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Bishop Bolen stresses dialogue in addressing mining concerns

By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News


OTTAWA (CCN) — At the “Mining: We must talk” symposium here, Saskatoon Bishop Don Bolen stressed the importance of dialogue in addressing problems Canadian companies cause in the Global South.

Bolen told the gathering at Saint Paul University of activist groups such as Mining Watch, several NGOs, indigenous rights activists and representatives of the Mining and Extractive industry that Pope Francis called for a “culture of encounter” in his encyclical on the environment Laudato Si’.

“I think we have work to do in determining how that dialogue best moves forward and discerning our respective roles are in that conversation,” Bolen said.

As chair of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ justice and peace commission and an ecumenist, Bolen said he has no expertise in mining, or on the economy and many specifics that need to be discussed.

He said he came empowered by the words the Canadian bishops have received from bishops in the developing world from places “negatively impacted by Canadian mining practices.”

Last March 19 bishops from Brazil, Guatemala, Peru, Honduras and Mexico appeared before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in Washington, D.C., to detail human rights violations and abuses of indigenous and non-indigenous populations by mining and extractive industries in Latin America, he said.

“They noted the church recognizes the importance of the mining industry and its benefits to local communities and the economy as a whole and expressed appreciation for those, including entrepreneurs, state officials, professional engineers and technicians, who strive to go beyond simply complying with legal standards to ensure the physical safety of workers, local communities, and indigenous peoples, and to protect the environment,” Bolen said.

The Latin American bishops said Canada was viewed as a “mining superpower,” in an environment where multinational corporations were becoming so strong as to subordinate local economies, Bolen said.

One of the main impacts concerned water resources, already under stress from climate change, he said.

The bishops reported human rights abuses; damage to quality of life for humans, animals and livelihoods; spread of diseases; water problems forcing local populations to become environmental migrants to cities; and social problems such as a rise in alcoholism, violence, drug addiction and prostitution, including human trafficking, he said.

“I say all of this not to paint a broad brush of condemnation,” Bolen said. “I have read enough to know that many corporations have respectful and healthy relationships with local communities; many work to build up the local society.”

“I know, and these bishops who appeal to us also know, that a significant part of the problem is in their own homelands, in a lack of regulatory procedures and in corruption and in various forms of injustice that also involve their own people,” the bishop said.

Bishops from other parts of the world have also appealed to the Canadian bishops to stand with them against abuses by Canadian mining companies, he said.

The “situation is tremendously complex,” said the bishop, noting, “when things go wrong, the fault can often be distributed in multiple directions.”

Bolen also spoke on international meetings that took place in the Vatican in 2013 and at Lambeth Palace in Canterbury, England, in 2014 on the theme “Mining in Partnership: an Empowerment Agenda.”

However, the meetings’ text received a “strongly negative” response from a Latin American network supported by various bishops and church structures called Churches and Mining, Bolen said. “The companies, instead of providing money to repair the damage reported by the communities, invest in publicity campaigns or in activities that provide economic support for leaders of communities, unions or pastoral activity, with the evident objective of reducing criticism not by change, but by co-opting those who raise the problems,” the group said.

Bolen posed several questions regarding the role of faith communities in the dialogue. “How do we stand in solidarity with those in other countries impacted by us?” he asked.

He pointed out the need for an ombudsman in Canada that people in other countries could contact if Canadian mining companies were causing problems. This ombudsman would need to have “real authority to act against offending companies.”

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