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MONTREAL–The RoyalOr mining company formally staked a claim to large portions of Parc Mont-Royal – smack in the centre of Montréal – on May 11, announcing plans to develop a major open-pit gold mine.
Anticipating controversy around the move, RoyalOr’s website reassures readers that “our state of the art mitigation and environmental impact strategies coupled with the project’s tremendous potential for regional development will garner the support of municipal and provincial authorities.”
There’s a catch: the company isn’t headed by jet-setting corporate types, but members of communities confronting destructive Canadian mining companies in Honduras, Chile, Papua New Guinea, Mexico, and Malartic, Qc.
In the days leading up to the staking claim action, organizers with the Québec Coalition on the Socio-Environmental Impacts of Transnationals in Latin America (CQISETAL) hoped the stunt would make Montrealers understand the adverse effects of unregulated mining.
“It might give them a momentary sense of what it must be like to wake up one morning to a mining company busily at work destroying one’s land and community,” says Daviken Studnicki-Gizbert, a McGill University history professor and coalition member.
The development of an open-pit mine in the heart of Montréal may seem far-fetched, but Studnicki-Gizbert says Canadian companies tend to disregard communities when in pursuit of precious metals and profits.
In the 400-year-old Mexican town of Cerro de San Pedro, short-listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, residents have been fighting a 15-year battle against Canadian-owned Minera San Xavier’s open-pit mine, which has reduced the town’s landmark mountain to rubble. For local Mario Martinez, a retired engineer, that’s the equivalent of losing Mont-Royal. It hurts him as much, he says, as police intimidation, constant dynamiting, the pollution of the town’s water supply by cyanide-leaching and the company’s refusal to comply with mining regulations.
“That mountain had extraordinary historical and cultural value for Mexicans,” says Martinez. “It was an emblem for the town and the entire state. You could find it in public institutions and on the state’s coat of arms. Three weeks ago, the company blasted its way to the bottom of the hill.”
The idea of staking Mont-Royal came to Martinez when he traveled to Montréal in 2007 to protest Canadian investment in the mine, and to encourage the federal government to adopt mandatory social responsibility standards for overseas corporate behaviour. The Conservatives rejected such standards last month.
“I hope this puts Canadians in our shoes, and makes them feel, even if only for a second, what we feel on a day-to-day basis,” he says.
Closer to home, Ugo Lapointe, a trained geologist with La coalition pour que le Québec ait meilleure mine!, says Québec’s mining system, which the right-wing Fraser Institute has called the world’s friendliest, is in urgent need of an overhaul. One of its most disturbing showpieces is in the northern town of Malartic, where a low grade open-pit mine will displace hundreds of families.
Under Québec's free entry process, a prospector with a $30 license can lay a claim to lands anywhere, on a first come first served basis, which is how CQISETAL will register their Mont-Royal stake with the Ministry of Natural Resources.
“The five communities represented at this action, inside or outside Canada, are living a similar nightmare, dealing with the same problems of weak mining codes and companies operating with no accountability,” he says.
A version of this story was originally published in the Montreal Mirror.
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.