Back in August, Trevali Mining Corporation, owner of the Caribou mine near Bathurst, filed for bankruptcy under the Canadian Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act. Prior to the declaration, Trevali owned and operated three mines across the globe: Caribou in Canada, Perkoa in Burkina Faso, and Rosh Pinah in Namibia.
The Caribou mine, first purchased by Trevali in 2012, underwent portal construction in 2014. Mining commenced in 2015 and was expected to continue for around six years. During that time, Trevali extracted zinc, lead, silver, and gold.
On January 11, the CBC reported that Trevali’s New Brunswick division had been placed into receivership to liquidate assets and pay creditors. The Caribou site, which covers around 2,000 hectares of land, includes an underground mine, open-pit mining sites, a mill, tailings ponds, and tailings dams.
Operations at the mine have halted, and most of the mine’s workforce has been let go. To date, the province has not released an estimate about the cost to remediate the site. Company documents, however, pin the price tag at over $49 million.
Executives hit it big
Since operations began at the Caribou mine in 2015, Trevali’s top executives have received sizeable compensation packages.
According to Trevali Mining Corporation’s Management Information Circulars, the acquisition of the Caribou mine and mill allowed the company to experience “significant growth.” During that time, Trevali’s executive officers received increased compensation, reflecting “the growing business and increased complexities of the executive positions.”
However, as the company notes, “compensation is not consistent with the trend of total return on investment charted for the Company” between 2012 and 2017.
Between 2015 and 2018, former CEO Mark Cruise received nearly $6.4 million in total compensation, while former CFO Anna Ladd-Kruger received $3.4 million. Between 2015 and 2019, former COO Paul Keller received $3.6 million in total compensation.
Finally, between 2019 and 2021, President and CEO Ricus Grimbeek received just over $10 million in total compensation. In total, since operations began in 2015, Trevali’s Named Executive Officers received nearly $40 million in total compensation.
Perkoa mine: Neo-colonialism and resource extraction
After pocketing the tidy sum, in September, former Trevali CEO Ricus Grimbeek resigned from the company, when a court in Burkina Faso found two employees guilty of involuntary manslaughter after a flash flood trapped and killed eight workers at the Perkoa mine.
Trevali’s interest in Burkina Faso has historical precedence. In 1983, socialist Thomas Sankara seized power of the small African nation, then named Upper Volta, and renamed it Burkina Faso, or “the land of upright people.” A staunch anti-imperialist, after taking power, Sankara halted all debt payments to France, built substantial infrastructure, and nationalized the country’s mineral reserves.
Sankara was killed in 1987 during a countercoup led by Blaise Compaoré, who argued that Burkina Faso had to “appeal to private investors” and “develop capitalism.” Seizing the opportunity, Canadian mining companies set up massive extractive industries and pilfered the nation’s natural resources.
Today, at the mines, working conditions are poor, labour standards are lacking, and accidents, injuries, and deaths are far too common. According to a report detailing the experiences of residents in Burkina Faso, foreign investment in the mining sector does not improve living conditions. Instead, mining operations tend to damage residents’ health and livelihoods, and residents are regularly disrespected by mining operators.
The situation at home
New Brunswick is no stranger to industrial resource extraction. Beginning in the 18th century, the province’s timber industry accrued massive profits by selling ship masts to the British Empire. Business operations led to widespread deforestation, linked to the extirpation of local caribou, moose, and deer populations, substantially altering Indigenous subsistence patterns. More recently, the Irving family has razed the province’s forests through routine clearcutting.
As early as 1837, miners set up shop in towns like Bathurst, a region rich in sulphide, vein, and gossan deposits. Miners extracted resources like zinc, lead, copper, silver, gold, bismuth, antimony, and cadmium.
Further, for centuries, the town of Minto was home to a bustling coal industry. During the interwar period, the Minto mine employed child labour, with boys as young as thirteen working in the mines. Many of the workers, both men and children, suffered from respiratory issues due to poor air quality.
Prior to his death in September 2021, after battling chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and silicosis, former miner Roger Leblanc spent decades fighting for compensation through the provincial courts. A miner for over three decades, Leblanc found significant levels of lead, thallium, arsenic, and cadmium in his blood during a doctor’s visit in 2005. Treatment costed Leblanc his retirement savings, yet the courts rejected his bid for compensation.
Resource extraction is endemic to the province. Scholars such as Susan O’Donnell and Tom Beckley have gone so far as to characterize New Brunswick as an extractive regime, a sort of internal colony purpose-built to pilfer natural resources and fill the pockets of an entrenched economic elite.
From Burkina Faso to New Brunswick and beyond, throughout history, Canada’s mining corporations have devasted local economies, ruined natural habitats, and exploited the labour of workers to turn a profit.
Put simply, Trevali’s mining project, as evidenced by their executives’ exorbitant payouts, was organized to benefit big business, take money away from taxpayers, and saddle the province with cleanup costs.
The story, of course, is a familiar one. There are clear winners and clear losers here. On one side, Trevali’s executives received large cheques and fat bonuses. On the other, the average New Brunswicker was left holding the bag—an empty bag, no less.
Harrison Dressler is a master’s student in history at Queen’s University. He writes about Canadian history, labour, politics, and the environment.