The allegations have been nothing less than sensational. Physical violence. Intimidation. Environmental devastation. Bribing government officials.
Canadian mining firms have endured weeks of shocking accusations on Parliament Hill in testimony regarding Bill C-300. Under the proposed private member's bill, the federal government would be able to investigate Canadian resource companies' actions in foreign countries and deny taxpayer-funded financing to firms that violate human rights or environmental standards.
Thursday, a trio of Canada's largest miners will attempt to answer their accusers and argue against a proposed law which they say could devastate their industry and result in the loss of billions of dollars in financing and investment.
Executives from three mining heavyweights - Barrick Gold Corp., Goldcorp Inc., and Kinross Gold Corp. - are slated to testify in front of a parliamentary committee examining Liberal MP John McKay's bill, which has passed second reading. In a submission, the gold miners warn Bill C-300 will lead to "frivolous and vexatious claims" against mining firms and will put Canadian companies at a disadvantage against their international competitors.
They claim that the bill, believed to be the first of its kind in the world, would create a potential "exodus" of mining companies leaving Canada.
Mining accounted for about $40-billion or 5 per cent of Canada's GDP last year, according to Statistics Canada. The industry directly employs about 351,000 Canadians and produced about 19 per cent of Canadian exports in 2008.
"The whole effort is based on the notion that Canadian companies in the extractive industries offshore are not doing a good job. I totally reject that notion. Our record is outstanding when it comes to bringing benefits to areas in which we operate, abiding by principles of human rights and appropriate community development," Goldcorp CEO Chuck Jeannes said in an interview. He said the bill also implies developing nations' own laws and regulations are insufficient.
Critics of the mining sector paint a very different picture. Opponent groups have, for years, accused Goldcorp of causing environmental damage and human rights abuses at its mines in Honduras and Guatemala. Goldcorp has strongly denied the allegations.
For Barrick, the world's largest gold producer, the hearings into Bill C-300 have led to a series of allegations delivered under parliamentary privilege, which shields accusers from legal recriminations. Sarah Knuckey, a lawyer with the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at the New York University School of Law, testified last week that locally hired security guards at a Barrick mine in Papua New Guinea take turns "threatening, beating and raping" local women on or near mine property. Barrick has denied any knowledge of the alleged rapes.
This week, Romina Picolotti, a former environmental secretary with the government of Argentina, told Canadian MPs she and her government staff were "physically threatened following our mining intervention" over environmental concerns about a Barrick project in Argentina. "My children were threatened. My offices were wiretapped. My staff was bought and the public officials that once controlled Barrick for me became paid employees of Barrick Gold." Barrick spokesman Vince Borg called those allegations "hogwash." Ms. Picolotti is the founder of the Center for Human Rights and Environment.
"It's outrageous when activists are parading through Ottawa making these allegations. It's just a circus," Mr. Borg said.
John McKay, the Toronto-area MP behind Bill C-300, said the bill resulted from "people who have made direct observations of the activities of our companies around the world." He refused to discuss specific cases.
If it becomes law, the bill would deny Export Development Canada financing and investment by the Canada Pension Plan to mining companies that the government finds have violated human rights or environmental standards.