Two weeks ago, the dam of the tailings pond breached from the Mount Polley mine near Likely, on Secwepemc territory, releasing 2.5 billion gallons of contaminated water and 4.5 million cubic metres of metals-laden fine sand into Hazeltine Creek, Polley Lake and Quesnel Lake. A state of emergency has been declared in the Cariboo Region, a water-use ban is in place, and federal and Indigenous fisheries have shut down salmon fishing. The long-term impacts are severe: about 2.4 million people -- 63 per cent of the province's population -- live along the Fraser River in 32 downstream communities and Metro Vancouver.
Imperial Metals operates the Mount Polley gold and copper mine.
An environmental engineering firm, the Shushwap Nation Tribal Council, a former foreman, and the Ministry of the Environment have all confirmed that Imperial Metals was warned during previous site inspections. Yet Imperial Metals was allowed to keep operating, perhaps due to its $233,710 in donations to the B.C. Liberal Party. Imperial Metal's largest shareholder is billionaire N. Murray Edwards, who is on the board of directors for Canadian Natural Resources Ltd (who were under fire last year for four oil spills in Northeast Alberta). Six companies that Edwards has a major interest in donated $482, 857 to the B.C. Liberals.
While the particularities of Imperial Metals are troubling, they reveal a broader trend about mining in B.C.
There are 20 operating mines with similar tailings pond dams in B.C. Yet The Tyee reports that since the B.C. Liberals took office in 2001, mine inspections have reduced by nearly half while environmental orders have decreased by over
90 per cent. Furthermore, there is no requirement in B.C. that mining companies have emergency response plans including insurance for such spills.
This is part of Premier Christy Clark's aggressive mining agenda. She has announced the plan to build 17 new and expanded mines by 2015, all on unceded Indigenous lands. In 2010, the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School found that in B.C, "First Nations bear an unfair burden at every point in the mining process," including the burden of a lack of consultation and detrimental environmental, health and spiritual consequences.
The mining industry in Canada is a key example of Canada's colonial and capitalist foundations. Capitalist accumulation explicitly requires dispossession of Indigenous communities from the lands on which they subsist. Both locally and globally, Canadian mining corporations have been devastating the environment, dispossessing communities, and committing egregious human rights violations in order to continue extracting resources to secure their profits.
Over 75 per cent of the world's exploration and mining companies are headquartered in Canada, and mining and energy investment is the third largest component of Canadian direct investment abroad. A leaked report by the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada, the biggest industry lobby group, confirms that Canadian mining corporations are responsible for almost half of all the documented mining-related rights violations around the world, and in the global South are implicated in four times as many violations as companies from other countries.
To address Canada's global role in mining, a Permanent Peoples' Tribunal last month investigated Canadian mining abuses in South America, where over 230 Canadian mining companies operate. Bringing together impacted communities from across the continent, the Tribunal found the Canadian government directly responsible for massive human and environmental violations. This comes on the heels of decades of grassroots community organizing, including prolonged blockades in Guerrero, operational shut-downs in El Salvador, popular assemblies across Guatemala, seizing workers in Bolivia, continent-wide protests of Canadian embassies and officials, and two significant legal challenges against HudBay and Tahoe Resources on Canadian soil.
This global chorus of resistance is envisioning not merely environmental regulation of the mining industry, but a fundamental opposition to infinite resource extraction under capitalism that perpetuates colonial pillage and dispossession. A Cree prophecy is a sobering reminder: "When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money."
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