On Oct.13, 2010, I watched as 33 miners were successfully rescued from the collapsed mine near Copiapó, Chile. Seeing these miners stuck 700 metres below the ground for 69 days, I am quite confident in saying that mining is not in the cards for me. However, while mining may not be in my future, it appears to be in the futures of many other Canadians. Mining is an influential industry, contributing $32 billion to Canada’s GDP last year as well as employing 306,000 workers. Not only do Canadian mining companies explore mining opportunities in Canada but all around the world. In fact, there are estimated to be over 1,800 Canadian exploration companies present in 100 countries around the world.
Such a large industry brings with it large problems. One of the largest problems Canadian mining companies are facing is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) violations in the developing world. Unfortunately, Canadian mining companies are involved in four times as many CSR violations as mining companies from other countries. These CSR violations include community conflict as well as environmental and unethical behaviour. Bill C-300 was recently set before the House of Commons as an attempt to set international human rights and environmental standards for the activities carried out by Canadian mining companies in developing countries. The bill was created to ensure that Canadian tax dollars would not be spent supporting the bad corporate behaviour of these companies. Although the bill was defeated, the reading of the bill was still an important step in bringing the concerns of CSR violations to the attention of Canadian politicians.
Whether mining occurs in Canada or in other countries around the world, it often has adverse effects on both the surrounding environment and human health. Erosion, the formation of sinkholes as well as the loss of biodiversity are some of the examples of negative environmental effects due to mining. Furthermore, contamination of soil, groundwater and surface water also occur due to the mining process. Data indicates that massive amounts of heavy metals (such as lead, arsenic, nickel, chromium and sulphuric acid) are present within mine waste. There are often leaks in these waste sites that threaten both the health of the environment and the local population. Many of these metals pose a serious risk to humans due to their cancer-causing characteristics.
One part of the Canadian population that appears to be in the middle of all of these conflicts are Canadian Aboriginal Peoples. The mining industry of Canada holds a complicated relationship with Aboriginal Peoples, offering them both issues and opportunities. Aboriginal communities are often located very closely to both active and exploratory mining projects. As are other Canadian populations, the Aboriginal Peoples are concerned with the environmental and health issues that are present in mining communities. Traditionally, the Aboriginal Peoples hold a very close relationship with wildlife and do not want to see these ecosystems hurt. However, the mining industry of Canada also has the ability to provide many wonderful economic opportunities in areas which historically have had very few. When provided with various job opportunities, Aboriginal communities can be strengthened by becoming economically self-reliant.
Although the actions of Canadian mining companies are both controversial and contested, there are rays of hope. Through a combination of government pressure, corporate accountability, public consultation and environmental responsibility, the face of the Canadian mining industry has the potential to change dramatically.