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THE SCENE WAS ABSURD: four activists, each with a bundle of 75 black and gold helium-filled balloons, riding an escalator. As we reached the top, we clipped our banner to the bundles and let go, watching our work rise slowly toward the hundred-foot ceiling of the lobby of a downtown Toronto office tower. Suddenly there were security guards rushing toward us. One of them jumped to make a grab for the bottom edge of the banner. We held our breath. He missed by mere inches and groaned. And then for just a moment, everyone in the lobby was standing still, staring up, as our huge painted banner rose until the balloons bumped and jostled against the ceiling. The bold red letters made our message clear: “HUDBAY MINERALS, CORPORATE CRIMINALS.”
The banner announcing “Hudbay Minerals, Corporate Criminals” stayed up in the lobby of the building where Hudbay’s shareholders were meeting for two hours until the company was able to remove it.
Outside on King Street, we joined the group of protesters who had already been standing in the pouring rain for more than two hours. A banner just like the one we had raised inside was stretched out, soaked, between two elders from the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation. They had traveled from northern Manitoba to confront Hudbay at this shareholder meeting where important decisions were being made by people who may have a financial stake but whose lives will never be directly impacted by the actual workings of any of the company’s mines.
Hudbay Minerals is one of several Canadian-owned mining companies censured by environmental activists, human rights organizations and more recently by mainstream media for carrying out violent forced evictions, murdering a community leader who resisted one of their mines, robbing Indigenous peoples of their lands, supporting brutal police and security operations and criminalizing anyone who has tried to resist their mining projects around the world and here in Canada. Hudbay has gained increasing attention recently because they are the first Canadian company to be tried in Canadian courts for crimes committed at mines overseas.
I [Rachel] have been directly involved in supporting communities resisting Hudbay’s mines since 2010, when I traveled to Guatemala as part of a human rights delegation and had the chance to meet people in a Mayan Q’eqchi’ community impacted by a mine formerly operated by the company. One of those people was Angelica Choc, who is now at the centre of Choc vs. Hudbay, the groundbreaking lawsuit currently being heard by Canadian courts. Angelica’s journey through the Canadian justice system began with the murder of her husband in 2009. Her community’s struggle against Canadian-owned mining companies goes back decades and is interwoven with armed conflict, genocide, government corruption, and Canada’s international development policy.
The history of the Fenix nickel mine, on the shores of Lake Izabal in western Guatemala, began in the 1960s when it was started by Inco, a Canadian company with a deep involvement in the Guatemalan government’s efforts to wipe out opposition. The Canadian government provided significant financial support to Inco’s Guatemalan subsidiary while people who protested or organized against the mine were killed, kidnapped, threatened, and whole communities were forcibly evicted from lands that had been their traditional territory for generations. Inco shut down mining operations in the 1980s, and the Fenix mine site was purchased by two Canadian companies – first Skye Resources in 2004 and then Hudbay in 2008. Shortly after the announcement of a lawsuit against Hudbay for negligence concerning violent acts committed by its employees and subsidiaries, Hudbay sold the Fenix mine to Russian company Solway Group at a $290 million loss.
The banner lift I organized in Toronto in the spring of 2013 was staged for the annual Hudbay shareholder meeting. It was an opportunity for organizations like the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network to counter the company’s media spin and to make evident – if only for the few hours that the crowds assembled outside and the banner floated near the 100 foot high lobby ceiling – that there was a bigger story at play than the record growth investment and corporate social responsibility initiatives that Hudbay was announcing inside. It was one small part of a series of actions and events that tied together Angelica’s quest for justice and that of the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation (MCCN) in Manitoba.
Leahjane Robinson with 300 balloons, moments before packing them into a uhaul to drive downtown to Hudbay’s shareholder meeting. Photo by Ashling Ligate.
MCCN has never been consulted by Hudbay or the province of Manitoba regarding the company’s mining operations on their territory. In an effort to assert their claim to the land and prevent Hudbay from carrying out their operations without permission, Chief Arlen Dumas formally issued stop work orders against the company in January and March of 2013, and band members organized peaceful gatherings at the mine site where they held drumming and singing ceremonies.
Hudbay responded by obtaining injunctions against the community and by launching a multi-million dollar lawsuit against Chief Dumas. The result of the company’s retaliatory actions is that MCCN people, who live off the land, have been instantly criminalized and held in contempt of court for trying to maintain their livelihood. Because of a mining operation they don’t want and never agreed to, they can no longer legally hunt and fish on their own land. MCCN has since delivered formal eviction notices to Hudbay and the Province of Manitoba.
Clayton Thomas-Muller, a member of the Pukatawagan Cree Nation and campaigner with Idle No More & Defenders of the Land, also came into town to stand with protesters outside Hudbay’s Toronto meeting. He addressed the crowd: “Investing in disputed Indigenous Lands, not respecting our nations’ right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent, trying to use the courts to suppress our Cree Nations’ sovereign right to protect our lands and water, are all signalers that the board and CEO of Hudbay are negligent, uninformed and morally bankrupt.” The community of Pukatawagan is located less than a hundred kilometres from the mine site.
Hudbay’s actions against MCCN, first ignoring the community’s right to determine what happens on their land, and later responding to resistance with significant legal threats, is heavy-handed and repressive, but less overtly violent than the threats faced by Angelica Choc’s community and those nearby. In 2007, Mayan farmers near the Fenix mine site were forced from their lands by hundreds of armed men from police, military, and private security forces who then burned down their homes.
In a village called Lote Ocho, eleven women were gang raped by the police, army, and security forces hired by Hudbay during an attempted eviction. The Canadian Ambassador to Guatemala attempted to discredit documentary film evidence of these violent evictions, claiming that the scenes were staged, or were filmed during the country’s armed conflict decades earlier. A Canadian court later found him guilty of slander, and ordered both the Ambassador and the Canadian Government to pay almost $10,000 in damages and costs to the filmmaker.
Angelica Choc addresses the supporters gathered outside of the courthouse where the trial began to hold Canadian company Hudbay accountable for the death of her husband. Also pictured: Grahame Russell fromRights Action. Photo by Veronica Díaz.
Two years later, in the face of another round of possible evictions, Angelica Choc’s husband Adolfo Ich Chamán, a community leader and outspoken critic of the mining company’s operations, was shot and killed by security forces. On the same day, German Chub was shot and permanently injured. These incidents, along with the brutal gang-rapes in Lote Ocho, are part ofthe case against Hudbay currently being heard in the Superior Court of Ontario. There are currently three lawsuits against the company, all for negligence resulting in death or significant harm.
Angelica’s message to Hudbay, which she shared with those who came to support her during a Toronto court appearance, is unflinching. “You made a mistake with me because I did not remain silent with my arms crossed…I demand justice.” She is a powerful speakerher words and her emotions impacted the crowd deeply as they heard about the brutality her community, like many others, has experienced in their efforts to resist violations of land and human rights.
“They need to pay for all the damage caused to my family and our communities. What Hudbay has done is deplorable. Even now they hide behind walls, refusing to accept the damages caused in Guatemala. I call upon everyone, and even more so, my Indigenous peoples, who are here [gathered in Toronto] right now, to remember who we are, where we come from and where we are going. I know this is not only the case in Guatemala, and I am not working, I am not fighting, only for Guatemala. This struggle is for the whole world, to defend the earth.”
On the day of her court appearance, in solidarity with Angelica and the other claimants, local Idle No More organizers led a round dance outside the courtroom. Members of the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network hung up t-shirts and sweaters on a clothesline as a way of “airing Hudbay’s dirty laundry”. Each piece of clothing had been painted by someone in Canada with messages about Hudbay’s activities, including a shirt painted by Angelica the night before. Photographs of this clothesline have since appeared in numerous media stories about the court case and the status of Hudbay’s corporate reputation.
A few of the pieces created to express solidarity with the plaintiffs and to air Hudbay’s dirty laundry. Photo by Leahjane Robinson.
Although the progress of the Choc vs. Hudbay case through the Canadian courts is a legal victory for the claimants and the lawyers representing them, back in the communities surrounding the Fenix mine repressive threats have intensified. Communities and families have been deliberately divided by offers of money and by campaigns of misinformation spread by mine officials and the government.
As disturbing as it is that these claimants are experiencing threats, it comes as little surprise to those of us who have worked on mining resistance. Unfortunately, Canadian mining companies regularly act illegally and with impunity in repressing resistance. This is especially easy to do in Guatemala, a country with one of the highest rates of impunity in the world. It is also a country where human rights activists and those organizing around the defense of land are routinely targets of violent attacks and murders.
Angelica Choc holds up the shirt she created for the laundry line. Photo by Monica Gutierrez.
Angelica knows that it will take the voices and commitment of many Canadians to make a change in the actions of Canadian-owned companies operating in her country. Surprisingly few Canadians realize that the majority of mines around the world are owned by companies based here, or the magnitude of the impact these mines are having.
To many Mayan peoples in Guatemala, the abuses carried out by Canadian companies on their land, across Central America, and globally are understood to be simply one part of a long and violent history of colonization, which they have been fighting against for hundreds of years.
Increasingly, settlers (non-Native people) in Canada are realizing what Indigenous peoples have been saying for a long time – these aren’t accidents, or the story of a few bad apples. If we’re going to change the way these companies act, we’ll need to challenge complex systems with a multitude of players that serve to concentrate power and resources in the hands of a few, often at the expense of Indigenous peoples.
And we need to acknowledge that, knowingly or not, we are all complicit in these harms, whether through the investments of our pension plans, the actions of our elected officials, the jewelry or electronics we buy, or by our tacit acceptance of systematic racism, colonialism and other oppressive, violent forces. It will be a long struggle to reverse these patterns.
The last time Angelica was in Toronto, she and I ate an early breakfast of pupusas in my kitchen before she left for the airport. We didn’t speak about much, but there was a weight to our conversation. We both knew just how dangerous it had been for her to come to Canada, and the risks she faced as she headed back to her community. We both knew that there is a very real threat of more evictions now that the mine has new owners. There was little I could say except to feebly send her off with a hug and a “please take care”.
Rachel and Joanne are spending February and March visiting with mining-impacted communities in Guatemala. For more info on mining in Guatemala, and for writing from their trip, see Under-Mining Guate. Visit the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network for updates on related issues, campaigns and actions. You can also read more about Canadian mining injustices abroad in A\J‘s Resource Wars issue.
ST. PIERRE-JOLYS, Man. – Five homes remain evacuated as TransCanada Piplelines deals with a natural gas pipeline fire about 25 kilometres south of Winnipeg.
TransCanada says it has shut down the Emerson Lateral portion of the Canadian Mainline natural gas pipeline system and is venting the gas. Roads leading to the site have also been closed.
It follows an explosion and fire at a valve site near St. Pierre-Jolys about 1:15 a.m. local time.
TransCanada says venting the system generates a loud noise that will gradually lessen over several hours. The company says there is no risk to anyone.
It says the fire is steadily decreasing in size and is being closely monitored by its staff and local emergency response crews. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada and the National Energy Board are also investigating.
There are no reported injuries.
The closed portion of the pipeline system provides Manitoba Hydro with natural gas for several communities in the region.
TransCanada says it’s working with the utility to determine if alternative sources of gas are needed.
A natural gas pipeline was still burning Saturday morning after it exploded overnight near Otterburne, about 25 kilometres south of Winnipeg.
St-Pierre-Jolys RCMP responded around 1:05 a.m. to what they’re calling a “loud explosion.”
Witnesses who live close to the scene said it was massive. Paul Rawluklives nearby and drove to the site.
“As we got closer, we could see these massive 200 to 300 metre high flames just shooting out of the ground and it literally sounded like a jet plane,” he said. “And that’s the thing that really got us, was the sound of it.”
He said it was hard to describe the scale.
“Massive, like absolutely massive,” he said. “The police were by [Highway] 59 and you could just see little cars out there and you could see in comparison how big the flame was. It was just literally two to 300 metres in the air. And bright, I mean lit up the sky.”
Tyler Holigroski, who lives in the Otterburne area, remembers seeing a flickering, bright light in the sky.
“Thought it was the neighbours’ house or something like that,” he said. “I thought there was a fire, but the way it lit the sky, it was like the sun coming up. The only thing is it was flashing. It would get brighter, get dim, get brighter, go dim.
“It lit up the whole sky here for half an hour. The sky’s still glowing, actually,” Holigroski said.
Police have confirmed the fire is coming from the pipeline, but say the burning gas is non-toxic.
The pipeline, which is owned by TransCanada PipeLines, has been temporarily shutdown according to a statement from a company spokesman. The statement also said that nearby roads have been closed, and that the company is not aware of any reports of injuries.
However, five houses within the vicinity of the fire were evacuated by RCMP and St-Pierre-Jolys Fire Department.
Police and fire officials, along with TransCanada Pipelines, are investigating the cause of the explosion.
Prairies deep freeze 2:33
Newfoundland power update1:24
Storm hits Atlantic Canada2:18
- STORM CENTRE: Latest updates on cancellations, closures
- Newfoundland power outage closes schools, sparks debate
- U.S. Midwest, Northeast hit by bitter cold temperatures
- Everything you needed to know about snow
- Winter storm in Canada, U.S. captured in frosty photos
- Everything you need to know about frostbite
- Storm Centre New Brunswick
The relentless weather is causing misery this morning across much of Canada, with southern Ontario hit with freezing rain, wind-chill warnings in some parts of the Prairies and 30,000 Newfoundlanders still in the dark after a mass power outage on the weekend.
- Everything you needed to know about snow
- ‘Frost quakes’ wake Toronto residents on cold night
- ‘Dangerous’ storm, deep freeze hits Waterloo Region
In Ontario, parts of the province were hit with massive snowfalls, while other areas, including the Toronto region, were pelted with snow and freezing rain.
“In southern Ontario, that temperature is starting to drop and quickly,” CBC meteorologist Jay Scotland said Monday morning. “That slushy mix on the roads is icing up quickly.”
Both drivers and pedestrians are urged to be aware of a possible flash freeze during the morning commute. A flash-freeze warning comes when a steep temperature drop causes water from rain or melted snow to quickly freeze.
The weather wreaked havoc at Pearson International Airport in Toronto on Monday morning, with hundreds of flights cancelled or delayed. Both Air Canada and WestJet advised customers to check their flight status before heading to the airport.
Due to weather, please check with your airline for delays or cancellations and give yourself extra time to get to the airport safely.
— Toronto Pearson (@TorontoPearson) January 6, 2014
“I wasn’t five minutes here at the airport before people started telling me horror stories of being stuck on an airplane for hours on end,” CBC reporter Linda Ward said from the airport.
“Passengers are telling me their planes just couldn’t get to the gate because of so many cancelled planes, so it’s definitely a very frustrating scene here this morning … The people who were on those planes [are] very angry, very tired, very hungry … They say all in all this was just a horrible travel experience.”
Environment Canada extended wind-chill and flash freeze warnings for the Toronto area on Monday morning, warning temperatures will feel as cold as –35 C to –40 C Monday night and into Tuesday morning.
A mix of snow and rain in Toronto, and snow further north, produced hundreds of accidents on the roads and highways Sunday evening, including one crash in Brampton that left one man dead.
Local school boards warned parents to check online Monday morning to see if any schools cancelled classes for the day. The Toronto Catholic District School Board said it would release a decision by 6 a.m. ET and the Toronto District School Board warned of potential closures.
Much of Quebec was also facing adverse weather warnings Monday morning. Environment Canada issued winter storm, freezing rain and wind warnings for most of the province.
Storm wallops Atlantic Canada
The winter weather blast also left much of Atlantic Canada under weather advisories.
“Atlantic Canada is a real mess … where I see the risk of freezing rain continuing this morning as a warm front pushes north,” Scotland said.
“For much of the Maritimes, this will switch over to rain through the morning and early afternoon … and further east warnings are out for Newfoundland who deal with this mess tonight through tomorrow — gusty wind, freezing rain and heavy rain.”
Environment Canada issued freezing rain warnings for most of New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. Nova Scotia was under freezing rain and rainfall warnings, while Newfoundland was under freezing rain, blizzard and wind warnings.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, about 30,000 Newfoundland Power customers were still without electricity Monday morning after a power plant went offline in the latest power problem to hit the province in recent days.
- Newfoundland power outage closes schools, sparks debate
- Visit CBC Newfoundland & Labrador storm centre for the latest closures
- CBC Maritimes storm centre
Residents and businesses throughout the province were told to conserve energy as the province grapples with rolling power outages.
— Newfoundland Power (@NFPower) January 6, 2014
Aging infrastructure, a terminal station fire and a blizzard that ripped through the province Friday night combined to overburden an already stretched electricity grid, according to Premier Kathy Dunderdale.
At the peak of the power outages Saturday morning, about 190,000 customers were in the dark, Newfoundland Power said.
Prairie deep freeze
Meanwhile, much of Saskatchewan and Manitoba are under extreme wind chill warnings, where residents are facing temperatures that feel as cold as –40 C with wind chill.
“To the east, wind chill warnings are out from Hanna in eastern Alberta through southern Saskatchewan [and] Manitoba,” Scotland said.
“Across this warned area, current temps are well into the – 30s C with wind chills well into the – 40s.”
The potentially record-low temperatures are heightening fears of frostbite and hypothermia.
“Persons in or near this area should be on the lookout for adverse weather conditions and take necessary safety precautions,” warns Environment Canada.
- Government conducted nutrition experiments on hungry, malnourished Aboriginal children: paper (news.nationalpost.com)
- Court gives go-ahead to lawsuit over natives’ forced adoptions in Sixties Scoop (theglobeandmail.com)
- Aboriginal Affairs minister defends government’s aboriginal policies (o.canada.com)
- Wall of ice destroys Ochre Beach homes, cottages (cbc.ca)
- Wall of ice on Manitoba lake demolishes summer homes as residents flee (theprovince.com)
- Ice destroys 6 homes, damages 14 others in Ochre Beach, Canada (upi.com)
- Wall of ice blows out of Manitoba lake, destroying cottages along beach (thestar.com)
- Ice wall tears Manitoba homes and cottages apart (o.canada.com)
News – Super sandbags line streets in Manitoba, water levels below projections – The Weather Network
- Cold weather and more snow aggravate flood risk in Manitoba (globalnews.ca)
- Cool weather increases risk of flooding in Manitoba: forecasters (metronews.ca)
- North Dakota prepares for record flooding, watch out Manitoba (macleans.ca)
- Spring floods cause trouble in 4 provinces (cbc.ca)
- Saskatchewan – Coldest Spring In a Century (iceagenow.info)
- Portage Diversion breaches, floods ice jams – Manitoba – CBC News (sherrconsultingblog.com)
- Flooded highways damage vehicles, causes traffic delays (globalnews.ca)
- Southern Manitoba towns brace for possible flooding (cbc.ca)
- Ottawa crews starting blasting river ice with dynamite to avoid spring flooding (local-news.jtn-network.com)
- Warming temperatures cause flood advisory (cbc.ca)
- Manitoba municipality ramps up flood preparations (updatednews.ca)
- Relief measures in place for taxpayers affected by spring flooding (globalnews.ca)
- Manitoba flooding closes roads as police warn of rising waters (ctvnews.ca)