You are here

Canadian mining: Trampling human rights at home and abroad

John Bell

March 30, 2024
The recent, openly brutal record of the Canadian government regarding international  human rights abuses has left many shocked and scratching their heads. Foremost is the abetting and participation in genocidal ethnic cleansing in Gaza, arming Israel’s one-sided war, and denying aid to Palestinian victims through the defunding of UNRWA.
Not everyone is surprised by this, particularly Indigenous people struggling to maintain their rights to their unceded lands. From BC’s para-military police assault on Wet’suwet'enland defenders, to the Alberta and Saskatchewan First movements, from Northern Ontario’s “Ring of Fire”to Southern Ontario’s 1492 Landback struggles, from the Muskrat Falls mega-project in Labrador, to Mi'kmaq fisherstrying to claim their treaty rights – wherever Indigenous people across Turtle Island have struggled to assert their rights over their lands and whatever wealth and resources those lands contains, they have been met by military and police opposition.  
Small wonder the vast majority of Indigenous people have recognized and expressed a strong connection to the fight for Palestinian freedom.
Some say such a comparison is exaggerated. It also has been said that the way your country operates and treats people in its international business dealings tells you how they would treat people at home, if they thought they could get away with it. 
It is past time that people shed the myth of Canadian benevolence on the world stage. If there ever was a shred of truth to that reputation, of UN blue helmets and peacekeepers (something that was always highly debatable), Canada’s imperialistic actions around Palestine, Haiti and elsewhere should be enough to expose the ugly truth: our ruling class is guided, at home and abroad, by corporate greed and the pursuit of profit.
The Ugly Canadian: Mining
A big part of the neo-liberal economic onslaught of the early 1980s was the creation of massive, multilateral trade deals like NAFTA championed by the Mulroney, Chretien and Harper regimes in quick succession.
These deals superseded national and local regulations on things like environmental liability, ushered in the concept of corporate “personhood” and rights (thereby weakening human rights and local democracy), and weakened workers’ ability to organize and defend ourselves.
In these negotiations Canada traded away much of our manufacturing base in exchange for a much bigger role in global resource extraction. Natural Resources Canada proudly boasts that as of 2024, Canada was headquarters to more than half of the world’s publicly traded resource extraction corporations, accounting for $320.2 billion in revenue in 2023. There were 1,423 Canadian mining corporations, more than half of them doing business internationally as well as at home. 
Indigenous communities in South and Central America have a long history of battling Canadian mining corporations. Canadian owned and registered mining corporations are notorious—using para-military violence and murder to prevent union organizing, creating environmental disasters, and rigging elections. In many places in the global south we are known as the ‘Ugly Canadians’.
The new “Scramble for Africa”
The original “scramble for Africa” was the period of European imperialist competition that saw the continent divided up between 7 foreign powers, backed by military force. England and France were the biggest, but nations like Portugal, Germany and Belgium were enthusiastic and brutal players.
By 1914, almost 90% of Africa was under the direct control of European powers. Looting that began with human slaves easily transitioned into natural resources, from ivory to minerals and, as the 20th century dawned, petroleum and uranium.
It took two world wars to break down this system of “classical” imperialism, as African nations asserted their independence. But countries that tried to include economic control over their resources as well as political independence soon found things weren’t that easy. A program of assassination and execution of nationalist or socialist leaders like Patrice Lumumba in Congo followed. There, Belgian forces colluded with a section of the army under Mobutu to overthrow the free state in its infancy. All across Africa proxy wars and internal conflicts were used to keep a shell of political “independence” in the hands of dictators who supported foreign powers, and kept control of resources and economies firmly in the hands of the new players in imperialism: corporations—especially mining corporations after gold and diamonds.
But in recent years, the crisis of climate change has inadvertently launched a new scramble for Africa’s resources. Western consumers raised demand for “sustainable” transportation, but refused to give up their private automobiles. The boom in EVs required new metals and minerals, like copper, cobalt and lithium, used in the production of batteries.
The scramble for these resources coincides with the rise of Canada’s dominance in the mining industry. So Canadian economic imperialism is brutally evident today in places like the resource-rich Democratic Republic of Congo. There corporate rule, human and labour rights abuses, and military repression have ravaged what should be a rich nation, empowering only a narrow, local ruling class and their supporters. Workers suffer the worst conditions and rampant human rights abuses to fuel the profits of the “Ugly Canadians”.
The prize is huge. DRC produces 50% of the world’s cobalt, and contains about 70% of the known world’s supply. 
As a 2022 report in the Catholic Registernoted: “From 15 to 30 per cent of Congo’s cobalt is mined by unregulated, artisanal miners — barefoot women and children struggling in the mud, washing their minerals in nearby rivers then selling it to more than 200 rebel militias who then sell it on to Canadian mining companies.”
The Kamoa-Kakula mine is a joint venture between majority owner Ivanhoe Mines and a Chinese partner, Zijin Mining. Ivanhoe is based in Vancouver, and has grown into one of Canada’s biggest and most profitable miners.
To expand its Kamoa mine, the company evicted hundreds of people from their small subsistence farms. They promised to replace them with better, modern housing, schools and medical facilities.
What they got were shacks with tin roofs, no electricity, no sanitation and no running water. A communal well was dug but soon overused and polluted. People were driven to draw water from a nearby river, heavily polluted by mine tailings. A barely adequate school took 4 years to build, and no health facilities have materialized.
Ivanhoe will realize billions in revenue from this and its other 2 African megaprojects in the DRC and South Africa. Those living and working in the mines face horrific conditions barely a notch above abject poverty.
The way Ivanhoe operates is no aberration. It is standard operating procedure for mining giants like Barrick Gold, Teck Resources, and Nutrien. Both Barrick and Teck are heavily invested in the new scramble for Africa.
Nor is blame solely on the shoulders of greedy corporations. They are backed to the hilt by government, through tax incentives, subsidies and the fact that Canada has the weakest “white-collar” crime laws in the OECD. It is virtually impossible for exploited people in places like DRC and Bolivia to sue corporations in Canadian courts. This is one of the big reasons for the expansion of mining corporate power here.
Pursuit of profit erases all other concerns. Human rights – in Palestine, in DRC or wherever the ugly Canadians operate – are barely an afterthought, or window dressing.
The brutality revealed by Canada’s role in propping up Israel’s genocidal war against Palestine has opened many eyes. The pursuit of power and profit revealed in the scramble for Africa is different only in scale. It is time to get rid of double-talk about “Canadian Values” and recognize the only values motivating our government are those that motivate the corporations it serves: profit and greed.

Featured Event



Visit our YouTube Channel for more videos: Our Youtube Channel
Visit our UStream Channel for live videos: Our Ustream Channel