David Thomas, professor of politics and international relations at Mount Allison University says he’s not surprised at comments made last week by former UN ambassador Stephen Lewis.
During a speech in Sackville on Tuesday, Lewis accused Canadian mining companies of failing to pay decent wages and fair royalties in their African operations.
“In places like Tanzania and Zambia there is a very considerable effort on the part of the government to extract the royalties that should have been paid and should have been owing if the companies had not been so obstreperously arrogant,” Lewis said.
Professor Thomas, who documents specific cases of how one big Canadian company operates internationally in his recently published book Bombardier Abroad, says Canadian mining companies are present in dozens of countries in Africa, Latin America, Asia and other parts of the world.
“Canada is really a global mining powerhouse,” Thomas said during an interview with The New Wark Times. “I’m not surprised at his (Lewis’s) statements the other night.”
Figures published by the federal government last month show that Canada is home to almost half of the world’s publicly listed mining and exploration companies and their Canadian mining assets (CMAs) abroad far exceed their assets in Canada. As of 2017, the companies were present in 101 foreign countries.
Professor Thomas says a number of academic studies, including one conducted by faculty at Osgoode Hall Law School, have identified troubling aspects of Canadian mining operations, including environmental degradation and human rights violations, especially in Latin America and Africa.
He points to a court case in B.C. in which security guards for a Canadian mining company are accused of shooting at protesters in Guatemala.
Last month, the Globe and Mail reported on two other court cases including one in Ontario in which a Canadian mining company is alleged to have been liable for rapes and murder at another mine in Guatemala, while the Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments in January about whether a case alleging the use of slave labour at a mine in Eritrea should proceed through Canadian courts.
“For decades, Canadian mining operations have wreaked havoc in developing countries. Villages have been razed, water supplies poisoned. Allegations of rape and murder have emerged,” the Globe reported.
Government support for mining
Professor Thomas says the federal government has traditionally turned a blind eye to such allegations.
“The Canadian government is a champion of its mining companies,” he says, “and it plays an important role in promoting the success of our Canadian mining companies.”
Thomas says the government does this partly through support from such federal agencies as Export Development Canada.
In the meantime, military journalist Scott Taylor wrote a report for Esprit de Corps magazine last fall accusing Canada of despatching peacekeeping soldiers to Mali to protect its extensive mining interests there.
“There are over 70 Canadian companies currently involved in extracting Malian gold,” Taylor wrote, adding that although the mission is being billed as an “altruistic effort to bring peace and stability to a poor African nation,” it’s more about “securing mining profits from the exploitation of the nation’s natural resource.”
Professor Thomas says that a year ago, the federal government promised an independent ombudsperson to enforce standards of conduct on companies that operate abroad, but so far has failed to appoint one.
“There’s really been very little, if any movement, on the Canadian government’s side to try to monitor, let alone enforce any kind of regulations,” Thomas says.