Mining for rights

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The Cree of Eeyou Istchee are no strangers to the ravages of the Canadian mining industry. Foregone economic opportunity, toxic contamination of land and waterways, and the loss of crucial wildlife habitat were constant elements wherever the mining companies appeared.

The long struggle to build Cree sovereignty over traditional territories changed the relationship. There is now a more equitable sharing of economic benefits, and stronger measures to return industrial sites to their natural state while mitigating environmental damage during the life of a mine.

But Canadian miners continue to abuse, exploit and terrorize Indigenous populations around the world. In Latin America, where Canadian corporations control 50-70% of the mining industry, companies are routinely accused of using arson, rape and murder to force Indigenous people off their ancestral lands.

A lawsuit currently in Ontario Superior Court has put the spotlight on an incident that Indigenous and environmental activists say is all too common in the developing world.

In 2007, hundreds of police, soldiers and mercenaries linked to a Canadian mining company attacked the Indigenous village of Lote Ocho in Guatemala. As the village men were away tending fields, armed marauders repeatedly raped 11 women. One 10-year-old girl was raped 12 times. Days before, the company’s private security operatives had burned down dozens of homes in an attempt to force their inhabitants off their lands.

Some of the Mayan women, who were recently in Toronto to testify in court, say the violence is linked to the nearby Fenix nickel mine, one of the largest in Central America, which at the time was owned by a Canadian company.

Other cases link the same company to the 2009 death of a local activist, as well as a shooting that left a 28-year-old man paralysed.

These stories have led the federal government to appoint a Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE), an independent officer who will investigate allegations of human-rights abuses linked to Canadian corporations operating abroad.

Announced last week, the ombudsman’s office will have the power to launch investigations and publicly report their findings.

But, much like the position this new office will replace, the ombudsman will be largely toothless. In 2009, the then-Conservative government appointed a Corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor, who investigated none of the six complaints received during its entire existence because the mining company declined to participate each time.

Likewise, the new ombudsman appointed by Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government won’t

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