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Pushing the Debate

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Issue: 55 Section: Opinion Geography: Canada Canada Topics: Mining, toronto stock exchange

December 28, 2008

Pushing the Debate

Noir Canada’s critical perspective

by Alain Deneault

Photo: Écosociété

The Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) attracts half of the total investments made by mining companies worldwide and is lauded by financial papers around the globe for its favourable 'business climate.'

In Canada, our savings, RRSPs, pension plans and other investments are calibrated to financial flows, particularly to those of the TSX.

But what is the real cost of a share listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange? What is the ecological, political and human cost that allows the balance sheet of mining companies listed on the TSX to satisfy their institutional investors, to whom we entrust our savings?

We wrote Noir Canada to highlight a number of troubling cases of exploitation in Africa by Canadian mining companies, and to probe the stories around influence peddling, arms trafficking, fiscal evasion, organized pillaging and environmental destruction. The book is based in part on reports published by a wide range of groups - from the UN Security Council to international NGOs - which are as methodologically credible in their research as they are damning. Noir Canada explores the key roles Canadian mining and oil companies have played in multiple conflicts that, between 1998 and 2003, have left more than four million victims in the African Great Lakes region.

Canadian companies active in Africa and elsewhere are not required to divulge information related to their exploration methods, except where it is in the shareholders' interest to do so. Ontario’s financial regulators have not mandated the TSX to implement rules that would require strict reporting requirements for exploration companies. Popular uprisings, armed conflicts, looting of resources and acts of environmental destruction currently fall neatly under the moniker of “external risks.”

Responding to public pressure, the Canadian government organized the “National Roundtables on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and the Canadian Extractive Industry Operating in Developing Countries,” initiating a series of consultations held across Canada in 2006. The consensus report that came out of the Roundtables, signed by experts, mining industry representatives and members of civil society, had some interesting recommendations (companies working overseas should comply with Canadian standards, for example), but they remain voluntary and not legally binding. The main watchdog within Canada was to be an “ombudsman,” who would gather data and information about complaints from communities around the world affected by Canadian mining companies. These minimal recommendations have yet to be adopted by the government of Canada.

This incentive-based approach gives special status to private companies, registered with or listed on the TSX, that operate overseas. Rather than demanding the companies follow laws as they do in Canada, they are cajoled, through subsidies and other advantages, to respect certain social, political and environmental practices, however minor. Canadian companies need not fear legal action for crimes committed overseas, particularly in dictatorships that are without functioning legal systems and are supported by Canada and other western powers.

Canada is a judicial paradise for the world’s mining and oil companies. Listing on the Toronto Stock Exchange is a way of seeking shelter in one of the more permissive stock exchanges in the world, while taking advantage of the reputation of the rule of law in Canada, all the while knowing that one is outside of state control and regulation when operating overseas.

This is how Canada subtly integrates itself into the global map of offshore banking, financial havens, free ports, and free-trade zones. Most of the world's mining companies keep their dollars in offshore accounts and take advantage of a legal framework in Canada that allows them to work all around the world under the Canadian flag without ever having to explain their actions to anybody.

The absolute necessity of public debate that the book Noir Canada raised this spring has resulted in the book becoming the object of two legal challenges for "defamation": a $6-million lawsuit launched by Barrick Gold in the Supreme Court of Quebec, and another by Banro, in Ontario, for $5 million. These Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) attempt to make critical questioning illegal, while violating the principles of free expression and the public right to information.

By the very questions that it asks, Noir Canada is testing Canadian democracy.

Alain Deneault is a member of the Collectif Ressources d’Afrique and co-author, along with Delphine Abadie and William Sacher, of Noir Canada, Pillage, corruption et criminalité en Afrique, Écosociété, 2008.

Translated by Dawn Paley.

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Comments

Alain Deneault - Noir Canada

The authors of Noir Canada have used the book as a vehicle to publicly attack Canadian mining companies of complicity in specific instances of murder, rape, pillage and criminal plunder in Africa.

Simply stated, the allegations in Noir Canada involving Barrick Gold Corporation are utter fiction, the product of an extraordinary lack of effort of the authors and publisher to conduct or confirm even the most basic research about Barrick before publishing Noir Canada.

To get a sense for the nature of the “research” that went into Noir Canada one should ask Mr. Deneault whether he ever contacted Barrick or any of the other companies mentioned in the book prior to publication. One should ask him whether he has ever even visited any of the countries that are the subject of the book. One should ask him whether he ever contacted representatives of any of the governments of the countries that he profiles. Or ask him whether he ever contacted the Canadian government, the Toronto Stock Exchange, the United Nations, Amnesty International or any of the other sources he ostensibly relies on for his allegations of murder and genocide and criminal behavior.

One should ask him whether his research extended beyond haphazardly collecting articles off the internet of polemist authors who specialize in conspiracy theories about President Bush’s supposed romantic aspirations with Condoleezza Rice or the Queen of England. One should ask him how many of the leading academic books on conflict in Africa are cited in his book. One should ask him whether he and the other authors have maintained any notes reflecting their “meticulous research” underlying their outrageous and harmful allegations. One should ask him why this fiction is being promoted by the authors and publisher of Noir Canada as if it is a “scientific work,” “scrupulously verified.”

In order to demonstrate the falsity of Mr. Deneault’s characterization of Barrick’s libel action as a SLAPP suit, we have asked him all these questions – and others - under oath. Under the laws of Quebec Barrick is apparently precluded from making his sworn answers to such questions public at this stage of the proceedings without Mr. Deneault’s permission. In testimony before the Quebec National Assembly Barrick publicly invited Mr. Deneault and his fellow authors to consent to make their sworn answers to all of these questions public, so both the legislators and the public could see the so-called factual basis for their allegations of murder and genocide involving Barrick. In view of the fact that Mr. Deneault presents himself (in the article above) as a champion of the “public right to information” you would think that he would have jumped at the opportunity to “push the debate.” However, through his lawyer, he declined to make his sworn testimony available for public scrutiny. This refusal to make his answers public tells you everything you need to know about the basis for his “research,” his sources, his allegations, and the validity of Barrick’s libel action. Eventually, however, through the judicial process his answers – and those of the other authors - will become public and you will have the opportunity to fairly judge Noir Canada, Mr. Deneault and his colleagues – and Barrick - for yourself.

Until then, if you would like a sense of what serious authors on Africa think of Noir Canada we invite you to review a letter that we have received from Dr. Gerard Prunier, one of the world’s leading authors on conflict in Africa, regarding the book Noir Canada. A copy of that letter is available by return e-mail on request from Barrick at "communications@barrick.com."

Documents for the public

Dear Patrick Garver,

Our lawyer decided to not render our interogations public for judicial reasons that I do not fully grasp. Also, the vertiginous disproportion of the means between us has not permit us, in the out-of-court interogations, to evolve on a equal footing: you have more than fifteen days of questionning, while we have just one single day. This is without considering, that during this exercise, we have gladly responded to the questions of your lawyers without having the right to retort.

Our proposition is the following: that you render public all that you have given us within the case. The public will then be able to compare your documents with "Noir Canada". This would be fair.

Sincerely,

Alain Deneault

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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