Peru’s Catholic bishops demand Canadian mining action

Development and Peace - Caritas Canada member Emily Briggson, right, joins a protest outside the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada convention June 13 in Toronto. (Photo by Michael Swan, The Catholic Register, CCN)

By Michael Swan, The Catholic Register

After 14 deaths at one mine with Canadian connections and a pattern of corruption and abuses across the country, Peru’s bishops are asking Canada’s government and its vast mining industry to do something to protect Indigenous people and poor farmers who often suffer when mines move into their neighbourhood.

“In the Calpa Mine there is no law and life is worth nothing,” Caravelí Bishop Reinaldo Nann wrote in a June 3 Facebook post, mourning 14 lives lost in gun battles at the Intigold mine in a remote desert community in southern Peru.

Until Oct. 23, 2020 Intigold was listed on the TSX Venture Exchange. It has since changed its name to Cabri Resources Inc., headquartered in Vancouver, and gone private.

The murky corporate ownership has left Nann uncertain over who is responsible for cutting deals with groups of artisanal miners who are now fighting each other over the right to dig up gold on Intigold’s property.

But the problem goes beyond just this one mine, according to Chuquibamba Bishop Jorge Izaguirre Rafael. In an open letter to the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada, the president of the Peruvian Bishops’ Commission on Social Action demands that Canadian miners and the Canadian government come up with a system that prevents reckless investment that steamrolls over Indigenous and peasant communities.

“We consider it essential that countries move from voluntary compliance regimes towards adopting the UN Human Rights Council’s proposed, legally binding instrument on transnational corporations and human rights,” Izaguirre wrote in his June 10 letter.

Izaguirre is hoping Canada passes Bill C-262, a private member’s bill that would enshrine due diligence on human rights in Canadian investment law.

“We welcome this initiative with faith and hope,” Izaguirre said.

The Liberal government has backed a Senate bill, S-211, which would require companies to report on the risks of forced labour and environmental damage in their supply chains. Canada’s Catholic development agency, Development and Peace-Caritas Canada, opposes S-211 on the grounds it lacks penalties for corporations who fail to act on violations of labour and environmental rights.

The PDAC claims it is doing what it can to promote responsible mining “as a not-for-profit organization representing more than 6,000 members.” PDAC spokesperson Kristy Kenny told The Catholic Register the association has provided input on Bill C-262 and is promoting a framework of best practices for miners it calls “e3 Plus.”

“We welcome all perspectives and believe that individuals and groups deserve to have their viewpoints heard,” Kenny said in an email. “Therefore, we encourage stakeholders to participate in the PDAC Convention, alongside industry and government, in both our Indigenous and sustainability programs.”

On June 13 Development and Peace members went to the convention as protesters, demanding due diligence legislation with teeth. The basic problem is “corporate greed, bad regulatory practices, not enough regulatory practices,” said Development and Peace member Emily Briggson.

Representing Pax Christi among about 100 protesters outside the convention hall, Sr. Mary Ellen Francoeur said the Canadian government and Canadian miners hadn’t done enough.

“Sometimes they’ve got the words and even the policy, but it’s the actions,” Francoeur said.

While it may seem that gun battles in a dusty town in Peru are a problem for Peruvian police, it’s Canadian investments that are fueling the violence, said Development and Peace Latin America program co-ordinator Mary Durran.

“There needs to be mechanisms by which mining companies are being held responsible in their home countries, because too often the host countries are not equipped to deal with these kinds of mines,” she said. “Here’s one good example — 14 people dead in the last few days.”

According to Izaguirre, an April 2022 report found that 41 per cent of 209 registered social conflicts in Peru are related to mining.

“Between 2004 and 2019, such socio-environmental conflicts left at least 48 people dead, with those responsible mostly enjoying impunity,” the bishop wrote.