Mining activities “raise ethical issues of social justice and respect for God’s creation,” said delegates at a recent ecumenical conference on mining. Photo: Simon Chambers
The image of Canadians as “peacemakers and builders of justice” is being sullied by reports of abuses resulting from large-scale mining activities of some Canadian companies in the developing world.
At a recent ecumenical conference May 1 to 3 in Toronto, Bishop Tom Morgan (retired), said he felt shocked and embarrassed to see copies of Philippine newspapers, which carried stories about mining activities that bore the headline, “Ugly Canadians.”
Canadians “are seen by many as perpetrators of rape and pillage, using both metaphorically and literally,” said Bishop Morgan, a member of the board of directors of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF).
Canada is home to 75 per cent of the world’s mining and mineral exploration companies, and its stock exchanges trade 40 per cent of the world’s mineral exploration capital.
Representatives of communities affected by mining spoke of families being displaced, protesters being arrested, and people being “decimated by disease” resulting from pollution of rivers by cyanide, arsenic, mercury and other chemicals released into streams, he said in an interview.
“I am in shock at the behaviour of Canadian companies and the the failure of our own government to pass legislation requiring conformity of our own companies operation abroad to the standards they would be forced to use here at home,” said Bishop Morgan. “The face of our nation is not only about justice, it’s also about integrity…being who we are at home as we are abroad.”
He said such standards include environmental protection, consultations, just treatment for workers, and protocols for cleanup, among others.
C300, a bill that recommends greater corporate accountability for Canadian mining, oil and gas corporations in developing countries, was voted down by Parliament last fall.
“If these companies are working in situations where there is a weak local democracy and government works hand in glove with global mining companies, sometimes to the disadvantage of their local people, it’s an extraordinary embarrassment to Canada,” he added.
The international conference drew a diverse group from 20 countries that included church leaders, civil society representatives, investors and representatives from communities directly affected by mining activities in Canada and overseas. It was co-sponsored by Kairos, an ecumenical justice group of which the Anglican Church of Canada is a member, and Norwegian Church Aid.
At the conclusion of the conference, participants urged churches to put pressure on the Canadian government and other governments “to exercise transparency and accountability” regarding large-scale mining and other resource extraction operations.
It also urged churches to exercise their roles as investors by influencing companies “towards ethical behaviour and respect for human rights and the Earth,” and to consider withdrawal of investments “when companies refuse to change.”
Mining activities in developing countries and in Canada, “raise ethical issues of social justice and respect for God’s creation that are matters of concern for all people of faith the world over,” said a statement issued by the conference.
Connie Sorio, Asia-Pacific coordinator for the Canadian ecumenical justice group, Kairos, expressed the hope that Canadian churches will come together for a plan of action.
Churches also need to “look inwardly” in terms of where they put their investments, said Sorio in an interview. She noted that while people in the pews are generally sympathetic about the plight of those affected by these activities, “there is reluctance because their pensions are tied to these companies.”
In an interview, Jacob Rumbiak, a West Papuan political activist now living in exile in Australia, said the conference has inspired him about “how we can work and stand together to take care of the world.” West Papua, a province of Indonesia, is home to 28 metal mining explorations.
In their statement, conference participants also:
· stressed the need to “deepen our theological understanding of resource extraction, and to move away from concepts of dominion and ownership-and beyond stewardship-to a sense of being part of God’s creation…”
· emphasized the need for education, noting that “very often, communities do not see mining as a threat until they start to see its impacts.”
· acknowledged that people of faith must practice “responsible consumption.”