Activists call on Canada to toughen rules for mining companies operating abroad

MONTREAL — Canadian mining companies are guilty of a double-standard by acting as good corporate citizens at home while ignoring environmental and social needs abroad where they operate, delegates to an international conference said Monday.

MONTREAL — Canadian mining companies are guilty of a double-standard by acting as good corporate citizens at home while ignoring environmental and social needs abroad where they operate, delegates to an international conference said Monday.

Activists from around the world have gathered for a three-day meeting in the hope of promoting transparency in the oil, gas and mining extraction sectors.

The host, an international coalition called Publish What You Pay, said it’s holding the conference in Montreal because three-quarters of the world’s mining and extraction companies are headquartered in Canada.

The group fears governments in the developing world are squandering resource revenues — and it argues that Canadian firms have the power to help the communities where they operate.

It wants companies to disclose details of the deals they’ve struck with foreign governments, arguing that people around the world could then hold their leaders under greater scrutiny for how they’ve spent resource revenues.

Delegates also want Ottawa to impose tougher regulations on Canadian extraction companies that operate abroad.

“It’s a very strategic moment,” said spokesman Ousmane Deme.

“The Canadian government is hosting the G8 Summit in June 2010 and some (of our) recommendations will especially target what the Canadian government . . . should promote in terms of economic development and sustainable development and how resources should be managed.”

By the end of the conference, Ousmane says delegates will have drafted a series of recommendations for Canadian policy-makers and companies on how they might improve transparency and accountability.

Many delegates at Monday’s session criticized Ottawa for adopting a voluntary, non-binding corporate social responsibility guidelines for Canadian extraction companies operating abroad.

“It doesn’t go the route of establishing binding standards,” said Alex Neve, head of Amnesty International Canada.

“It’s a disappointment in that fact-finding and complaint mechanisms proposed are much weaker . . . and it’s a disappointment in that there’s no clear sanctions or penalties for non-compliance.”

Still, Neve is optimistic about a federal private member’s bill that would do all of those things. Although such bills seldom become law, this one has the rare distinction of having passed second reading in the House of Commons.

Sponsored by Liberal John McKay, it has the support of the Bloc Quebecois and NDP.

The conference has drawn participants from some 50 countries, many of which are now grappling with environmental and human-rights problems linked to Canadian projects.

Matilda Koma, an activist from Papua New Guinea, said her country is overrun by mining companies, many of which are based in Canada.

The tiny South Pacific island has nine large- and medium-sized mines and some 6,000 small ones.

One of the biggest — Barrick Gold (TSX:ABX) — produces about 18,000 tonnes per day of tailings disposal, she said, noting that much of that waste ends up in her country’s river system.

She said a dispute at a Barrick Gold mine between the company and local residents highlights how Canadian companies are getting tied up in human-rights issues.

“The dispute between locals and the company rose to the point that the company requested a state of emergency at the mine site,” she said.

“This turned out nasty when the police force rampaged the local community’s residences and burned down about 300 homes.

“Although these Canadian mines are world-class international mining companies, they have tended to leave behind a legacy of irresponsible acts on local communities in the vicinity of their operations.”

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