Dear Prime Minister Stephen Harper:
Thank you very much for taking the time to respond to my letter. Let me start by saying that I’m very happy to be a citizen of a country where we are able to engage in open and free dialogue with our government and to make our concerns heard.
Thank you also for taking the time to pass my concerns on to our minister of foreign affairs. A month has passed since your office sent my message to the Hon. Lawrence Cannon. I have not heard from his office. As such, I feel that the concerns that I expressed regarding the international operations of Canadian mining companies were not addressed. I understand that both of your offices deal with a lot of correspondence, and I understand that the work that you are doing is important, so I have put a lot of thought into what I am writing, and I am writing to you only because I consider my concern to be an important one.
We are in agreement that your statements at the G20 summit were made in the context of foreign relations. Let me remind you of what statement it is that I’m referring to. The press quoted you as having said the following: “We also have no history of colonialism. So we have all of the things that many people admire about the great powers but none of the things that threaten or bother them.” In my previous letter, I mentioned the Fourteenth Report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade where it’s stated that “mining activities in some developing countries have had adverse effects on local communities, especially where regulations governing the mining sector and its impact on the economic and social well-being of employees and local residents, as well as on the environment, are weak or non-existent, or where they are not enforced.” Given this observation, I believe that the statement that you are quoted as having made at the G20 summit is false. From the conclusions that were given in this report, it is clear that companies with headquarters in Canada are being allowed to operate in a way that does threaten and bother people. We all say things that we later regret, or that come out differently from how we intend, so my interest is not to dwell on something that you have said. Instead, I would like to take this opportunity to bring awareness to the issues that the Committee has addressed, in the hope that we can fix the problems that their report has brought attention to.
In my previous letter, I provided the example of the North Mara mine that is run by Barrick Gold Corporation with headquarters in Toronto. This mine is located near Serengeti National Park in Northern Tanzania and has been widely accused of poisoning people, livestock and wildlife following a spill of toxic chemicals from a mine that is expected to increase production in the coming year . I also pointed out that I was aware of other issues, but did not discuss them in the interest of keeping my letter short.
I would like to now provide another example. About twelve kilometers outside of the highly-populated city of San Luis Potosí in Mexico, New Gold Inc., with headquarters in Vancouver, has been involved in a project that entails the demolition of the small mountain of Cerro de San Pedro . Metric tonnes of explosive and sodium cyanide have been used daily in order to leach out silver and gold from the demolished remains of this mountain. If the project were to continue to completion, a crater measuring approximately a kilometer in width and 250 meters in depth is what would remain of Cerro de San Pedro, along with some heaps of waste and demolished rock that may pose a toxic hazard to the surrounding community.
For a moment, let’s pretend that it could be considered reasonable to allow a dangerous operation such as this one to be carried out a few kilometers away from a heavily populated area, in a country that’s known to be afflicted by corruption, unmonitored by us. Let’s also assume that, if something were to go awry, the safety of the people of San Luis Potosí would be considered to be more important than the uninterrupted operation of the mine. It would still be essential to consider that the demolished mountain is a site of important historical and cultural significance, and that explosions have been taking place only dozens of meters away from a centuries-old church.
San Luis Potosí itself is a very beautiful city of important historical and cultural significance. UNESCO hosts on its website a list of sites that signatory countries of their World Heritage Convention, countries such as for example Canada and Mexico, hope will be nominated for inclusion in UNESCO’s List of World Heritage sites. Mexico’s list has an item pertaining specifically to San Luis Potosí in which the mountain of Cerro de San Pedro is mentioned as being the genesis of this historical city . On the coat of arms of San Luis Potosí, their patron saint, King Louis IX of France, is shown standing atop Cerro de San Pedro. This coat of arms was given to the people of San Luis Potosí by Viceroy Francisco Fernández de la Cueva, Duke of Albuquerque, at the time that San Luis Potosí was officially granted the title of City in 1656 . I hope therefore you will agree that Cerro de San Pedro is of very important historical and cultural significance to the people of Mexico. Imagine for a moment how Canadians would feel if a foreign entity, motivated by profit, were to arrive in Canada and to obliterate an equivalent cultural landmark. Fortunately, the most recent news of this project is that it is in the process of being shut down by the Mexican authorities, although cyanide leaching operations are still continuing and the small mountain of Cerro de San Pedro has for the most part been destroyed . If we in Canada had been more watchful, it would not have been necessary for things to go so far before the mine was shut down. It would have even been possible to prevent the project from going forward at all.
I would therefore like to ask you, our prime minister, if you would consider fixing this situation. Do people feel bothered or threatened when their sources of water are contaminated by toxic waste, or when a historical symbol that supports their patron saint on their coat of arms is demolished, soaked over a period of years in highly toxic substances, and replaced by an enormous crater and piles of rubble, a few kilometers outside of a city inhabited by a million people? Do you think that the reputation of Canadians around the world might not be affected by activities such as these? Please consider fixing the problems outlined in the Fourteenth Report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade. For your convenience, I’m providing the following assertions that have been extracted from this report:
- The Government of Canada has a stated commitment to corporate social responsibility standards and international human rights norms.
- Canada does not yet have laws to ensure that the activities of Canadian mining companies in developing countries conform to human rights standards.
It’s important for us to be clear that Canadians do indeed believe in social responsibility and human rights, and that we value the environment that we live in and care about other people’s cultural heritage.
Let me close by pointing out that it does not make sense for us to argue in favour of hazardous operations such as the ones that I’ve discussed as a way of bringing economic growth to poor regions of the world while simultaneously implying that the countries where the operations are occurring are sufficiently developed to be able to handle the challenges of these operations on their own. Furthermore, how can we argue that we can bring forward a positive example by doing trade with countries that are struggling with corruption if we then allow our own companies to engage at their own discretion in harmful practices in these same countries? I do not believe that the mining business is inherently bad. There are obviously very many good, honest, hard-working people who are involved in the mining sector. But hoping to navigate by chance the difficulties that these activities present is a very serious mistake.
Thank you very much for reading my letter and for hearing my concerns. I will be sharing the contents of my letters as well as the contents of your reply with fellow Canadians and with other people who care about and are affected by the issues that I have addressed in this letter. I look forward very much to receiving your reply.
An article that discusses this statement can be found here
The report may be found here.
A map showing the location of the Tarime District where the North Mara Mine is located can be found here.
In my previous letter, I also provided a link to the following article from the Tanzanian newspaper This Day:
If that link is unavailable then it is cached here.
Another article that discusses the same issue is available here:
http://www.thisday.co.tz/News/5970.html or here.
A map that shows the location of the mine and the city of San Luis Potosí can be found here. San Luis Potosí has a population of about one million people.
To read the mention of Cerro de San Pedro, see the item on UNESCO’s website that is titled San Luis Potosí on the Mercury and Silver Route of the Intercontinental Camino Real, which is located here.
One possible place to read about this piece of history is the website of the tourism office of the municipality of San Luis Potosí which can be found here (in Spanish). A rough computer-generated translation of this site can be found here
For more information about the shutdown of this mine, you may see this article written by Mark Stevenson for the Associated Press.