Press Responses: May 29, 2007

Churches push for industry ethics rules
Canadians often 'the bad guys' in overseas mining operations

Kelly Patterson
The Ottawa Citizen

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Some of Canada's most powerful church leaders are demanding the government take action to ensure Canadian mining and oil firms behave ethically in their overseas operations.

"This is a fundamental ethical issue," says Roger Ebacher, archbishop of Gatineau.

"Human rights around the world are not optional anywhere in the world; they are mandatory," he said, speaking on behalf of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, which represents the Catholic Church in Canada.

Archbishop Ebacher is to launch a formal appeal to the government today at a Parliament Hill press conference.

He will be joined by Bishop Sue Moxley, on behalf of the Anglican Church, and delegates from Kairos, a Toronto-based umbrella group representing eight major Canadian churches.

Representatives of communities affected by Canadian mining operations in four countries, who have recently completed a church-sponsored tour of Canada, will also be present.

Canadian mining and oil firms have come under attack in recent years following persistent allegations of human rights abuses and environmental disasters linked to projects in more than a dozen developing nations.

"We don't want this sort of thing to happen abroad in the name of Canada," says Archbishop Ebacher, who says he has received appeals for help from Catholic leaders around the world, including letters from Rodriguez Cardinal Maradiaga in Honduras, the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Guatemala, and five bishops in the Philippines.

"We think of Canadians as the good guys," says Bishop Moxley. "But when it comes to mining, in many cases we are the bad guys."

The issue was brought home to her personally when she visited a Canadian project in Mexico two years ago.

"It was the first time I've ever seen, 'Canadians go home,' in graffiti on the walls," she recalls.

"We have a responsibility, as a wealthy country that is providing the money and the expertise for these operations, to assume a leadership role" in holding firms accountable, says Archbishop Ebacher.

He adds that members of the industry "have shown they are open to progress."

In March, industry leaders such as the Mining Association of Canada, in co-operation with human rights and environmental groups, came up with a plan to help ensure Canadian firms uphold high standards overseas.

Their precedent-setting joint report urges the government to adopt and enforce an ethical framework for firms overseas, and to appoint an ombudsman to investigate complaints.

It is urgent for the federal government to act on those recommendations, says Archbishop Ebacher, arguing that the voluntary standards many Canadian firms follow are not sufficient.

Some of Canada's most notable religious groups have joined the chorus of concern.

In March, the Montreal-based Congregation de Notre-Dame urged the government to make sure companies follow Canadian values when operating in countries with weak legislation and law enforcement.

The influential order, founded by Marguerite Bourgeoys more than 300 years ago, is one of the first religious institutions in Canada, and counts about 1,300 nuns, aided by about 1,700 lay people, among its members.

The order, which is active in nine countries, first became concerned after receiving an appeal from its chapter in Guatemala.

"We were contacted by our sisters in Guatemala, and we had to do something, because it was our country doing it to them," says Sister Pierrette Boisse.

© The Ottawa Citizen 2007