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I think it’s very important for people to be critical of the Institutions they participate, and the power relationships involved in them.

Last November, the announcement was made that Vancouver-based University of British Columbia (UBC), Simon Fraser University (SFU) and Quebec’s Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal (EPDM) would receive $24.6 million to establish and run the Canadian International Institute for Extractive Industries and Development (CIIEID). The stated aims of the CIIEID is to share Canadian expertise so as to “reduce poverty” and “promote good governance” in developing countries. Given CIDA, and the government of Canada’s extremely troubling history of supporting Canadian commercial interests in Latin America (as well as other places) and the extractive industry’s controversial reputation in a place like Colombia for being associated with violence and the perpetuation, not reduction of poverty, I think this Institutes merits a critical and public debate on behalf of all stakeholders (including all UBC students, who’s educational privilege will indirectly benefit from the creation of such an Institute).

I appeared on CBC Radio One yesterday to talk about some concerns I had with the Dean of Mining Engineering and Director of the Institute, Bern Klein. My criticisms are by no means personal, or meant to challenge the stated intentions of the Institute; I think the Institute could have potential to do some positive things, but nevertheless it’s establishment is part of CIDA’s “Extraction as Development” trend and therefore merits scrutiny.

I would love your thoughts on the Institute, my comments, and Dr. Klein’s thoughtful response.

Below is my transcription of the interview. You can listen to it here under episode August 19, 2014.  It starts at approximately 1:00:40.


August 19, 2013 6:40am. The Early Edition with Rick Cluff, CBC Radio One in Vancouver, 88.1 FM.

Rick Cluff: 24 minutes before 7 o’clock, you’re listening to the Early Edition here on CBC Radio One. A UBC student is concerned about his school’s role in promoting mining in developing countries. Now, earlier this year, the Canadian International Development Agency,  better known as CIDA, granted funding for the new Institute at UBC. The Canadian International Institute for Extractive Industries and Development is slated to open this year, its’ mandate: to provide expertise on sustainable mining to developing countries. In a few minutes we’ll speak with the Director of the Institute, but first we’re joined by Simon Child who studies Political Science at UBC, and he says he’s troubled by what the Institute is trying to do, and he’s with us here in Studio 10. Hello there.

Simon Child: Glad to be with you.

RC: What are you worried about?

SC: I’m worried about, well, um, firstly let me say that I’m here representing myself and I’m going to be speaking about some communities that, um, speak for themselves and that I can’t speak for them, and they can speak for themselves on their issues a lot better, but, I’m worried that, I think this Institute, some serious questions have to raised as to what extent this Institute is part of CIDA’s very problematic “Sustainable Economic Growth” strategy, which is, as we’ve seen, lined up Canadian international development interests with the promotion of Canadian commercial interests abroad.

A quite troubling aspect of this Institute for me is the Advisory Centre, which is going to, quote, “by supporting the design and implementation of better legislation” hopefully promote good governance and reduce poverty, but that begs the question, ‘better’ legislation, y’know, this Institute is going to help developing countries develop ‘better’ legislation, for whom? Let’s look at an example of that.

In Francisco Ramirez Cuellar’s book, “The Profits of Extermination”, he explains how in the late 1990s the Colombian government contracted a Colombian law firm, and CIDA gave money to the Canadian Energy Research Institute, a Canadian think-tank, and they were tasked with drafting a new mining code for Colombia.

What pro-what this resulted in was Law 685 or the 2001 Colombian mining code which lowered royalties for extractive companies from 10-15% to 0.4%! It also lowered environmental protections, and it made the formalization of artisanal miners harder. Basically it was – it begs the question, so if CIDA has this history of helping fund the development of a mining code in Colombia that liberalized mining, uh, practices and was more in the interests of Canadian industry instead of the Colombian government, y’know, what does that say about the prospects for this Institute, I hope it’d be better but…

RC: The Institute is being set up, as I understand it, to help countries develop their mining industries. Isn’t it good to share Canadian expertise on how to develop their industries responsibly and sustaina, and sustainably?

SC: Well again, in who’s interests are these, um, ind, erm, industries going to be developed? As I’ve said with the example of the 2001 mining code, y’know, the government could have said that this was “sharing expertise”, this was “economic liberalization is going to lead to more investment and that’ll create more jobs” but really what that lead to was the benefit, it benefiting Canadian industry and not the Colombian people. So, I think that you have to sort of ask, what are the power relationships here and why is this really going to happen?

RC: So Simon, what questions do you want specifically answered about how this Institute then will operate?

SC: Well, I would like to know, first of all, what’s going to be the role of local communities, ’cause ultimately, who are affected by mining, because ultimately they’re going to be the ones livings with the consequences of, y’know, advice given to legislators, or community development projects, or anything of that nature.

The second question that I have is what measures are there going to be to hold the Institute accountable or have some kind of, um, accountability mechanism so that something like the 2001 Colombia mining code doesn’t happen again.

RC: Is it the Institute’s responsibility though to police how companies mine in other countries?

SC: No! But that’s not what I’m saying, I’m not saying, and I don’t think that it’s the responsibility of the Institute to be responsible for industry. What I AM saying though is that, I think that, with something like the Advisory Centre you have this very problematic history with the 2001 Colombia mining code which CIDA arguably funded to help re-write, so, in things like this, where there may be a conflict of interest, where a Institute, funded by the Canadian government who has a policy of helping promote Canadian commercial interests in a country like Colombia, how is that conflict of interest going to be handled? I hope that the Institute would be independent and could handle it well, but, again, this 2001 example doesn’t give much confidence in that.

RC: Alright, well, let’s find out. Simon, Simon Child, Political Science student at the University of British Columbia. For more on this though, Bern Klein joins us now in the studio. He’s the acting Executive Director of the Canadian International Institute for the Extractive Industries and Development. Good morning!

Dr. Bern Klein: Good morning.

RC: ah, how do you respond to, first of all, to Simon’s concerns about, this is nothing more than an extension of the commercial side of mining, and tries to legitimize how Canadian companies operate abroad?

BK: Okay, well I think some background is probably helpful here. When there was an announcement that such an Institute was going to be created at a Canadian university, uh, we felt very well-suited to try to work in this area because we have been trying to work in this area for at least the last, um, almost 15 years at UBC as a mining program that’s quite unique, that we’ve had interdisciplinary research work, in areas, um, like social responsibility, human rights, environmental issues related to mining and a lot of work has been done globally and internationally.

So when the institute was cr-when the Institute was announced, we got very excited. We believe that we were awarded the Institute based on our track record, we had a unique qualification in this area, and the goal of the Institute is to support governance, not governments, support governance, in order to support sustainable development and reduce poverty, so, that’s what we want to do. Simon has raised issues about the Advisory Centre and if the Advisory Centre was solely intended to go in and uh, express what Canadian practices were, that wouldn’t be, that wouldn’t represent who we are as an Institute. We are actually made up of a coalition of Simon Fraser University, Ecole Polytechnique, and UBC, plus about 60 strategic partners across Canada, and these are people that we drew from from other universities, NGOs who have strong interest in communities, some companies, and other experts.

So, our intent is that whenever we work  in a country, that we are going to be engaging with the national government, but at the same time applying what we feel needs to be, needs to be done. And to do that, engagement in the community is a priority.

RC: Well since you brought up the Advisory Centre, earlier we spoke with Chris Arsenault who’s a Canadian journalist reporting for Al Jazeera. He specializes in extractive industries, and this is what he had to say about CIDA’s history in creating mining codes in Colombia.

[Clip] Chris Arsenault: The Canadian International Development Agency, partnered with a Colombian law firm, and a think-tank at the University of Calgary, CERI, the Canadian Energy Research Institute to help re-write Colombia’s mining code. This happened post-2001 in a period when security was improving in Colombia and there was a lot of interest in investing in the country. Now, critics of this new code say that either by design or by default, the code benefited companies, especially foreign companies, at the expense of Colombians because of a decrease in tax dollars for public services.

RC: So this is exactly what Simon mentioned as well. So there is concern about this. How do you respond?

BK: Okay, well, in two ways. First of all, we are independent. We are a University. We are not a part of the Federal government and we’re not part of industry. Secondly, one of the centres that make up this Institute is called the Engagement and Dialogue Centre and that was spearheaded by a group at Simon Fraser University who’d been working in areas of conflict at the community level for a long time.

In addition, one of my colleagues, Professor Marcello Veiga, he’s globally known for his work with artisanal mining. We are, we have a track record of working at the community level, and when we develop any program, we are going to want to make sure that we really understand what is the situation in a country, which means that we need to engage with the community. Quite often, conflict arises because the community is not listened to. We also know that in order to develop resources, you may have a permit from the national government, but if you don’t have community support, you’re never going to build that mine. And there are many examples of that. And I think that even industry is aware of that. So it’s in government’s, industry, as well as community interests to have a shared, to be able to share their, um, concerns, to make sure that things are being developed in a way that is acceptable to the community.

RC: Well, best of luck with it! Best of luck to you both on this. Simon’s gonna be watching, as well as the rest of the people interested in this, and Bern, best of luck with the Institute.

BK: Thank you.


*This post originally appeared at The Banana Plutocracy. Re-posted on with permission from the author.

Simon Child Velez