BARRIE, Ontario (miningweekly.com) - While Canadian lawmakers prepare to vote on the controversial C-300 Bill later this month, the son of a murdered Mexican mining activist has ended a week-long trip to Toronto and Ottawa seeking to bolster support for the bill.
Jose Luis Abarca, a 28-year-old lawyer, is also trying to garner Canadian endorsement for the C-354 Bill, which is much harsher than the C-300.
If adopted as law, Bill C-300 would give the Canadian government authority to investigate complaints about the behaviour of resources companies based in the country operating abroad, and block public funding from offenders.
Canadian mining companies have been hotly opposed to the bill, saying it would damage the Canadian mining industry and do more harm than good.
C-354, which National Democratic Party Member of Parliament Peter Julian first tabled in Parliament in December 2007, would allow foreign citizens to sue Canadian companies for human rights or environmental violations.
Julian told Mining Weekly Online that while most Canadian miners followed best practices operating in other countries, there were a few bad apples that did not.
“We have to stop those few bad apples from tarnishing the whole industry,” he said.
“The idea that we ask them politely to comply is clearly a nonstarter. The rogue companies should be condemned and they should face consequences for their behaviour.”
Bill C-300 was specific to the mining industry, while the Bill C-354, which is based on the US Alien Tort Claims Statute, would apply to any Canadian company or individual.
Mining Association of Canada (MAC) government affairs vice-president Paul Hébert said in an interview that while Canadian mining companies should operate within the parameters of best practices, “we just don’t feel that the C-300 Bill, as it’s constructed, is the best way [to achieve that]”.
He said the bill suffered a lack of procedural fairness, and didn’t reflect the outcome of the Corporate Social Responsibility roundtable study held in 2007.
“A collaborative and consultative approach would be more constructive,” said Hébert.
The MAC had focused its efforts on Bill C-300, as it was mining specific.
Abarca’s father, Mariano Abarca, was gunned down in front of his house at the end of last year. The lawyer alleged the murder was directly linked to his father’s antimining protests. He further alleged that the Canadian company Blackfire Exploration was behind the killing.
Abarca said in an interview he would “absolutely” sue Blackfire in Canada were C-354 to be adopted as law.
“I would go after Blackfire. My family is absolutely sure that Blackfire is behind the death of my dad,” he stated through an interpreter.
Blackfire has denied any link to the death of Mariano Abarca.
In March, a group led by NGO Mining Watch Canada wrote to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police asking the force to investigate “the possible bribing of a foreign public official” by Blackfire and its Mexican subsidiary.
A RCMP spokesperson declined to confirm or deny whether it was investigating the matter “because of the Privacy Act”.
Common Frontiers, which helped organise Abarca’s Canadian tour, said that an investigation was under way.
“They (the RCMP) are taking this quite seriously,” Common Frontiers coordinator Rick Arnold said.
Blackfire did not immediately responded to requests for comment.
MAC’s Hébert said that the circumstances around Abarca’s murder were “truly tragic”.
“I can’t comment on the company involved. They are not a member of the MAC,” he added.
Blackfire owned a mine near Chicomuselo, Chiapas, in southern Mexico, just north of the Guatemalan border.
Blackfire’s mine was reportedly closed by the Mexican government in December last year because of environmental infractions.
Speaking in an interview at the end of his trip, Abarca said he was well received by civil society organisations in Canada.
He added that Bill C-300 would help protect communities outside Canada where Canadian companies were active.
PAYING THE PRICE
“If companies like Blackfire, operating overseas, engage in conduct unbecoming, they should have to pay some sort of price,” argued Abarca.
On September 27, he addressed a conference held in the House of Commons entitled Walking the Talk: Human Rights Abroad. The NDP’s Julian held the conference to bolster support of his C-354 Bill.
Earlier this week, Canadian law firm Macleod Dixon partner Tad Gruchalla-Wesierski told the mineMexico seminar in Toronto that “there is a lot of mud being slung at Canadian companies operating in Mexico regarding human rights abuses”.
“There’s a big push to impose standards on Canadian companies.”
Parliament is due to hold a third reading of the Bill C-300 this month, with a vote likely to take place soon afterwards.
If Parliamentarians voted in favour of the bill, then it would go to the Senate for ratification.
Voting was expected to be close, despite the fact that C-300 was a private member’s bill tabled by Liberal MP John McKay under a ruling conservative government.
Julian’s Bill C-354 is still at least a year and a half away from getting voted on.
He plans to reintroduce it in the next seating of Parliament in the middle of next year. If there were to be a national election before then, Julian said he would table it again to the new Parliament.
“At the very best, it would be a year and a half before it could come into law, and most likely longer than that,” Julian commented.
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