The ecological costs of Canadian mining

Julian Vigo | The Ecologist | 18th December 2018

Canadian mining companies are destroying the earth and disregarding human rights.

The commercial space company, Moon Express, has announced that it was setting up Moon Express Canada in order “to leverage Canadian space science and technology in the exploration of the Moon and its resources”.

What surprised me about this revelation was that Moon Express Canada is apparently planning to mine the moon with its partner companies on board.

Micro and nano space technology company Canadensys Aerospace Corporation, geological imaging company Gedex, LiDar systems developer Teledyne Optech, and mining technologies and robotics company Deltion Innovations, which has been outspoken about making Canada a leader in space mining.

Rights violation 

As I read the reports, I shook my head wondering how Canadian mining companies have been permitted to amass so much damage to the earth and human rights, much less now being enlisted to destroy the moon.

Canada is no stranger to ecological destruction in its mining practices, within the country and also in Latin America. The Mexican Network of Mining Affected People (REMA in Spanish) has been outspoken in recent years over the problems of Canadian mining on indigenous lands.

It has also criticised the use of the Canadian diplomatic corps to negotiate deals between Canadian mining companies and local leaders who violate the rights of the people to property, safe environment, open consultations with public consent, lawfulness and legal security.

One company which has effected enormous damage on Mexican land is Goldcorp, which has broken national laws in purchasing collectively owned property in Carrizalillo, Guerrero and in Mazapil, Zacatecas.

The encroachment of Canadian mining companies in Mexico today shows them operating 65 percent of the mining projects around the country, amounting to 850 mining projects at various stages of development from exploration through to construction and extraction.

Manipulate and abuse

These mining projects have resulted in serious health issues, environmental contamination and destruction, the criminalisation of social protest, as well as the use of threats, harassment, smear campaigns, surveillance, arbitrary detentions and the assassination of political leaders and activists who speak out against these mines.

Mariano Abarca was murdered after he opposed a Canadian mine in Chiapas where he was detained in 2009. In 2014 in Guerrero, Mexico, 43 students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teacher Training College in Ayotzinapa, disappeared with no trace of their whereabouts, except for the remains of 19-year-old Alexander Mora Venancio.

Many believe that the recent and nearby inauguration of Torex Gold’s El Limón-Guajes gold mine in Cocula, Guerrero is related to these students’ disappearance and murder, given that a mine manager had already been murdered, workers kidnapped, and communities protesting over broken promises, contaminated water, and health problems.

Similarly the Honduran leader, Beta Cáceres, was murdered in her home on 3 March 2016 after recent protests against the construction of the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam in Río Blanco and various schemes to grab land from the people against which Cáceres was fully mobilised.

It is common to find these companies levelling criminal charges at the protestors – including sabotage, terrorism, rebellion, conspiracy, and incitement to commit crime.

Open-pit mine

Because of the money these companies attract to the local economy, their power within the community is tremendous – and this includes their ability to manipulate and abuse the local laws and collaborate with organised criminals.

In addition to human rights violation, there is grave ecological and biological damage produced by these Canadian mining  companies.

For instance, there is strong evidence of serious health impacts in Carrizallillo, Guerrero which was presented at the International People’s Health Tribunal in 2012 in connection with Goldcorp’s Los Filos mine, one of the largest gold mines in the world.

These impacts  included, but were not limited to, a high incidence of eye, skin, respiratory, and gastrointestinal problems, as well as a significant increase in premature births and malformations in newborns – and that’s just the shortlist.

Mining within Canada is no less controversial. It was recently announced that Gahcho Kué, an open-pit mine, is expected to produce between 6.6 million and 6.9 million carats of diamonds in 2019, and each year thereafter through the end of 2021. 

Disastrous effects

Gahcho Kué is one of the world’s largest new diamond mines which opened in September 2016 on a remote mine site on the Canadian tundra just on the edge of the Arctic Circle, and is jointly operated by De Beers and Mountain Province Diamonds.

While diamond mining is not Canada’s primary industry, Canada is the fifth largest diamond producer in the world and the ecological damage produced by diamond mining are well known.

Uranium levels in nearby Kennady Lake are expected to increase by a factor of 11,000 during the mine’s operation due to acid mine drainage which causes damage to the ecosystem.

Other common problems associated with diamond mining include erosion, formation of sinkholes, loss of biodiversity, and the contamination of soil, groundwater, and surface water by chemicals from mining processes.

Badly executed diamond mining has caused serious problems ranging from soil erosion, deforestation, and the forced migration of local populations. There are also many cases of diamond miners having re-routed rivers and constructed dams to expose riverbeds for mining, all with disastrous effects on fish and wildlife.

Consuming less

Just over the last few weeks, we have seen Canadian mining companies continue their expansion into Western Australia,  IndiaPapua New Guinea, the Republic of Guinea, and into Yukon and Nunavut.

While there seems to be little that individuals can do to stop these powerful companies, we need to address that the common denominator between mining and humans is our consumption.

With this knowledge in mind, it is imperative that we push back against mining, conduct a mental inventory of what we purchase and consume, and that we ask ourselves which objects which do we absolutely need to live and which items can we live without.

In the absence of an ecological revolution, the future of our planet depends on our ability to consume less. 

This Author 

Julian Vigo is an independent scholar, filmmaker and activist who specialises in anthropology, technology, and political philosophy. Her latest book is Earthquake in Haiti: The Pornography of Poverty and the Politics of Development (2015). You can follow her on Twitter at @lubelluledotcom

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1 Comment

Filed under Environmental impact, Human rights

One response to “The ecological costs of Canadian mining

  1. Garry Sprawson

    absolute and complete nonsense! Does the writer use anything mined in her daily life? errr YES!

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