On Thursday, Nov. 7, the Social Justice Centre hosted a talk debating UBC’s role in a new mining institute, as well as broader ethical implications associated with the mining industry.
The Canadian International Institute for Extractive Industries and Development (CIIEID) will be funded by a $24.6 million grant from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) which will go to both UBC and SFU. The institution is intended to help educate people in developing countries about the best practices for mining.
Yves Engler, a Montreal-based writer and political activist who has written several books critical of Canadian foreign policy, led the talk.
Sam Stime, a UBC civil engineering graduate student involved with “Not From My Campus,” a blog critical of the CIIEID, opened the talk. He introduced the audience to the moral and ethical concerns surrounding overseas mining by Canadian companies and the implications of establishing the CIIEID at UBC.
“This is our time to ask tough questions to our government and universities,” Stime said. “Through this institute, there is now a link between us and the federal government’s agenda of imposition.
“This development intervention [the CIIEID] is poorly thought through. I say, hold on until consultations are made and the right people are guided.”
Engler then took the stage, talking about human rights abuses by Canadian mining companies abroad, the pro-company foreign policy of Stephen Harper’s government and the rerouting of development aid to corporate projects.
I would assume the majority of students at UBC, when shown the facts about what Canadian companies and Harper’s governments are doing — they will not be particularly fond of the idea of UBC enabling the process.”
Engler highlighted the example of the Porgera Gold Mine in Papua New Guinea, which is administrated by Toronto-based Barrick Gold and headed by magnate Peter Munk.
Engler said mine security personnel gang raping locals was brushed off by Munk as “a cultural habit,” and severe ecological damage caused by the mine led the Norwegian government to divest its stake in the project.
Engler followed up by elaborating on the intrinsic ties between Canadian mining companies, the various Canadian federal agencies such as the Canadian International CIDA and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and Canada’s foreign policy.
“I would assume the majority of students at UBC, when shown the facts about what Canadian companies and Harper’s governments are doing — they will not be particularly fond of the idea of UBC enabling the process,” said Engler.
The Q&A session focused on the role the CIIEID would play in the mining industry, in Canadian foreign policy and in developmental efforts abroad.
Marcello Veiga, an associate mining engineering professor at UBC and leader of the CIDA proposal to establish the CIIEID, rebuked links between the new institute and Canadian mining corporate interests, emphasizing that the CIIEID would centre its efforts on artisanal mining and researching better practices for developmental purposes.
“It is the main mining-related problem in the world because of the environmental destruction it causes in developing countries. They need the know-how. We also know corruption is a tremendous problem and we will work to combat it,” said Veiga.
When an audience member brought up social concerns regarding CIIEID projects, Veiga said they too would be an important component of the institute’s activities.
“We’re working with NGOs in Colombia, Peru and Ecuador. We have Latin America first in our minds,” Veiga said.
Engler maintained his opposition to the institute.
“Canadian mining corporations capitalize mining projects and undermine artisanal mining. The idea that the federal government would give dozens of millions to promote that is ridiculous. There is a bigger picture out there.”
After the talk, Stime elaborated on steps that can be taken to minimize corporate influence on the CIIEID.
“What we’re proposing is for the institute to receive no in-kind aid from corporate companies and no mining executive associated with the mining industry. It’s a conflict of interest and inappropriate,” said Stime.
Engler took a more extreme position, believing that the CIIEID’s work, corporate interests and Canadian foreign policy will inevitably clash.
“The intent of funding the CIIEID is not about bringing actual regulations and development abroad; it’s about giving a gloss of corporate responsibility,” said Engler, “No matter if the money is public or private, it jives with Harper’s pro-mining policy.
“Even if those within the institute were to lobby against the policy, I don’t think it would do any good.”
Ale Hinao, a SFU graduate student, thinks the CIIEID role is misguided.
“There’s this perception that the people in Canada know better and go south to teach them their mining practices. It worries me a lot,” said Hinao. “There are a lot of problems that First Nations are having with the extractive industry. The government should work with communities here.”
Hinao thinks localized efforts are a better alternative to solving challenges surrounding mining.
“There are efforts coming from South American governments to create an organization so that foreign companies can go to trial if they violate human rights and harm the environment, so I think that’s a good initiative to support.”
Andrea Vasquez, a forestry graduate student at UBC, agreed.
“It’s colonialist, and that’s what we keep doing with development aid and institutions like the CIIEID.”