We are a collective that works in solidarity with communities impacted by Canadian mining companies, and we believe that the Canadian prison system is beyond reform and founded on violent principles. This belief is informed by the experiences of those with whom we work and can make our solidarity work full of tensions at times. On the one hand, we see land defenders and environmental justice activists who are resisting Canadian mining projects face immense criminalization just for protecting their traditional land. We see Canadian mining companies suing entire countries for restricting their ability to mine, and all the ways in which the Canadian government facilitates the pervasiveness of this practice through free trade agreements and heavy-handed participation in the shaping of other countries’ mining legislation. We see people in mining impacted communities being harassed, threatened, and killed by police and military forces at the service of Canadian mining companies, people caught up in constantly defending themselves against endless empty charges, people accused of being ‘illegal intruders’ just for attempting to continue their traditional small-scale mining practices, and more. When your entire way of life and every means you have of protecting yourself is made illegal, it is easy to see the criminal legal system as meaningless at best, and vicious at worst.
On the other hand, we see Canadian mining companies commit atrocious violence with almost complete impunity in an international context of lawlessness. We see almost no mechanisms for these companies to be regulated or held accountable for their abuses. We see mining impacted communities look to the Canadian courts with hope that our legal system will bring more justice for all the harms that have been caused by Canadian mining than has ever been seen in their countries of origin, and we understand why; after centuries of imperial impoverishment and deep infrastructural erosion through neoliberal structural adjustment programs, the Canadian legal system looks good. Really good.
If we had a third hand, we would talk about what we see at home, as residents of Toronto. We see Black and Indigenous people being profiled, harassed, and killed by so-called upholders of Canadian law. We see rape victims smeared in court and we see serial rapists walk free. We see Canada’s prison population at an all-time high, with a quarter of prisoners being Aboriginal (despite being only 4% of the national population) and just under 10% of prisoners being Black (at only 2.5% of the Canadian population). We see migrants jailed indefinitely and without trial in immigrant detention facilities. We see people living and working on the street criminalized just for trying to make ends meet. We see our friends being called terrorists and criminals, being surveilled, being jailed for daring to resist the terror that our ‘multicultural, peace-keeping democracy’ inflicts on those not seen as valuable to neoliberal capitalism. We see our own history and know that this history is not one of justice and peace.
We support all attempts that mining impacted communities are currently making, and have been making, to see Canadian mining companies held accountable for their operations both in Canada and abroad. In a context of lawlessness where corporate impunity reigns, we believe that mining impacted communities have every right to use every means at their disposal to protect themselves against the tidal wave of force that is the Canadian mining industry. We believe it’s possible, however, to give our support to these efforts with full knowledge that the Canadian legal system is fundamentally violent and unjust.
This week we put hundreds of “WANTED” posters up around Toronto featuring the faces of prominent figures related to Tahoe Resources, a small but incredibly dangerous Canadian mining company. These faces included that of Kevin McArthur, Tahoe’s CEO and founder (‘wanted’ for leading a company responsible for: opening fire on peaceful protesters; kidnappings, murders, and violent attacks on land defenders and community leaders; militarization of communities; ignoring 14 referenda in which tens of thousands of people in the 6 municipalities closest to the project have voted against the Escobal mine; land theft; and numerous other violations surrounding Tahoe Resource’s Escobal mine) and Alberto Rotondo (Tahoe’s former head of security in Guatemala, currently being held in Peru after fleeing police custody in Guatemala while awaiting criminal trial for obstruction of justice and ordering security forces to open fire on peaceful protesters). These posters compare the complete impunity with which mining company leaders operate to the intensive criminalization and violence that human rights and environmental activists face when resisting the harms of these same companies. Demonstrating this double-sidedness, they challenge the normalization of ‘business as usual’ practices by mining companies, explicitly demonstrating how (when they are acknowledged and recognized for the injustice and devastating harm they cause) they would in fact be deemed criminal if beholden to the Canadian legal system.
We do believe that these people and countless others in the Canadian mining industry should be held accountable for their complete disregard for human and non-human life; we simply wish that the only mechanisms for doing so weren’t the same mechanisms that cause so much violence towards Black, Indigenous, poor, migrant, and disabled lives in this country. Just like the paradigm of extractivism, the prison paradigm cannot be rehabilitated. Our policing and criminal “justice” system was built to patrol borders, to control and contain rebellion, and to maintain colonial force over indigenous people. It continues to do exactly what it was built for.
If we could have made one more poster, it might have read: “WANTED: a means of ensuring justice, safety, and self-determination for all people that doesn’t rely on the exploitation, isolation, and incarceration of the most oppressed people in Canada.” It might not have been as catchy, but it certainly would have been true. We do want that, as do the communities so desperately needing justice in the face of the Canadian mining industry. Within the context of our existing colonial nation-state, we see that regulation and legal action is important, but our dreams are far bigger than any cage for corporate criminals could hold.
In solidarity until and towards that day,
– The Mining Injustice Solidarity Network collective