional and   in violation of foreign investment laws. Moore noted that it is   plausible that Bear Creek could use the Canada-Peru Free Trade   Agreement, signed in 2009, to challenge the loss of their concession.

The  wave of strikes and conflicts that have swept across Peru in  recent  months, along with the election of Humala, are likely to have a   long-standing impact on the regulation and taxation of the multinational   extractive industry in Peru. On August 23, at the time of this  writing,  the Peruvian congress signed into law a bill that requires  mining and  oil companies to consult with Indigenous communities before  constructing  extractive projects. Humala now has to sign the bill into  law for it go  into effect.

The  people’s victory in Puno against Bear Creek may set the stage for  a  new struggle in the country that will test the political will of   Humala, and challenge social movements to pressure from below.

Benjamin Dangl is the author of Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America and The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia (AK Press). He edits TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events, and UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America. Email Bendangl(at)gmail(dot)com.

Canada Mines African Discontent June 7, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, Canada, Tanzania.
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Published on Tuesday, June 7, 2011 by The Toronto Star

While Canadians may think of ourselves as best known for owning the Olympic podium, among Africans we may actually be better known — and not particularly liked — for owning their natural resources.

Once beloved on the continent, Canada is no longer so fondly regarded in Africa.

The new, less enthusiastic view of Canada was vividly illustrated last month when more than 1,500 desperately poor Tanzanian villagers picked up machetes, rocks and hammers and stormed the mining compound of Canadian-owned African Barrick Gold.

The uprising — leading to the shooting deaths of seven of the villagers by police and security forces at the mine — is a startling reminder that theories widely held in the West about the benefits of foreign investment for the developing world are not always shared by people on the receiving end.

In theory, Barrick’s arrival in the 1990s has been a boon to the Tanzanian economy, pushing it toward development.

In reality, Tanzania has collected only a pittance in taxes and royalties from Barrick and other foreign multinationals through contracts that are shrouded in secrecy. So, although it sits on massive gold reserves worth more than $40 billion, Tanzania remains one of world’s 10 poorest countries.

A 2008 investigation funded by Norwegian church groups concluded that Tanzania collected an average of only $21.7 million (U.S.) a year in royalty and taxes on more than $2.5 billion worth of gold exported over the previous five years. The investigation also estimated some 400,000 Tanzanians, who formerly mined for gold with nothing but their own picks, shovels and ropes, have been left unemployed by the giant mining operations.

Two months after that report, a government-appointed commission headed by retired Tanzanian judge Mark Bomani strongly urged imposing higher royalties and taxes on the foreign mining companies.

With growing popular pressure for tougher legislation, the Canadian government intervened on the side of the multinationals, pressuring the Tanzanian government and parliament to oppose Bomani’s proposed reforms.

Officials from the Canadian High Commission launched an “intense” lobbying mission with Tanzanian legislators aimed at blocking the reforms, according to reports in the Tanzanian newspaper ThisDay.

Ottawa also sought to head off potentially tougher rules governing Canadian mining companies by pressing for stronger investor protections in trade talks with Tanzania, aimed at securing what Canada calls a Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA).

“Canada’s objective in entering these negotiations is to secure a comprehensive, high-quality agreement to protect investors through the establishment of a framework of legally binding rights and obligations,” says a posting on the website of Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

The FIPA is “purely an instrument aimed at protecting the interests of Canadian companies in Tanzania,” according to Zitto Kabwe, a Tanzanian parliamentarian.

All this seems to be a departure from the way Canada used to operate in Africa.

Back in the 1970s, Canada actually gave African countries help, teaching them how to negotiate better deals with foreign multinationals, says Linda Freeman, a political scientist at Carleton University who specializes in African political economy.

Today, Freeman notes, Canada is solidly on the side of the multinationals, pressuring vulnerable African nations to accept deals favourable to multinationals, with negative implications for their own populations.

Do Canadians care about any of this? Apparently not, according to Canadian parliamentarians, who last fall narrowly voted to defeat a private member’s bill aimed at holding Canadian companies operating abroad more accountable here in Canada.

The bill would have made a significant difference in how last month’s violence in Tanzania will be investigated, according to Jamie Kneen, with the Ottawa-based watchdog group Mining Watch.

The killings — and additional allegations of rape — are being investigated by Tanzanian police and by Barrick.

But the private member’s bill would have entitled villagers to a Canadian government investigation, with potential repercussions for Canadian companies found to have behaved improperly.

The tragic defeat of that bill — and the Harper government’s intense focus on championing rights for Canadian corporations — has left Canada flexing its muscle against some of the world’s most impoverished people.

© Copyright Toronto Star 1996-2011

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Linda McQuaig

Linda McQuaig is a columnist for the Toronto Star.

Taking stock of Canada’s mining industry: Landmark lawsuit against the Toronto Stock Exchange could strip Canadian mining companies of impunity May 11, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Ecuador, Energy, Environment, Latin America.
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May 5, 2010 in Briarpatch Articles, May/June 2010: Foreign policy |

 By Jennifer Moore
Briarpatch Magazine
May/June 2010

Marcia Ramírez hopes to set a precedent in Canadian courts that will benefit peasant farmers and indigenous peoples across the Global South.

A community leader in her mid-20s, Ramírez is one of three Ecuadorian plaintiffs suing the Toronto Stock Exchange for over $1.5 billion. The lawsuit alleges that violence in their rural community could have been avoided had the TSX not listed the Copper Mesa Mining Corporation (formerly Ascendant Copper), which is also named in the lawsuit. The TSX Group and TSX Inc. are accused of causing or materially contributing to alleged violence committed by the company in response to local opposition to an open-pit copper mine. An environmental impact study had indicated that the mine would displace several communities and jeopardize the health of forests and rivers in the northwestern valley of Intag. The defendants have vigorously denied the allegations.

“I ask the noble people of Canada,” Ramírez stated in her comments when the civil suit was filed in March 2009, “that you demand from your elected authorities significant changes in your national legislation so that what has happened with Copper Mesa in Intag will never happen again, not in Intag nor in any other part of the world.”

The TSX is a principal source of global mining financing today and specializes in services for junior mining companies like Copper Mesa. According to the Mining Association of Canada, 55 per cent of the world’s publicly traded mining companies were listed on the TSX at the end of 2008, far more than any other stock exchange. Canadian stock exchanges also provided 31 per cent of the world’s mining equity and handled 81 per cent of financing transactions for the global mining industry between 2004 and 2009.

In Latin America, a prime target for Canadian mining investments, Canadian-listed companies operate roughly 1,400 projects and have been the focal point of widespread protests and human rights abuses throughout the region. Just in the past year, anti-mining activists have been reported killed in Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala in presumed relation to Canadian projects. In Argentina and Honduras, Canadian operations have led to complaints of water scarcity, contamination and illness. In Peru, a Canadian mining oper­ation has provoked opposition among northern Amazonian peoples who question why a national park intended to protect their territory was reduced by half, giving miners access to pristine forests in headwaters of great importance to them. Alleged human rights violations and abuses by such companies are seldom investigated and almost never brought to justice.

 

“Mining companies are prohibited here,” reads the sign. “We don’t sell our lands, we defend them.”

As a result, Canadian mining companies have developed a reputation for human rights violations and environmental devastation that even the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racism has complained about. Members of the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability were also dismayed when the government released a belated response to a series of public recommendations on the Canadian overseas extractive industry in March 2009 that only reaffirmed its commitment to the status quo: voluntary Corporate Social Responsibility guidelines. The government’s position “falls far short of international human rights norms,” said Amnesty International. KAIROS, a faith-based organization advocating for human rights, ecological and ecumenical justice, complained that Canada leaves “mining-affected communities with no recourse.” MiningWatch added that the government’s complaint mechanism “undermines the principle of independent fact-finding.” One survey of Canadian mining companies has also demonstrated that adherence to international standards by our overseas extractive industry is “inordinately” low, especially among junior mining companies.

In other words, voluntary principles are not enough.

Intag, Ecuador, says no

The Ecuadorian community of Intag has a long history of opposition to large-scale copper mining, beginning with the expulsion of a Japanese mining company in the 1990s. In 1997, Bishi Metals left the area when locals balked after obtaining a copy of its environmental impact assessment, which detailed how its projected open-pit mine would cause deforestation, dry up rivers and displace at least four local communities.

Following this victory, Intag continued organizing, aware that although Bishi was gone, the copper remained. Various initiatives were undertaken to demonstrate that Intag could live without mining, including a local conservation organization, an ecotourism project, a women’s committee, a committee of all the rural parishes in the valley, a coffee co-operative, a community newspaper, a local radio station and a community development association.

By the time Copper Mesa acquired mineral rights in Intag in 2004, it was local organizations rather than the technical challenges of working in the remote area that would prove to be its greatest obstacle. As a result of the strong collective response, the company never managed to get a drill in the ground.

According to Polivio Pérez, president of the Community Development Council for the rural parish in which Copper Mesa’s project is situated, “the company came in trying to buy support and divide the communities” in an effort to weaken local resistance. When it could not gain enough support, he continues, “they tried to enter by force.”

Prior to listing the company in 2005, the TSX was warned that violence and human rights abuses could result from facilitating access to capital. Human rights abuses had already been documented by the well-respected Ecumenical Human Rights Commission in Quito (CEDHU), including physical mistreatment, death threats, persecution, slander, false charges against community leaders and intimidation. Such concerns motivated the county mayor to write a letter to the finance and audit committee of the TSX urging them not to list the company. The company’s own prospectus, which the stock exchange requires of companies before they are listed, also indicated “the potential of further escalating violence” given existing problems with its community relations in Intag.

It was no surprise, then, that things heated up once the company was listed and started raising funds.

The worst incident, both Ramírez and Pérez agree, occurred in December 2006 when heavily armed security guards were hired to reach the company’s mineral claims and set up camp.

Villagers blocked the only access road to the potential mining site with a single-link chain and stood guard. A sign posted on a nearby tree read: “Mining companies are prohibited here. We don’t sell our land, we defend it.”

The residents, including men, women and children, refused to let the private security agents pass. But the guards were impervious to their arguments and began to fire their weapons and to spray Ramírez and others at close range with tear gas. Israel Pérez, the third plaintiff in the case and Polivio’s brother, was shot and injured in the leg.

In response, local residents successfully carried out a peaceful citizen’s arrest and the guards were held in a local church for several days until local authorities arrived. “Despite being assaulted with tear gas and bullets,” says Polivio Pérez, “we were able to demonstrate once again the strength of our local organization and our decisiveness [against mining] here.”

The incident was captured on film by two German journalism students and is featured in Malcolm Rogge’s 2008 film Under Rich Earth. Ultimately, government authorities suspended the project and declared that they were unable to process the company’s environmental impact assessment.

Months later, after company directors had been personally informed about the December events and persisting tensions, individuals believed to be linked to the company assaulted and uttered death threats against Polivio Pérez. The statement of claim for the lawsuit alleges that the directors could have done more to avoid further confrontations, such as actually signing and implementing the “Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights” that the company publicly purported to respect.

Challenging Canada’s “judicial paradise”

The Toronto-based Klippenstein legal firm, best known for its defence of the Dudley George family against the province of Ontario, is representing the Ecuadorian villagers in their suit against the TSX and Copper Mesa. Their lawsuit, Murray Klippenstein says, seeks “the same level of corporate accountability that is expected in all other areas of Canadian life.” He anticipates a tough battle.

In 1997, the last time a mining company was sued in Canada, the plaintiffs were told to go elsewhere. Twenty-three thousand Guyanese villagers filed a class-action lawsuit against Cambior after the collapse of its tailings dam at the Omai Mine, which polluted their water supply. But the Quebec Superior Court ruled that it was not the best jurisdiction for the case. When the suit was later filed in Guyana, it was dismissed and the plaintiffs were ordered to pay the defendant’s legal costs.

In order to address jurisdictional issues, explains Klippenstein, the Intag lawsuit focuses on decisions that stock exchange and company executives made in Ontario, “rather than on the finger that pulled the trigger in Ecuador.”

This aspect of the legal strategy appears to be working. The Toronto lawyer says that the TSX and Copper Mesa have decided not to challenge the Ontario court jurisdiction. This puts them one step ahead and potentially trims years off the time they might have spent in legal battles before going to trial.

However, it is not just the reticence of Canadian courts to deal with cases of abuse beyond our own borders that this case aims to confront, but also the skittishness of an entire industry to subject itself to legal oversight.

Given the weak reporting requirements for listing on the TSX and the lack of relevant legislation in Canada, author Alain Deneault calls Canada a “judicial paradise” for our overseas mining industry. “Listing on the Toronto Stock Exchange,” writes Deneault, who co-authored an exposé of Canadian mining abuses in Africa entitled Noir Canada, “is a way of seeking shelter in one of the more permissive stock exchanges in the world, while taking advantage of the reputation of the rule of law in Canada – all the while knowing that one is outside of state control and regulation when operating overseas.”

The Toronto Stock Exchange openly markets itself to companies hoping to work in areas with weak governmental institutions and vulnerability to conflict and violence. Its own online promotional materials give the example of the Democratic Republic of Congo as one potential site for which it can help companies raise financing.

In other words, the Intag lawsuit is just the tip of the iceberg. Just as Klippenstein’s legal team will argue that members of Copper Mesa’s board of directors and the TSX had significant prior indications that further violence and human rights abuses could result from listing Copper Mesa Mining, it is highly possible that a plethora of other such cases exist for which this lawsuit could set an important precedent. Coincidentally, the same year that Copper Mesa was listed, La Presse reported that another junior mining company was allegedly implicated in the massacre of about 100 Congolese civilians.

Great expectations

MiningWatch Canada is a coalition of 18 faith, social justice, indigenous and union organizations. Communications and Outreach Coordinator Jamie Kneen told Briarpatch that if the lawsuit succeeds it could really “open the door” for other communities that have been harmed as a result of Canadian mining operations. From the Congo to Papua New Guinea to Guatemala, people who have faced illegal land appropriations, forced relocation, water contamination, threats or even murder could sue.

The lack of suitable mechanisms for addressing such disputes in Canada has also drawn the attention of parliamentarians and legal experts. Recently, Supreme Court Justice Ian Binnie, speaking at the 2008 Canadian Bar Association conference, urged Canada to draw up new legislation that would provide a forum for foreign citizens and companies to have such cases heard. In the spring of 2009, two Members of Parliament initiated attempts at legislative reform by tabling private member’s bills. NDP MP Peter Julian’s Bill C-354 aimed to replicate the U.S. Alien Tort Claims Act, which allows foreign citizens to fight global human rights violations in U.S. courts, while Liberal MP John McKay’s Bill C-300 would make public financing for the extractive industry subject to government oversight. Up against a fierce industry lobby and government opposition, both bills were stalled when Parliament was prorogued.

“It’s not fair,” says Ramírez, “that a foreign company comes onto our land and violates our rights, when all we want is to live in a clean environment and to defend our water and our land.” She hopes, after the procedural battles are over, for a cathartic day in court when “the stock exchange will listen and understand that we’ve been hurt by a company of theirs.”

Ramírez, the other plaintiffs and the legal team will face a tough fight. But the underlying principle of their case is straightforward, says Klippenstein: “You shouldn’t harm somebody and you shouldn’t use your money to hire someone whom you know is likely to do harm” – a golden rule that Canadians would likely agree to in any other circumstances.

However, only time will tell whether Canadian courts are prepared to hear Ramírez’s voice and those of many others calling for a 180-degree turnaround in a sector rife with human rights and environmental abuses.

Ecuador’s Future for Canadian Transnationals: An Exchange of Indigenous Perspectives May 24, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Ecuador, Environment.
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Jennifer Moore

www.upsidedownworld.org, May 20, 2009

“The sorrows are ours; the cows are not.”

Translation of a lyric written by Atahualpa Yupanqui (born Hector Roberto Chavero; died 1992), an Argentinian Communist exiled to Paris and who lived out his life there. The original Spanish is “las penas son de nosotros, las vaquitas son ajenas.”

Image“Welcome to the future,” says the sign behind the gated area where Vancouver-based Corriente Resources is developing an open-pit copper mine in Ecuador’s Southern Amazon. Bumping along in the back of a pick-up truck on her way to visit one of several communities slated to be displaced by the project, the idea that the future is fenced off with restricted entry for local communities that have lived on the land for years, even generations, hit home for Anne Marie Sam.

From the Nak’azdli First Nation in central British Colombia, Sam is one of two indigenous representatives who visited communities affected by Canadian-financed mining activities in Ecuador earlier this month. “We don’t even want Canadian companies in our territory, so we don’t blame Ecuadorians for not wanting them here either.” The Nak’azdli Nation opposes a proposed gold and copper mine on their territory that they have determined “would not strengthen them as a community” which includes about 1,700 members.

The trip was a critical response to President Rafael Correa’s recent invitation to the Canadian Embassy to help delegitimate the position of various indigenous leaders who are critical of his mining policy. The Embassy is still responding and will soon host a second delegation of indigenous leaders. This most recent visit was coordinated by the Quito-based Pachamama Foundation in cooperation with the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE).

The CONAIE has criticized Correa for continuing with World Bank-backed policies to substitute the country’s dwindling oil reserves with metal extraction. Ecuador has been an oil producer for more than forty years, but no large scale mining project has yet entered production here. The CONAIE is worried about possible impacts on both water and local livelihoods. They further argue that indigenous peoples and other affected communities should have the right to consent over what projects take place on their lands or territories. A position substantiated by international law.

However, Correa is unequivocally opposed to local communities having “a veto” over what he sees as a matter of national interest. He calls his critics “infantile environmentalists” and the “greatest threat” to his political project.

Coming from Canada – the world’s principal source of financing for global mining activities – Robert Lovelace, a leader from the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation in Eastern Ontario, says his experiences in the Andean nation reveal that indigenous communities in both countries “share a heck of a lot in common.” Not only does Canada have its share of environmental disasters from extractive industry and not uphold the right to consent for indigenous communities, it also lags behind Ecuador for not having ratified international conventions that recognize these rights including the American Convention on Human Rights, Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“We need to see much more of each other and we need to compare notes,” Lovelace says. An ongoing relationship, he believes, could be mutually beneficial. “When people in Ecuador stand strong,” he says, “it also helps us because it tells the mining companies that nobody is going to take the stuff that they’ve been giving out regardless of where they are.”

Canada’s Glowing Reputation

While Correa hopes that indigenous leaders invited by the Canadian Embassy will drown out the CONAIE’s criticisms, the recent visit by Sam and Lovelace revealed that Canada’s story is not as harmonious as Correa would lead Ecuadorians to believe.

“[Canada] has understood how to respect and benefit its ancestral peoples,” said Correa during a national radio address. The first people to benefit in Canada from mining, he added, “are the ancestral peoples.”

But Lovelace, speaking during two events in Quito which included members of Ecuador’s Constitutional Court, the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum and an international group of lawyers, called Canadian mining a “two fold problem: for us and the rest of the world.” He insisted that within Canada it has to be seen within the context of colonialism and poor regulation.

The firm but soft-spoken leader explained that indigenous peoples are the most impoverished group in Canada, with high rates of suicide particularly for those who have lost their traditional ways of life, and that they have suffered official attempts to destroy their social and cultural fabric leading to rampant addictions and many broken homes. This, he explained, is a cost of the extractive and commercial mindset with which Canada was founded and continues to operate.

Lovelace has been opposing a proposed uranium mine on Ardoch territory, and shared his experience about how his community was sued for $77 million dollars by Frontenac Ventures and about his three and a half months in jail as a result of efforts to prevent mining activities on their lands.1 Radioactive contamination of lakes and rivers from uranium mining, occupational health hazards, and the uses of uranium for nuclear energy and arms are a few reasons why they do not support the mine.

Speaking to the national press, he added that the proliferation of Canadian mining companies can be explained by the fact that “we don’t have tough rules” and have poor infrastructure to enforce the rules that we do have. The Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) lists almost 60% of mining companies worldwide with over 1,400 projects in Latin America and more than 8,000 around the globe.2

He thinks stronger regulation, backed up by good monitoring and enforcement, should be “the cost of doing business for companies that are invited into other countries and invited onto indigenous land, as a bare minimum. Canada has to acknowledge that and do that because it is immoral not to.” The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) has also urged Canada to develop such legislation.

But Canada has been reticent. It took the government four years to respond to parliamentary recommendations to strengthen its mining legislation for extractive industry abroad, and its recent decision reinforces voluntary guidelines rather than tightening regulations.

Interestingly, Ecuadorians from the northwestern valley of Intag recently launched a lawsuit against the TSX with the objective that the case will help lead to stronger regulations in Canada. Inteños have broadly opposed open-pit copper mining for over twelve years, but this has not stopped current project owner Copper Mesa Mining (formerly Ascendant Copper) from trying to use forceful means to try to reach its concessions. The TSX was warned before the company was listed that further financing could lead to human rights violations and violence in the valley.3

ImageThe Environment, an Afterthought

However, Correa would have Ecuadorians believe that TSX-listed companies who are irresponsible, well, they are simply not Canadian. “Be careful!” he has warned on national radio. “There are some companies that try to pass themselves off as Canadian because they trade on the Canadian stock market, but they’re not Canadian. Canada has strict, very strict, environmental requirements.”

But the Canadian public does not even know how much pollution mining operations have generated.

Only several weeks ago, the Federal Court released a “strongly worded decision” ordering the Canadian government to “stop withholding data on one of Canada’s largest sources of pollution – millions of tonnes of toxic mine tailings and waste rock from mining operations throughout the country.”4 Indicating the strength of Canada’s mining lobby, it has taken sixteen years since the National Pollutant Release Inventory was created for the sector to be held to the same reporting requirements as every other industrial sector.

When Anne Marie hears a question translated for her from an audience in Quito: “Mining companies say that their projects will be clean, that they won’t have serious enviromental impacts, what do you think?” she laughs at the coincidence. “We hear the same thing,” she remarks. “But the question isn’t whether a company will contaminate our water, it’s when.”

Given the industry’s track record in her home province, Anne Marie’s nation has not been swayed by company promises that environmental impacts will be mitigated. A recent press release from the Nak’azdli Nation states, “There are close to 2,000 abandoned or closed mines in BC and two third of them are still polluting the land and water.”5

So, when the Nak’azdli First Nation was approached by Terrane Metals to develop a gold and copper mine on their lands at the headwaters of the Peace River watershed, they did not jump at the opportunity for an agreement with the company. They did, however, take the chance to do some of their own investigations and accepted the company’s offer of $150,000 CDN without promising any further agreement.

Anne Marie was appointed to study the issue.

“Our elders advised us not to focus just on the economic aspect, but to also seriously consider the social and cultural implications,” she said.

With the company funds, they hired their own experts and examined the social, cultural, economic, environmental and legal ramifications of the project put together in what she calls an “Aboriginal Interest and Use Study.”

They concluded that they could not support the project. Even when they hit a period during which many of their members were without work, they determined that the kinds of jobs they could qualify for based upon their education and experience – cleaning, cooking and construction – did not outweigh the impacts.

Their disapproval has not stopped the company from seeking other nearby First Nation communities that would accept the project. Nor did it stop the provincial government from recently approving the company’s Environmental Assessment despite not having consulted the Nak’azdli Nation. However, it has been a key tool in their resistance.

It is a challenge because “time is not on the side of First Nations when it comes to a mining project. It’s always the timeline of the company.” But, she laughs, thinking about the time it took to read through the 6,000 page environmental assessment that the company provided and in which they found many weaknesses, “if I didn’t read [the study], I wouldn’t be able to tell you this story.” Education and communication, she says, “are key.”

ImageSorrow is Ours, the Cows are Not

The newly elected Prefect of Ecuador’s southernmost Amazonian province, Salvador Quishpe, welcomed the Canadian delegation to their final event in El Pangui. The Condor Mountain Range stretches along the eastern horizon of this steamy jungle town situated near some of the most contentious mining developments in the country.

Whereas Bob Lovelace contextualizes Canadian mining in terms of colonialism, Quishpe frames Ecuadorian mining around twenty five years of neoliberalism that he says continues despite Correa’s slogan “Our patrimony belongs to all.” He jokes for a moment: “the Canadians came along and said, “Belongs to all, eh?” “Hey, that’s good, then that includes us too!”

Quishpe reminded the 400-strong crowd that UNESCO has declared part of the Condor Mountains a World Bioreserve which has over 48 distinct ecosystems and is one of the highest priority areas for scientific research in the neotropics. He also reminded the audience that vast stretches have been claimed for mining exploration and that the principal concession holders are Vancouver-based Corriente Resources and Toronto’s Kinross Gold.

He observes that the industry’s principal proponents -  the Ecuadorian representatives of Canadian transnationals – are in large part former officials from the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum. So, he remarks, the same people who helped institute the neoliberal framework for mining in the 1990s are now sitting on top of some of the best deposits of gold and copper. “It is ultimately the companies, not the government, who makes mining policy in this country,” he concludes. “And while it’s a mortal sin to say it,” he continues, “mining should be nationalized.”

Having recently been called “an enemy of the government” and a “dumb leftist” by Correa, Quishpe adds, “We are not against development.” Rather, he emphasizes, his province needs proper planning with strong participation. He proposes at least one industry – tourism – that he plans to promote during his upcoming term in local office. “We want development for the well-being of our peoples, not so-called development by which a transnational company takes away our riches for itself.”

Sam has a similar comment. “Our community has always said, we’re not against development. But we need to have a say in what development happens in our area and where, and right now we’re not being given that opportunity.”

The Waterkeepers

As the event wraps up, Anne Marie hands Salvador a card. She explains that the image of a red and green frog was drawn by an artist from her community. The frog represents the waterkeepers, she says, and Salvador is a water defender just like she and the rest of her clan from the Nak’azdli First Nation.

“Coming here has opened my eyes to how connected we are,” says Sam reflecting on the visit shortly later, “and how similar the fight we have to protect the land and the connection [we have with the land] whether indigenous or not.” She thinks about El Pangui’s struggle at the headwaters of the Amazon, and recalls her own at the headwaters of the Arctic. “What we need,” she says, “is a stronger role for indigenous people that is not after the fact or after claims are made on the land.”

In British Colombia, she says they are using new technology that enables helicopters to identify and take images of what minerals are in the ground just by flying over their territories. “Instead of this information going direct to the internet so that people can begin staking claims,” she says, “the information should go to First Nations first. And then we can decide if we want to do small scale mining, or if we want to do something else because open pits are not a nice site to look at and a recreational lake in an open pit (which is what the Terrane Metals promises to leave behind in her territory) isn’t an ideal situation for us.”

Robert Lovelace also believes that a much more meaningful participation is necessary. He describes it as a spectrum that usually begins with information sessions or token consultations. “Consultation,” he explains, “is still a form of tokenism because to consult with someone does not mean that you’re going to agree with them or even take their advice into account especially when there’s a power differential, whether based on capital or politics.”

“But when the values of each of the parties are truly recognized,” he says “and we look at consensual partnerships where both parties are able to give consent, then if one party can’t give consent, a project or development doesn’t go ahead. But that’s honest partnership.”

“As long as the power of First Nations are recognized then they may assign their authority to a corporation or a level of government in order to facilitate something happening. But that’s their choice, they’re not being forced or imposed upon to do that. The last stage is true self-governance. That’s having full authority to choose to move forward with development or not, or to choose another future altogether.”

While it has yet to be seen what the Canadian Embassy’s upcoming delegation will share with Ecuadorian’s, it will most definitely get broader coverage from the Ecuadorian press. As well, one can be almost sure that free, prior, and informed consent; recognition of the inherent rights of indigenous peoples; and the possibility of different futures other than the Canadian-owned, open-pit and underground mines envisioned for El Pangui, Yantzaza, Intag, Victoria del Portete, Molleturo, Ponce Enriquez, and many other parts of Ecuador will not be up for discussion.

Notes:

1. For further detail see: Justin Podur, “Canada’s latest political prisoners” http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/17019
2. 2007 figures based upon the Toronto Stock Exchange’s Mining Presentation
3. For more information see http://www.ramirezversuscoppermesa.com/index.html
4. Press release “Court victory forces Canada to report pollution data for mines” available at http://www.commondreams.org/newswire/2009/04/24-0
5. Press release “Proposed BC mines cannot proceed without Nak’azdli First Nation” available at http://www.rightsaction.org/articles/Nakazdli_abuse_031909.html

Canadian Mining Firm Financed Violence in Ecuador: Lawsuit March 6, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Ecuador, Environment.
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canminingEcuador, December of 2006: Armed security guards fire guns and tear gas as they confront villagers opposed to a Canadian-financed mine. Photo by Elizabeth Weydt.

TMX Group denies claim. Win could affect thousands of other projects by Canadian companies.

By Jennifer Moore
Published: March 3, 2009

 

TheTyee.ca

“Financing being raised in Canada is travelling across borders to do harm,” said lawyer Murray Klippenstein by phone from his office in Toronto. “We want to find out if our legal system can respond to this.”

Klippenstein is perhaps best known for his representation of the estate and family of native activist Dudley George, who was shot and killed by police in Ipperwash Provincial Park in Ontario in 1995. This lawsuit revealed deep political involvement from the premier’s office and resulted in a landmark public inquiry.

In another ambitious and possibly precedent-setting case, Klippenstein is representing three villagers from the valley of Intag in northwestern Ecuador who are suing Copper Mesa Mining Corporation (TSX:CUX) and the Toronto Stock Exchange. They allege that company directors and the TMX Group have not done enough to reduce the risk of harm being faced by farmers and community leaders in Intag who have faced violent threats and attacks for opposition to a large open-pit copper mine in their pristine cloud forests.

Still, they hope to go further. “What is happening in Intag is illustrative of a wider problem,” a summary of the legal claim states, “the corporate and financial unaccountability of the Canadian mining industry.” So while the case uses established legal principles, the plaintiffs hope it will lead to long-awaited legal reforms to help better control thousands of Canadian financed projects abroad.

Klippenstein, who said he “has learned to go miles on very little,” acknowledges the “staggering financial mismatch” and says that companies have hundreds of millions of dollars to gain, so it won’t surprise him if they spend tens of millions on the case. He also anticipates years of counterattacks, including motions and appeals on technicalities.

But he emphasized that the basics of the case are straightforward. “There’s a simple fundamental legal point that you shouldn’t harm somebody and that you shouldn’t use your money to hire someone who you know is likely to do harm.”

Conflict escalates

Marcia Ramírez is secretary of the Intag Community Development Committee. She lives near the end of the road in an isolated village in one of the most biodiverse places on earth. Her community of Chalguayaco Alto sits at the crossroads of two biodiversity hotspots, the Tumbes-Chocó-Magdalena and the Tropical Andes.

“It isn’t fair,” she told The Tyee, “that a foreign company can come here and contract people who attack us for defending our rights, for wanting to live in a healthy environment, for defending our land and our water.” She added, “We’d like the stock exchange to listen to us and to understand that we’ve been very hurt by one of their companies.”

Now 25 years old, the fight against large scale copper mining has marked daily life for the diplomatic and dedicated leader since she was about 12.

Broad-based opposition to large scale copper mining arose when a Japanese company was initially carrying out mineral exploration a short distance away. When the company released its Environmental Impact Assessment report for the proposed mine, the news that four communities would be displaced, as well as massive deforestation, local desertification, river contamination and harm to endangered species sparked vociferous opposition that persists.

Since Copper Mesa, who has a strategic alliance with the giant Rio Tinto, took over the project in 2004, new issues have emerged with apparent attempts to break the opposition. Now land trafficking, threats of violence, as well as relatively high-paying job offers have been driving a wedge between neighbours and families in these rural communities.

“But,” commented Ramírez, “what most hurt is when they came… with armed men and sprayed us with gas.”

In early December 2006, over 50 heavily armed security guards, mostly ex-soldiers, were hired to reach company concessions and set up camp. Local residents had been tipped off and gathered along the narrow dirt road that the company-hired trucks would have to pass. When they arrived, Ramírez and others tried to urge the armed men to turn around. But instead, the security agents sprayed tear gas into their faces from only a metre away and fired their weapons into the air, injuring one man, also a plaintiff in the case.

When the residents didn’t back down, the guards finally retreated.

The incident was caught on film by a European student researching the controversy and is retold as part of the recent film Under Rich Earth by director Malcolm Rogge that debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. It has also been denounced in a complaint to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission.

Prior warning

Canadian authorities were warned that such an incident could arise.

On March 8th, 2005, three months before Copper Mesa (then Ascendant Copper) was listed on the TSX, County Mayor Auki Tituaña wrote to the Finance and Audit Committee of the Toronto Stock Exchange: “We consider it to be appropriate and fair that before accepting open “trade” of Ascendant Copper Corporation’s stocks in the Stock Market, you evaluate in depth the “new” company’s merits…”

Included in his list of 14 concerns were lack of prior community consultation, lack of legally required municipal approval, violation of a municipal ordinance that declares the area an “Ecological County,” as well as attempts to foster divisions as a “means to achieve company profits against the citizen’s will and at a cost of the loss of unique biodiversity in our territory.”

Then in May, Carlos Zorrilla, executive director of the Ecological Defense and Conservation of Intag (DECOIN), travelled to Ottawa to present a complaint to the Department of Foreign Affairs claiming that Copper Mesa had violated the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. Mining Watch and Friends of the Earth Canada supported the claim.

“I’m here,” he says in a press release, “because Canadians need to understand the real risk of violence that is emerging as a result of this company’s activities.” He added, “The Canadian government must take action to curb the excesses of Canadian mining companies operating and exploring overseas.”

The complaint was withdrawn after eight months when it was apparent that the appropriate authorities would not apply the relevant procedures. The legal summary notes that “the TSX stock market listing of Copper Mesa has allowed the company to obtain over $25 million in capital funds — some of which paid for the armed attackers” in December 2006.

Carolyn Quick, director of corporate communications for the TMX Group, told The Tyee her firm considers the case to be “entirely without merit” and that they will “vigorously defend this position.” She would give no further comment about the letter from Mayor Tituaña nor the complaint made to DFAIT. No one from Copper Mesa was available to speak with The Tyee.

Globalization of legal accountability

Another challenge in holding companies to account in Canada, where the bulk of the world’s mining companies are based, are complicated corporate structures that criss-cross continents.

“By dispersing their actions across borders and saying that ‘Well, we didn’t do that in Canada or Ecuador, that decision was made in the U.S.,’ they can evade accountability. The courts can respond and say ‘Take this case somewhere else,’” says Klippenstein.

Copper Mesa whose headquarters in Colorado, “has connections to some nine different legal jurisdictions, making it difficult to identify which jurisdiction is the proper one in which to hold the corporation accountable,” says the legal summary of the case.

The former website of Copper Mesa (then Ascendant Copper) acknowledged that its corporate structure makes suing directors difficult: “All of the directors of Ascendant and substantially all of their assets and those of Ascendant are located outside of Canada. It may not be possible for purchasers of securities being qualified for distribution under this prospectus to effect service of process within Canada upon directors who reside outside of Canada…”

It is for this reason that the lawsuit focuses on decisions allegedly made in Ontario.

‘Establish clear legal norms in Canada’

However, one possible advantage for rural residents of Intag preparing for a lengthy legal battle on tricky Canadian territory is that they are not alone in their concern.

Their broader goals for legal regulations of Canadian mining companies echo what the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade (SCFAIT) and the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and other civil society groups have already been saying.

While Carlos Zorrilla was in Ottawa in 2005, the SCFAIT was writing its 14th report, which recommended that the government “Establish clear legal norms in Canada to ensure that Canadian companies and residents are held accountable when there is evidence of environmental and/or human rights violations associated with the activities of Canadian mining companies.”

The government responded saying that it “will continue to examine the best practices of other states attempting to address the accountability of businesses for activities conducted abroad.” But it has yet to implement mandatory rules.

Still Klippenstein is hopeful in the face of tough odds. “One has to trust in the promise of a certain amount of fairness and independence that the justice system can provide. It has been shown that powerful people can be brought to kneel this way before.”

It took eight years of legal proceedings before a public inquiry was called in the Dudley George case. They never even made it to court, but a long list of recommendations was implemented.

Ramírez is also optimistic that they have a chance at justice through Canadian courts as part of their fight to leave Intag’s cloud forests intact.

She points out the variety of sustainable development projects that they have been working on as alternatives to large scale mining, including community owned watersheds, a mixed mini-hydroelectric company, as well as agricultural and tourism initiatives. She urges Canadians to see the benefits: “We want future generations to have what we have.”

Related Tyee stories:

 

Jennifer Moore is a freelance journalist in Ecuador.

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