Toronto – Four days after the assassination of Honduran Indigenous leader Berta Cáceres, a vigil was held by the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network (MISN) at the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada’s (PDAC) annual convention in Toronto on March 6. The vigil honoured people who have been killed opposing Canadian mining projects around the world.
Berta 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.
Berta 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.
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.”
MISN is a Toronto-based volunteer group that works closely with communities impacted by extractive industries in order to support their self-determination, educate the Canadian public, and bring companies to justice.
Names of those murdered in connection to their activism against Canadian mining operations that were read during the ceremony included:
Berta Caceres – A leading Indigenous environmental activist in Honduras, who was killed four days ago in the middle of the night in the home she was staying in. She has faced death threats for years for her involvement in land defense and cross-continental activism.
Topacio Reynoso Pacheco – 16-year old mining resistance activist murdered for her resistance to Tahoe Resources’ Escobal mine in Guatemala on April 13th, 2014
Adolfo Ich Chamán – Respected community leader, teacher, and father of four, targeted and killed by security personnel from Hudbay’s El Estor mining project in Guatemala on September 27th, 2009
Telesforo Odilio Pivaral Gonzalez – A farmer, husband, and mining resistance activist killed for resisting Tahoe Resources’ Escobal mine in Guatemala on April 5th, 2015
Mariano Abarca Roblero – A community & anti-mining activist killed on November 27th, 2009 for opposing mining by Blackfire Exploration in his community in Chiapas, Mexico and defending the environment
Dora “Alicia” Sorto Recinos – An active opponent of Pacific Rim’s El Dorado gold mine in El Salvador. Was shot and killed on December 26th, 2009 as she returned home from doing her laundry. Sorto Recinos was eight months pregnant.
Ramiro Rivera – Vice-President of the Comité Ambiental de Cabañas which works to educate the community about the health and environmental risks of cyanide contamination as a result of gold mining operations by Pacific Rim in El Salvador. He was killed on December 20th, 2009.
Cesar García – Member of Conciencia Campesina and president of the Community Action of El Cajón involved in the defence of both environmental and farmers’ rights in Colombia. Killed on November 2nd, 2013.
Rigoberto López Hernández – A movement leader from the community of Santa Cruz in Honduras who was tortured and assasinated for his opposition to the Quita Ganas mine on May 3rd, 2014.
José Isidro Tendetza Antún – Indigeous leader and vice-president of the Shuar Federation of Zamora, who refused to give up his land and led community resistance to Corriente Resources’ Mirador copper and gold mine in Ecuador. Killed on December 2nd, 2014.
Rafael Markus Bangit – Respected elder-leader of the Malbong tribe in Kalinga province in the Philippines and regional councilmember of the Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance, which is at the forefront of the anti-mining movement in the Philippines, including the fight against TVI Pacific. Killed on June 8th, 2006.
Kibwabwa Ghati – A 23-year-old Tanzanian farmer who was shot and killed by police on his way home near Barrick Gold’s North Mara mine on November 6th, 2012. Police justified his killing by accusing him of trying to intrude into and steal from the mine.
Emerico Samarca – The leader of an alternative education program for the Lumad people, an Indigenous community in the southern Philippines. This program opposed destructive large-scale mining by companies including Canadian company TVI Pacific by developing sustainable agricultural and self-determined resource management practices. Killed on September 2nd, 2015.
34 unnamed striking workers – These workers were killed in what has been described as South Africa’s “first post-apartheid massacre” after walking off the job at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine and ignoring calls to disperse at a strike protest on August 21st, 2012.
Demetrio Poma Rosales – Was killed protesting Barrick Gold’s Pierina open-pit gold mine in Peru’s Ancash region on September 19th, 2012.
Juan Francisco Durán Ayala – Student anti-mining activist assassinated resisting Pacific Rim in El Salvador on June 17th, 2011.
José Reinel Restrepo – The parish priest of the municipality of Marmato and a defender of the rights of people to survive and remain on their territory in resistance to Gran Colombia Gold. Killed on September 2nd, 2011.
Jerónimo Rodríguez Tugri and Mauricio Méndez – Both were killed when police opened fire against Indigenous Ngöbe-Buglé protestors resisting Corriente Resources’ controversial presence in Panama on February 8th, 2012.
Henry Tendeke, Taitia Maliapa, Paul Pindi, John Wangla, Pyakani Tombe, Yandari Pyari, Jerry Yope, Jackson Yalo, Joe Opotaro, Aglio Wija, Mina Mulako, Alonge Laswi, Manata Pita and Pyakane Eremi – 14 of dozens of people murdered by security forces defending Barrick’s Porgera mine in Papua New Guinea.
Alvaro Benigno – A 23 year old father was killed in association with Goldcorp’s Marlin Mine in Guatemala on March 13th, 2005
Damodar Jhodia, Abhilash Jhodia and Raghunath Jhodia – All three were murdered by police on December 16th, 2000 in the Kashipur region in Orissa, India. These three unarmed men were targeted for standing against a mining project partially owned by Rio Tinto Alcan.
Exaltación Marcos Ucelo – A community activist and Secretary of the Xinca Indigenous Parliament was kidnapped, tortured, and killed for his opposition to Tahoe Resources’ Escobal mine in Guatemala. Found dead on March 18th, 2013.
1 unnamed mine worker – This unnamed worker died of heat exhaustion and dehydration at Nevsun’s Bisha Mine in Eritrea (date unknown, subject of the current Canadian lawsuit against Nevsun)