Since September 2013, a dedicated team of students from several faculties and departments at UBC and SFU have been working off the side of our desks to find out more about the CIDA-funded Canadian International Institute for the Extractive Industries and Development, the CIIEID, physically hosted on the UBC campus. It’s not easy, with the complete stonewall the institute has set up. Apparently, mum’s the word, and opacity the rule.
Based on what we’ve learned, though, a growing group of us are calling into question this mining institute’s mandate and organizational structure. Its close links to what has been identified as the predatory Canadian extractive model delegitimize the blanket assertions by CIIEID proponents that it’s not operating on behalf of the Canadian extractive industry, and that it will work for the good of the poor. The strategic partnerships with extractive sector companies and lobby groups (see here for their human rights records) in turn delegitimize the research and on-the-ground programming by academic researchers and development NGOs.
Half-truths: a dodgy list of strategic partners
In April 2014, we wrote to members of over fifty academic units, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and foreign government bodies which were listed as strategic partners or collaborators on the CIIEID website.
We asked about each group’s relationship to the CIIEID: whether or not each of the groups were actually collaborating, and about the nature of their involvement.
- Is your organization indeed a collaborator with the CIIEID, or are you unaware of this claim?
- Any type of collaboration with the CIIEID is concerning to us. If collaborating, we ask that you describe the specific nature of the involvement. For example, has your organization:
- received or requested any funding from the CIIEID?
- provided or promised any funding to the CIIEID?
- provided or plan to provide in-kind donations in the form of services, facilities, or staff time?
In what was originally an exercise in due diligence before naming these organizations (in case some were falsely claimed as partners), the range of replies surprised us. We received several types of responses, and discovered more discrepancies among the claimed ‘strategic partners’ than we had even imagined.
- Some of the claimed partners confirmed collaboration with the institute and maintain support of its mandate, one even shamelessly pontificating about the inevitability of mining and the timeless need to continue with extraction.
- Some of the claimed partners confirmed an initial indication of support – perhaps two years ago – but on subsequent review of the institute’s mandate, have chosen to formally withdraw support.
- Some of the claimed partners have chosen, for one reason or another, not to respond to our letters.
- Some of the claimed collaborators have denied any type of association with the institute, or didn’t even know how their organizations could have been identified. Some of the university departments listed had never heard of the CIIEID, or in one case had even been dissolved over two years ago (though somehow remain listed).
- Certain other incongruities were encountered regarding the legitimacy of claims of partnership with some of the strategic partners.
Some who have not yet withdrawn support of the CIIEID have identified for us their own outstanding concerns with the institute, and have told us that they are waiting on the fence to see whether the new Executive Director takes the institute in an emancipatory rather than a status-quo direction.
The CIIEID page listing the academic collaborators have since been edited. Here are screenshots of the page before (April 25) and the page as it is currently:
The page has changed substantially: now removing mention of just about all faculties and departments from the coalition universities, and instead making the more insidious claim:
Each coalition university will draw on the broad expertise of other faculties and departments as appropriate for program delivery.
And we students trust that no, they won’t. With the growing stigma around partnering with this institute, we’re estimating that faculties, departments, and individual professors will intelligently, wisely, and judiciously avoid allowing their expertise & reputations to be linked with the CIIEID.
A letter to communities
We (students at universities collaborating with the CIIEID) have a responsibility to share what we can find out about the CIIEID and its potential threat with mining-affected communities themselves. Since several NGOs and academic faculties are partnering with this institute, it’s only fair to the communities that we identify which Canadian organizations are operating in their communities effectively as agents of the Canadian extractive sector. Wolves in sheep’s clothing, performing community engagement projects that will ultimately allow Canadian corporations to brush locals aside and claim ‘legitimate’ ownership of vast mineral wealth in unfairly ceded territories.
We’ve written and are distributing an open letter (to be published on this site, too, after an appropriate time) to mining-affected communities and their allies, identifying in detail the threats this institute poses to their well-being, and by what mechanisms we estimate its partners will access their communities to wheedle out their ‘consent’ for mining companies and disempower them from claiming ill-effects after an extractive project has gone ahead.
From our efforts to understand what this institute is about, we’ve found substantial reason to conclude that (a) the CIIEID was originally mandated by the federal government to benefit the Canadian extractive sector in its operations overseas (despite a tip of the hat to ‘poverty alleviation,’ ‘equitable sharing of the benefits of extraction,’ and improvements in extractive sector “governance” in developing countries), (b) the CIIEID fits into a historical context that encourages wariness of Canadian development or research initiatives supporting the extraction of resources in others’ sovereign territory, and (c) the CIIEID has a predisposition to ignore critical voices and those calling for transparency. There is a wealth of literature demonstrating the causal link between funding sources and research outcomes, challenging the argument that academic independence and integrity can be maintained despite industry funding. The CIIEID’s funding scheme and partnership structure – relying entirely on industry contributions after CIDA’s 5-year funding runs out – will make the CIIEID and its strategic partners dependent on – and in many ways beholden to the needs of – the companies and industry associations that need legitimization from partnership with and research/programming by academics and NGOs.
Since the CIIEID is organized to conduct research and programming internationally that will serve the Canadian extractive sector, we identify any organization collaborating with this institute, as (either willingly or unwittingly) by extension working on behalf of the Canadian extractive sector and contributing to the threat it poses to mining-affected communities.
To be clear: this communiqué will be naming academic and non-governmental organizations as collaborating with the CIIEID, and identifying those listed as the front-lines of information-gathering or legitimization for the Canadian extractive sector in Canada and overseas. We comprehend the reputational liability that this can impart to each organization, department, or faculty, and we unapologetically acknowledge that this may challenge on-the-ground programming and research of individuals working under the name of the listed organizations. Because of the lack of detail that the CIIEID or the partnered organizations, departments, or faculties have provided us, we are compelled to simply identify entire groups rather than individual programs.
Call to action
If you would like to hold the CIIEID accountable to operate strictly for the benefit of the historically marginalized – rather than as an agent of the predatory Canadian extractive sector – then we encourage you to do something about it.
More events will be organized on our campuses in late summer and as the 2014–15 university calendars begin in September. Join us in organizing these, and if you want to contribute to deconstructing the predatory mining message through visual art, dance, music, spoken word, we encourage you to do so and would be happy to help showcase it!