Last week, Jose Luis Abarca Montejo, a 28-year-old man from Chicomuselo, in Chiapas, Mexico, came to Canada to share his own story about how Canadian mining companies conduct business in his region.
Montejo’s father, Mariano Abarca Roblero, was shot and killed last year just outside the family’s home, and Montejo claims that Blackfire Exploration Ltd., a Calgary-based company which has been operating a barite mine in the community of Chicomuselo since 2004, is responsible for the murder.
“My dad was involved in protests against the company for the environmental damage of the open-pit mines, threats to members of the community and corruption that they’re involved in,” Montejo says. “There was this sense that the company, and the people associated with the company, could do whatever they wanted in our community,” he claims.
As an example of the kind of corruption going on, the young man alleges that Blackfire deposited 10,000 pesos (approximately $800 Canadian) per month directly into the mayor’s bank account to keep a lid on protests. Blackfire says it used the mayor’s account because the town has no banks, but Abarca Montejo says that isn’t true.
Anti-mining groups in Canada filed a complaint about the murder with the RCMP under the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act in March, but no charges have been laid against Blackfire. Three people linked to Blackfire were arrested in connection to the murder, but one has since been released.
The company has issued a statement denying any involvement in Roblero’s death, claiming that, “The past employment or service ties to Blackfire Exploration of individuals involved in this incident is a result of the magnitude of which the company is involved in the community.” Black-fire also claims it follows environmental regulations and denies polluting charges, but the mine was shut down by the Chiapas environmental authority last December.
During his visit, Montejo told his story at several events in support of Bill C-300, a private members’ bill penned by Liberal MP John McKay aimed at imposing some restrictions on the financial aid as well as consular and ambassadorial services available to companies with proven track records of human rights abuses. Currently, the only regulations that exist are voluntary. Bill C-300 is up for its third and final reading on Oct. 26.
According to McKay, most countries, including the U.S., have far more aggressive restrictions on their mining practices abroad. “In the U.S., there is the Alien Tort law, which permits a person from another country who feels aggrieved by an American company to sue that company in America, as opposed to in their own country,” says McKay.
And the restrictions don’t stop there. “They also have OPIC (Overseas Private Investment Corporation), which is parallel to Bill C-300 though far more extensive. It states that if you receive money from the American government, you must expose yourself to scrutiny on corporate social responsibility,” he says.
Ernie Schibli, president of the board and a founding member of the Social Justice Committee of Montreal, has been working with people in mining communities in Latin America for many years. He agrees with McKay that because of our weak regulations, Canadian mining companies are becoming increasingly synonymous with human rights abuses. “Canada has become the number one mining country in the world precisely because our mining regulations are the weakest,” he says.