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February 2, 2012

Legislation required, not dialogue

Letter to the Editor of Embassy Magazine
Published February 1, 2012
Link to article (subscription required)

To the Editor

On Jan. 18, Embassy published an article from the Office of the Extractive
Sector CSR Counsellor (RE: "Lessons learned from CSR
counsellor") to update Canadians on the first two years of counsellor
Marketa Evans' office's activities. On the very same day that this article
appeared, yet another anti-mining activist was killed in Mexico, this time
in the state of Oaxaca. This activist was prominent in community opposition
to the operations of Vancouver-based Fortuna Silver Mines Inc.

On Jan. 25, Mexicans rallied outside the Canadian Embassy in Mexico City to
protest this latest killing. This protest was reminiscent of the Dec.
7, 2009 rally outside the same embassy following the killing of Chiapas
anti-mining activist Mariano Abarca, who led the opposition to Blackfire
Exploration Ltd. of Calgary's open-pit barite mine. Speakers at this rally
represented communities from various parts of Mexico that have been
organizing to stop Canadian mining operations exacting an increasing human
and environmental toll.

One speaker at this rally pointed out that 73 per cent of all mining
activity in Mexico involves companies based in Canada. Another speaker
explained that "Canada used to have a good image regarding the observance of
human rights, but that this image has been badly eroded under the current
Conservative government."

The Canadian Embassy this time did permit a small delegation from Oaxaca on
to embassy property to present a letter of protest the death of the mining
activist while local police kept the remaining protesters away from the
embassy's impressively fortified fence line.

In the Jan. 18 article, Marketa Evans states: "We must continue to seek new
and constructive ways to enhance corporate-community relationships,"
but the article carries a caveat at the bottom that reads, "The counsellor
has no policy-making role." Recently one of the very few community
complaints lodged with the CSR office was thrown out because the extractive
company in question didn't want to proceed with a 'dialogue.'

In the article the CSR counsellor says: "What we heard, time and again, is
that the courts are often a poor mechanism for ordinary people affected by
Canadian corporate practice."

This assertion is highly questionable given that hundreds of people from
outside Canada are currently signing a letter in support NDP MP Peter
Julian's private member's bill, C-323. This bill is modelled on the
213-year-old US Alien Tort Claim Act, a statute that is notable for allowing
US courts to hear human rights cases brought by foreign citizens for conduct
committed outside the United States.

Corporate Canada undoubtedly finds the taxpayer-funded Office of the
Extractive Sector CSR Counsellor to be a real hoot. However, communities
negatively affected by Canadian extractive industry operations abroad aren't
amused.

As Canadians, we need to stand up and demand that the local communities
affected should determine what if any activities will be permitted on their
lands-not foreign investors. And to ensure that this happens Canada's
Parliament needs to pass strong legislation that puts Canada's extractive
sector on notice for their activities overseas.

Rick Arnold
Roseneath, Ont.