CIDA has a track record of contracting Canadian universities for political initiatives in the interest of Canadian industry (and to the detriment of developing countries).

In the late 1990s CIDA helped to liberalize the mining code of a country where Canadians had commercial interests: in 1998 the Colombian government had contracted a law firm, and CIDA had given money to the Canadian Energy Research Institute (a University of Calgary-based think tank) to draft a new mining code for Colombia.

The new Colombian mining code, adopted in 2001, lowered royalties for companies from 10% to 0.4%, lowered environmental protections, made the formalization of artisanal miners more difficult, and extended the length of mining concessions from 30 to 90 years, among other benefits to foreign investors.

The drafters of the mining code had interests in the South of Colombia’s Bolivar state, where peasants, artisanal miners, and a Canadian mining company had been in conflict over questions of land ownership, and which had been the site of paramilitary violence.

An institute intended to benefit mine-affected communities would not have an advisory council comprised of corporations and industry representatives. Nor would it include among its strategic partners mining companies and industry associations.

We believe CIRDI is yet another example of public funds and resources being used to subsidize business profits, and industry interests influencing (and overriding) public decision-making in Canada (e.g. about aid and research priorities) and elsewhere (about environmental concerns, especially protection of water, and approaches to development.)

Although several academic and civil society organizations are listed as strategic partners (and we can hope will be represented on the advisory council too), the financial, in-kind, and leadership aid that the institute is receiving from its partners in the Canadian mining sector delegitimize the objectives of the institute’s mandate.

An institute actually intended to benefit mine-affected communities would not focus only on changing practice & policy in other countries, but would respect & respond to demands that have for many years been made by mine-affected communities and their allies: that Canada change its own policies, practices & laws.

Canada contributes to funds such as the World Bank Group’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), which grants mining companies million dollar insurance guarantees to insulate them from ‘business risks’ such as war and civil disturbance.[1]

Canadian legislation is known to be “lax and resistant” on Corporate Social responsibility and accountability, falling short of measures in the Netherlands, the UK, the US, France, Belgium, Germany, and Australia.[2] One suppressed industry report found Canadian mining companies are implicated in four times as many violations of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as mining companies from other countries.[3]

Canada doesn’t regulate its corporations or the government agencies that support them, and has not implemented legislation that would allow individuals outside Canada to seek justice in Canadian courts.[4] Canada has been described as a “judicial paradise” of immunity for extractive companies.[5]

Through domestic and multilateral agencies, agreements, diplomacy, and ‘technical assistance’, Canada pressures other countries to deregulate extractive practices and allow Canadian projects to proceed.[6]

CIRDI leadership has mentioned that they see environmental and social conflicts between communities and companies as often arising from an inadequate knowledge of best practices on behalf of national governments, and that Canadian companies are often the ones informing the governments of these practices. This is in alignment with the thinking behind Canada’s CSR strategy (which only focuses on voluntary, and on mandatory accountability for Canadian companies) – this policy places the onus on developing countries’ governments and abdicates Canadian companies of responsibility. Often, the regulatory or fiscal capacity of these countries is weak due to external pressure (see the Colombia 2001 mining code above).

The international legal framework (free trade agreements and foreign investment protection agreements) inherently limits the institute’s policy recommendations to those that will not limit or reduce the profits of transnational mining companies.

Given a distinctly pro-business international legal setting through multilateral or bilateral trade agreements under the WTO, any sustainable-mining or benefit sharing-related recommendations – made by the Institute to foreign governments – that result in legislation that protects or benefits the poor, indigenous, laborers, historically exploited, environment, or democracy – but that limits or reduces the projected profits of existing or planned foreign investments – is illegal according to the FTAs and FIPPAs (see Steven Shrybman’s book The World Trade Organization: A Citizen’s Guide).

Most free trade agreements (such as the Canada-Peru FTA) feature a greatly expanded definition of the term “nationalization.” Now both it and the term “expropriation” (or “indirect expropriation”) refer to any decision, ruling, legislation made by a sovereign government that will limit or reduce the potential projected profits that a foreign investor had projected to earn on their investment, which includes legislation that would improve occupational health and safety standards, raise minimum wage, tighten environmental protection, mandate mine closure operations, etc. (for an example, see the Canada-Peru FTA Chapter 8, Annex 812.1).

When a company determines that a country’s new laws will cut into their projected profits, they are permitted to file a claim against the country, according to the trade agreement’s investment rules, in the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). Although the FTAs are agreements between sovereign states, a corporation is allowed to file claims against a foreign state, bypassing its own state. Three-quarters of the pool of arbitrators are from North America, Western Europe, New Zealand, and Australia; three arbitrators judge the highly secretive tribunals. In many cases, national governments and the public are disallowed from knowing details about the nature of the lawsuit filed against their country, the evidences heard, or even the value of the award.

The language around CIRDI does not address free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) – the basis of consultation with the people and governments of foreign nations.

Although CIRDI documentation includes language of working toward poverty alleviation, transparency in the resource sector of developing nations, and the equitable distribution of the benefits of extraction, there is no evidence of a commitment to respecting the definitions or conditions of ‘development’ on the terms of those most vulnerable to harm by mineral extraction activities, let alone a commitment to gain the FPIC of Indigenous communities or to respect their veto.

According to 1991 Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization (ILO) to which Canada, Colombia, and many other countries key in the international mining sector are signatories, indigenous peoples have the right to free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) to any development projects on their land.

Article 7 states:[7]

1. The peoples concerned shall have the right to decide their own priorities for the process of development as it affects their lives, beliefs, institutions and spiritual well-being and the lands they occupy or otherwise use, and to exercise control, to the extent possible, over their own economic, social and cultural development. In addition, they shall participate in the formulation, implementation and evaluation of plans and programmes for national and regional development which may affect them directly.


4. Governments shall take measures, in co-operation with the peoples concerned, to protect and preserve the environment of the territories they inhabit.

The CIDA-UBC Contribution Agreement for formation of CIRDI effectively gives the federal government veto power over publication by any of the institute’s partners.

CIRDI collaborators have to give CIDA (now DFATD) officials sixty days advance notice before any publication or media release, and the content of which has to be vetted by the federal officials before public release. This dissolves any academic freedom that collaborating academics or NGOs will hope to have.

Think that your organization can make a greater impact ‘from the belly of the beast’ by working with CIRDI on research into the impacts of the extractive industry? Think again. Publication of results critical to Canada’s extractive sector may not be allowed to see the light of day.

Here’s a copy of that Contribution Agreement.



Harper's CIRDI Mining Institute at UBC & SFU: secretive, opaque, unaccountable, and supporting a predatory industry