TORONTO (CCN) — In a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops president Bishop Doug Crosby has accused Canadian mining companies of “unethical, unjust and irresponsible ways of mining” in Latin America.
“We have heard stories of how threats, violence, extortion and even murder have been used to advance the progress of big business and industry to the detriment — both human and economic — of the poor,” said Crosby. “We cannot accept the unethical way Canadian mining companies have been operating in Latin America.”
The Aug. 9 letter was prompted by the government’s non-answer to another letter from the Latin American church and civil society organizations which demanded Canada rein in mining companies embroiled in conflicts with local and indigenous communities throughout Latin America. The Prime Minister’s Office has not yet replied to the April 25, 2016, letter from the Churches and Mining Network endorsed by 200 Latin American bishops and signed by dozens of Latin American organizations.
Global Affairs Canada has not responded to emailed questions from The Catholic Register about the government’s correspondence with the Churches and Mining Network.
“By sending our letter, we are expressing solidarity not only with our brother bishops in Latin America, but with all those negatively impacted by companies registered in our own country,” said Archbishop Don Bolen, chair of the CCCB’s Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace.
The bishops have “corresponded with Canadians, including Catholics, involved in the extractive industry” prior to sending the hard-hitting letter, said Bolen. “However, there was no specific consultation with the mining industry on this particular letter.”
The bishops did not intend to imply that all Canadian miners in Latin America are unethical, Bolen told The Catholic Register.
Mining Association of Canada president and chief executive officer Pierre Gratton insists the Canadian bishops don’t know what they’re talking about.
“This narrative that the bishop is repeating, that the NGOs have conjured up, that somehow Canadian companies are flagrant violators of human rights and engender conflict and are worse than everybody else is actually empirically false,” said Gratton. “We’re actually doing a better job than other multinationals at indigenous relations and community relations. This whole narrative is not supported by the evidence.”
For many bishops, the narrative is supported by the findings of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In March 2015 Bolen and other North American bishops were present at hearings in Washington where some of the worst failings of Canadian mining companies were condemned. The IACHR findings largely supported a 2014 report by MISEREOR, an advocacy organization funded by Germany’s Catholic bishops.
MISEREOR looked at 22 Canadian mining projects in nine countries and found the Canadians responsible for “serious environmental, economic, social and cultural harms . . . as well as the violation of various rights of the neighbouring communities, including the right to life, humane treatment, health and property.”
Crosby also cited the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace’s 2013 Voice for Justice Campaign which sent more than 80,000 signatures to Ottawa asking that Canadian mining companies be held to Canadian legal and regulatory standards when operating abroad.
The bishops are asking Trudeau to fulfil a campaign promise to place an independent ombudsperson in charge of investigating complaints against Canadian companies.