I recently attended a presentation by Reverend Emilie Smith in Nelson, in which the main theme was a blanket condemnation of Canadian mining activity.
Ms. Smith presented a “cosmological” view of the world and of mining within it, based primarily on her perspectives regarding the Marlin gold mine operated by the Canadian mining company GoldCorp in Western Guatemala. Her presentation rightly emphasized the importance of the views and rights of indigenous peoples, and included fair comment on the issues of poor governance and the climate of fear and intimidation which have plagued Guatemala for many years. However, it lacked any specific data relating to operating or ethical practices at the mine, or their shortcomings, describing only a number of health issues stated to have resulted from mining activity.
The presentation then went on to question the very need for mining, dismiss any ensuing benefit, and call for a ban on Canadian mining activity.
Canadian mining companies are involved in hundreds of mining projects in many countries throughout the world. As with virtually any large industry operating internationally, and notwithstanding adherence to best practices, problems do occur, be they environmental in nature, health and safety related or associated with cultural and human rights issues.
As a past director of the Canadian government’s Mining and Mineral Sciences Laboratories in Ottawa, I have personally visited many Canadian mining/metallurgical operations in Canada and elsewhere, including mines in Guyana and other parts of South America. I have always been impressed with the high operational standards imposed and practiced, and their determination to quickly address problems and issues of local public concern.
Yet challenges remain. There have been troubling comments regarding the GoldCorp gold mine in Guatemala, and as a Canadian and winter resident in Guatemala, these are of concern to me. GoldCorp itself openly acknowledges on its website that its performance “has not met the company’s or its shareholders’ expectations” on a number of human rights issues. For my own education, I intend to find out more about these shortcomings and the company’s response through personal contacts.
But even if poor practices are at play at this mine, the constructive approach is surely to raise these issues with company management and, as necessary, with the appropriate government policy and regulatory agencies in Guatemala, to push for corrective action. Guatemala is not Canada and poor governance can complicate this process. The company seems, however, to be sensitive to the issue of intimidation: their website reports in some detail on their corporate commitment to ensure that no employee retribution will ensue when employees report their concerns and complaints regarding company operations. But in the event that such dialogue fails to elicit remedial measures, pressure can also be applied through dialogue with several international agencies as well as with the Mining Association of Canada, which takes a dim view of any member company operating irresponsibly.
Ms. Smith’s solution is to ban mining and is akin to throwing out the barrel of a thousand apples because one may be substandard. In addition to the societal benefits from mining noted above, she would also willingly sacrifice the 2,000 jobs at the GoldCorp mine, employment which is so important in the country’s efforts to climb out of poverty and its position as the country with the lowest per capita GDP in all of Central America.
There remain many mining issues which merit serious and constructive dialogue, in which all stakeholders — industry, government, local communities, NGO’s and we the general public — can learn to do things better through a sharing of insights and perspectives. However, with comments like “Canadian mining and murder go together,” Ms. Smith has clearly elected not to participate in any such collective dialogue, opting instead for a comprehensive dismissal of all things related to Canadian mining.
Such a position is to say the least, unhelpful. Moreover the KAIROS organization should perhaps vet its speakers more carefully if it wishes to be seen as a serious, credible and constructive player in this debate.
Dr. R.N. Hargreaves