This statement was read at a Rally outside the TPP townhall convened by MP Chrystia Freeland at the University of Toronto on June 15. Words by MISN member Jen Mills.
I’m a member of the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network, a Toronto-based activist group that organizes to resist the negligent and abusive practices of Canadian mining companies in solidarity with impacted communities.
We’re here today because we strongly oppose the TPP. The TPP is a re-tread of other so-called free trade agreements like NAFTA that are really about protecting investors, especially mining investors. Most of the disputes in the World Bank’s tribunal involve oil, gas and mining companies. These investment agreements not only protect companies against seizure of their physical assets but also against indirect expropriation, meaning that companies can try to get paid for their lost future profits if the regulatory conditions in a country change. That could be a democratically elected government taking away special subsidies granted to a company under a previous dictatorship. Or it could be a government strengthening environmental or health laws. The TPP does try to protect government control over tobacco – but why only tobacco? What about the environmental and health harms from open-pit gold mining?
Whenever any provisions on labour rights or environmental protection are put into these kinds of agreements, they are window-dressing – non-binding and completely toothless.
ISDS tribunals have ordered more than $3.5 billion in compensation to companies under existing agreements involving the U.S. And the number of these cases keeps growing.
To use a concrete example in the mining sector…
Oceana Gold’s $250 million lawsuit against El Salvador
Canadian company Pacific Rim (bought by Oceana) had an exploration permit in El Salvador but did not meet the regulatory requirements to get the permit to start the mine
Around the same time, activists in El Salvador were pushing the government to impose a moratorium on metal mining; 3 Presidents have refused to issue mining permits
When Pacific Rim didn’t get its way, it venue shopped and sued El Salvador through its US shell company using the investor-state dispute mechanism in the Central American Free Trade Agreement (which Canada is not part of)
This case has dragged on for 7 years and cost the tiny nation of El Salvador $12 million already, just in legal fees. What else could that money have been used for?
80% of El Salvadorans oppose mining and want a permanent moratorium
But a panel of trade lawyers will get to decide if El Salvador has the right to make its own laws to protect its citizens and its environment or if it will have to pay millions of dollars to investors in Canada and other countries
Who are these lawyers? They are private sector attorneys that can just turn around and represent companies in other cases. How is this not a conflict of interest? The TPP does nothing to make these lawyers independent. They have unreasonable discretion in interpreting investor rights. They don’t consider the merits of environmental or health policy, only whether investment laws and agreements were breached. There is no appeal against their decisions.
The TPP also vastly increases Canada’s exposure to these investor-state lawsuits. We’ve already seen legal challenges against pesticide bans over pesticides already banned in many other countries. The TPP even allows foreign companies with wholly owned subsidiaries in Canada to make a claim against Canada.
We have already gone too far with existing free trade and investment agreements. The Liberals can waffle all they want but we know that the party has a history of supporting these agreements and preventing action to rein in Canadian mining companies. We need to send a clear message. We want protection for the environment, not protection for investors. Stop the TPP!