Thank you for inviting Shin Imai and me to speak today. It's an honour to be here.
We're both board members of the Justice and Corporate Accountability Project, or JCAP, which is a volunteer-driven legal clinic based at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto. Shin has been a law professor for over 30 years, and I'm currently an articling fellow, although I'm not speaking on behalf of my employer today.
JCAP's mission is to support communities affected by the extractive industry, and our partners are primarily in Latin America. We'd like to speak with you about a report that we published called “The 'Canada Brand': Violence and Canadian Mining Companies in Latin America”. The study compiles and analyzes publicly available reporting on violence associated with Canadian mining in the region from 2000 to 2015.
The study is limited. We included only incidents that could be verified by two independent reports that credibly suggest that the mining project's presence was contributing to violence. We didn't have a budget to carry out on-the-ground investigations, which we believe could very well reveal more violence, especially in Mexico. The study didn't look at conflict or human rights abuse broadly. We didn't look at the long-term impacts of violence. We didn't record reports of death threats, smear campaigns, environmental destruction, land dispossession, the impact on farming, or the militarization of rural communities. We didn't look at any of that.
We did record reports of sexual violence, but we recognize that sexual violence is under-reported. It's best to think of our report as a snapshot of some of the worst expressions of conflict but not representative of the actual extent of the impact these projects can have on people's lives. Before publishing the report, we contacted the mining companies that were mentioned in it. Ten of them got back to us, and we made some changes based on their comments.
From 2000 to 2015, we found 34 violent conflicts involving 28 mining companies, both large and small, in 13 different countries. There were 44 deaths and four disappearances. Thirty of those deaths appear to have been targeted killings. There were 403 physical injuries, ranging from minor injury to permanent disability. It's hard to get a sense of what those numbers mean without talking about the people and the stories behind them, so we'd like to share some of those details with you today.
One of the cases we looked at involved the Escobal mine in Guatemala, which is owned by Tahoe Resources. That conflict is ongoing. According to reports, environmental and other concerns prompted municipalities around the mine to organize a number of referendums beginning in 2011. A Tahoe subsidiary and its supporters initiated several court cases in Guatemala to stop or invalidate those votes but were unsuccessful. In 2012, the company filed a lawsuit accusing Guatemalan public officials, including the Minister of Defence and the national police, of failing in their duties to protect the mine. The court dismissed the suit in early 2013.
From 2013 to 2015, when we stopped counting, we found credible reporting on seven deaths related to unrest and police interventions around the mine, including three targeted killings of activists. In March 2013, four indigenous leaders we abducted on their way back from observing a referendum. One of the men was found dead the next day. About a year later a 16-year-old youth organizer opposed to the mine was shot to death while riding in a car with her father, who was nearly killed in the attack but survived. He was shot again in 2015 on his way back from the local mayor's office. In April 2015, another local activist was assassinated while waiting for a bus near his home. All four of those people were involved in organizing referendums.
In April 2013, the mine security personnel shot six farmers and one student in the back as they fled. They were peacefully assembling at the mine. That incident was caught on video.
An NGO called CALAS has been providing legal support to local communities, including mounting a legal challenge that temporarily suspended operations at the mine this year. For years CALAS' legal director has received death threats and been the subject of various acts of intimidation, including this past April when men on a motorcycle fired eight to 12 gunshots at a vehicle parked outside of his house. In November 2016, a young man who was working as an assistant for CALAS' director was shot twice by unidentified assailants and later died of his injuries.
I should mention too that the director of CALAS himself miraculously survived an assassination attempt in 2008 and was in Ottawa before the Bill C-300 vote around 2010 to speak with MPs about the human rights impacts of Canadian mining in Latin America.
No suspects have been identified in any of the assassinations and Tahoe denies any involvement.
I wanted to briefly mention a few more examples of the reporting on women in conflict. In Guatemala, in 2007, 11 indigenous women were allegedly gang-raped by soldiers and mine security guards during an eviction to clear the way for a Canadian mining project. The company states that the evictions were peaceful and that this did not occur.
In El Salvador, in 2009, an outspoken opponent of a Canadian mining project was shot to death on her way back from doing laundry at a nearby river. She was eight months pregnant at the time and carrying her two-year-old child in her arms when she was killed.
There are other examples of violence against women in our report.
We didn't come to any conclusions on whether there was any wrongdoing by any company. We did, however, find a significant number of recent cases across the continent that merit independent investigations to determine what is going on and whether the companies involved should be held accountable.
A former Supreme Court justice, Ian Binnie, has said, “One of the most fundamental precepts of our legal system is that if there is a wrong there should be a remedy.” Justice Binnie has spoken out about the need to improve access to justice for people harmed by the extractive industries overseas. One way to do that is to create an independent ombudsperson's office with strong powers to investigate cases like the ones in our report. An ombudsperson could intervene to help end human rights abuse or stop it before it occurs. The independence of the office is crucial because it has to be neutral and appear to be neutral to be effective.
We would like to end with an illustration of how important investigations are and why independence is so vital.