"What happened to Canadian compassion, to the Canada that accepted so many refugees in the 80s?"
Nelly Rivera, from the Emmanuel Baptist Church in El Salvador, asked this question after telling us about the potential impacts of a Canadian mine on the border of Guatemala and El Salvador. We were reminded that Canadian mining companies, not humanitarianism and compassion, are often the face of Canada in Guatemala and worldwide today.
We were in Guatemala in November for a study tour on mining. There were 13 of us from across Canada, associated with the United Church of Canada or KAIROS Canada.
Among us were First Nations women, ministers, teachers, farmers and environmentalists. We travelled extensively in Guatemala, visiting three Canadian mine sites and speaking to communities affected by these mines.
The testimonies we heard were alarmingly similar: inadequate consultation by mining companies with local communities; environmental devastation; human rights violations; and deep divisions exacerbated by the mining companies within communities and families.
We heard repeatedly from indigenous communities about their strong connection to the land, and about their experience of the environmental devastation of mining as a direct violation of their being and world view. "I am land that thinks," an elder explained. "The companies do not understand this."
Communities are concerned about the impacts of water contamination on their health, particularly the health of their children. Water sources are drying up. We also heard reports of the criminalization and repression of community leaders opposed to mining projects.
"In the last couple of years we have seen kidnapping, torture and brutal assassinations, tactics we haven't seen since the civil war," said KAIROS partner Naty Atz.
Guatemalan journalist Luis Solano asked us, "What is your government doing to ensure that Canadian companies are not involved in human rights violations? And what are you doing to hold Canadian companies accountable?"
KAIROS is working on this. As a member of the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability (CNCA), KAIROS is participating in Open For Justice. This campaign is pressing for federal legislation to hold Canadian companies accountable when they are complicit in human rights or environmental violations internationally.
All Canadians are encouraged to contact their Member of Parliament to support this campaign. kairoscanada.org/openforjustice.
We promised the people of Guatemala that we would strive to hold Canadian companies accountable. Open For Justice is a start.
Rachel Warden is Latin American Partnerships and Gender Justice program coordinator for KAIROS. She will be part of a panel discussion next Thursday (February 6) on one community's resistance to Canadian mining companies in Guatemala. The discussion will take place after a screening of the film Defensora. 7 pm. Cara Hall, University of Toronto (100 St. Joseph).