Canada has always prided itself in its human rights record, and even has a “Charter of Rights and Freedoms” to prove it. However, Cornwall MP Guy Lauzon specifically voted against forcing Canadian mining companies to observe human rights and protect the environment when operating abroad.
Until overtaken relatively recently by communist China, Canada was the world’s biggest investor in the hunt for valuable metals and minerals in Latin America. Canada has nearly 60 percent of the mining and exploration companies in the world; they generate more than $40 billion annually, representing about 4 percent of Canada’s GDP.
Corpwatch describes a number of violations committed by Canadian companies in South America. One company particularly under fire is Barrick Gold. This multinational, headquartered in Canada, has mining operations around the globe. Its security guards are accused of gang rapes and other violations in Papua New Guinea, and poisoning people and livestock in Tanzania. Last year, the former environment minister of Argentina Romina Picolotti claimed she was forced to resign, after her family was threatened by Canadian mining companies.
“Canada must set some limits on its companies,” activist Lucio Cuenca Berger told a Canadian government panel holding an open forum on corporate social responsibility in the mining, oil and gas sectors in Toronto Sept. 12-14, 2006.
Mining representatives say the companies view corporate social responsibility and environmental stewardship as fundamental to their business operations overseas and have made extensive efforts to uphold those standards. However, this did not stop them from lobbying extensively to defeat Bill C-300, an “Act to ensure that corporations engaged in mining, oil or gas activities and receiving support from the Government of Canada act in a manner consistent with international environmental best practices and with Canada’s commitments to international human rights standards.”
The Bill, introduced by the Liberal MP for Scarborough—Guildwood, John McKay, would have removed federal government funding to these companies.
Throughout the debates, the Conservative response was that supporting this Bill would risk Canadian jobs, because if Canadian mining companies had to act ethically, they would pull out of these countries and be replaced by other non-ethical companies. It is unclear, however, how many Canadian jobs would be affected, as most of the employees of these companies are local natives.
This Bill could have passed the House of Commons quite easily had the Harper Conservatives been allowed to vote according to their conscience. However, for some unknown reason (some would suggest deliberate), approximately 30 Liberal MPs were absent for the vote, and the Conservative Caucus, chaired by Guy Lauzon, (who succeeded Rahim Jaffer to the position), took full advantage of the situation make sure it was voted down.