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UBC, SFU helping CIDA to promote mining overseas

The federal government has announced that the University of B.C. and Simon Fraser University will operate a new institute aimed at furthering the Canadian mining industry's role in the country’s overseas development strategy.

The new Canadian International Institute for Extractive Industries and Development, funded by a $25-million CIDA grant, will "help developing countries benefit from their natural resources in environmentally and socially responsible ways," according to a UBC press release.

International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino said the institute would "also benefit Canadian companies in fair, transparent, and foreseeable regulation in the extractive sector." Fantino made the announcement in a talk entitled "Reducing Poverty – Building Tomorrow's Markets," which emphasized closer collaboration with the private sector.

"CIDA can help develop the capacity to negotiate with other countries, implement international commercial agreements with Canada and other trading partners, and help firms benefit from these agreements," he told the Economic Club of Canada in Toronto. "We will be doing more of this in the future."

Although one media report described the development vision espoused by Fantino as "a profound shift" (softened from the original "radical shift" that still appears in the URL), it actually predates his arrival at the head of CIDA in July. His predecessor, Bev Oda, announced new projects pairing up NGOs and mining companies in Peru, Ghana and Burkina Faso back in September 2011.

And last November, a parliamentary committee began holding hearings on the "role of the private sector in achieving Canada's international development interests." The resulting report, released earlier this month, recommends that "CIDA consider offering loans and utilizing other financial instruments to enable private sector led, sustainable economic growth in developing nations."

That report prompted an angry response from MiningWatch, who saw "a wholesale handover of CIDA to the private sector" in the committee's recommendations.

"This committee report doesn’t just tie Canadian aid to mining interests, it would actually restructure CIDA to better serve the interests of the corporate sector," according to MiningWatch's Catherine Coumans, who added that the purpose of aid was not to "subsidize the obligations of mining companies to provide benefits to affected residents and rehabilitate damaged environments."

Canada's laws do not currently address the environmental and human rights abuses allegedly committed by some Canadian mining companies operating abroad. In 2010, the House of Commons voted down a bill that would have required withdrawing public funding and diplomatic support for companies found guilty of such wrongdoing.

Another bill, proposed by Burnaby-New Westminster NDP MP Peter Julian, would take overseas accountability a step further by allowing foreign victims of corporate abuses to sue in Canadian courts. Since its introduction last year, the bill has not progressed beyond first reading.

Rob Annandale is a Vancouver-based journalist with a focus on international reporting. Read his blog and follow him on Twitter.

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