Four days after the assassination of Honduran Indigenous leader Bertha Cáceres, we held a vigil at the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada’s (PDAC) annual convention, honouring people who have been killed opposing Canadian mining projects around the world. Bertha Cáceres’ name as well as that of dozens of people killed resisting Canadian mining projects were read out loud in the middle of the busy ‘Mining Marketplace’ by twenty people wearing shirts reading ‘Canadian Mining Kills’.
The vigil was presided over by Anglican priest Maggie Helwig: “We are here to name the dead. We are here in solidarity with all those who have been murdered for their activism against the abuses of Canadian mining companies. Lives are worth more than minerals and corporate profit, and our earth is worth more than money.” The vigil then continued with the reading of names of murdered individuals, many of whom were known for speaking out against the environmental destruction and social conflict caused by mining companies. Following the vigil, the mining injustice activists, carrying a banner that said “Canadian Mining Kills” were escorted out by Toronto Police.
“We were surrounded by booths run by Toronto-based mining companies showcasing their corporate social responsibility policies,” says MISN member Kate Klein. “The contrast between the realities of the industry on the ground and the image these companies struggle to uphold is incredibly stark.”
Canadian mining companies are known worldwide for being the worst offenders when it comes to human rights, environmental, and labour violations. This reputation of abuse was confirmed by a 2009 report that was commissioned (and then suppressed) by PDAC itself, which demonstrated that Canadian companies were involved in 34% of the high-profile violations in the mining sector over the previous 10 years, which was four times more frequently than the next country on the list. Abuses detailed in the report include targeted assassinations, persecution of activists and union leaders, militarization of entire communities, massive displacement, and environmental devastation that goes unchecked and uncleaned.
Bertha Cáceres was recognized nationally and internationally as an environmentalist who fought for Indigenous rights. In 2015 she was awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, the highest international recognition for environmental activists. As part of her recognition speech she spoke of the repression she confronted: “They follow me, they threaten to kill me and kidnap my family. This is what we face.” She had recently faced an onslaught of death threats over her leadership in the Lenca struggle that successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder to pull out of the Agua Zarca Dam project. Since the 2009 military coup that overthrew Honduras’ democratically elected government, almost 30 percent of Honduras’ land was earmarked for mining concessions, creating a demand for cheap energy to power future mining operations, many of which are claimed by Canadian companies. To meet this need, the government has approved hundreds of dam projects around the country, privatizing rivers, land, and uprooting communities. Repression of social movements and targeted assassinations against land defenders resisting such projects are rampant.
Other names read during the ceremony included: Topacio Reynoso, a 16-year-old youth leader murdered in 2014 in the course of resisting Tahoe Resources’ Escobal Mine in Guatemala; Dora “Alicia” Sorto Recinos, who was an active opponent of Pacific Rim’s El Dorado gold mine in El Salvador and was shot and killed in 2009 when eight months pregnant; Rafael Markus Bangit, an elder –leader of the Malbong tribe in the Philippines at the forefront of the struggle against TVI Pacific; Kibwabwa Ghati, whose murder was justified by accusations that he was attempting to steal from Barrick’s North Mara mine in Tanzania; and Rigoberto López Hernández, a Honduran activist who was brutally murdered (including having his tongue cut out) while fighting the opening of an iron oxide mine.
A 2014 report submitted to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, titled The Impact of Canadian Mining in Latin America and Canada’s Responsibility, outlines how Canadian mining companies exploit weak legal systems in Latin American and Canada and fail to respect indigenous peoples’ rights, international human rights and social responsibility principles. Despite being aware of the egregious violations committed by some of its mining corporations, Canada continues to provide political, legal and financial support to companies that commit or tolerate human rights abuses. Instead of addressing the problems posed by Canadian mining companies, Canada has advised various governments in countries where its companies operate about changing mining regulations that favour their corporate interests.
The PDAC convention is widely marketed as the most important mining investment show for companies, organizations, and people in the mineral exploration industry to attend. This gathering is reported to provide people in the mining business with opportunities for learning, networking, and discussion and generally attracts around 25,000 people every year.
“Every year the PDAC convention is used to give the mining industry the appearance of social responsibility and critical thinking”, says MISN member Merle Davis. “People with so much power over human lives congregate here every year. We must not only commemorate Bertha’s death this week, and that of hundreds of other land defenders who have been killed resisting violent extractive projects, but also demand justice and accountability from the companies at the source of this violence. Overwhelmingly these are Canadian mining companies, the same companies we are surrounded by here at this convention.”
Watch these videos of the action!
More photos below: