The Imperial Violence of Canadian Mining Companies: An Introduction

By: Aidan Gilchrist-Blackwood

CWs: colonialism/imperialism/violence/sexual assault

“Canada” likes to sell itself as a force for good in the world. This fucked-up branding actively obscures its role in violently dispossessing communities (primarily indigenous communities) both within and outside its colonial borders. Mining companies have played a particularly large role in carrying out imperial violence, often collaborating with the military and using deception and coercion to set up and maintain operations that don’t have community consent. These companies are in turn materially supported by the Canadian State, a nexus of capitalist interests against which many impacted communities are mobilizing.

The Canadian mining industry: some key facts

  • Between 50 and 75% of the world’s mining companies
    are based in Canada.
  • Resource extraction projects tend to be set up in territories that are “devalued” by capital (reducing the costs of land and labour and attempting to limit the likelihood of community resistance finding outside support). Because of systemic racism, “devalued” territories are usually those where people of colour and indigenous people live.
  • In Latin America alone, Canadian mining companies were directly linked to at least 44 deaths, including 30 targeted killings of anti-mining activists and community leaders, between 2000 and 2015.
  • Canadian mining projects are linked to a wide range of environmental harms in the communities in which they operate, including the poisoning of drinking water with lead and sulphuric acid. According to a report by Ecojustice, 2 million tonnes of pollutants were released by mines in Canada between 2006 and 2009 alone.
  • The Canadian State has a history of intervening in support of its mining companies:
    • In the early 2000s, CIDA (now Global Affairs Canada, Canada’s “international development” bureau) spent over $10 million lobbying Colombia and Peru’s governments to rewrite their mining codes, making it easier for Canadian companies to set up operations in each country.
    • In 2011, the government changed its laws to allow CIDA to spend money financing “corporate social responsibility” projects (like building infrastructure) to help mining companies drum up more support in the communities in which they operate. John Baird, who was Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time and oversaw the change, stepped down from his post two years later to sit on the board of Barrick Gold, Canada’s largest mining company.
    • Canadian consulates and embassies in Mexico and Guatemala (among other countries) have been publicly accused of intervening in local communities to drum up support for the operations of Canadian mining companies, despite local resistance.7 For example, the Canadian Embassy actively lobbied the Mexican State in support of a mining company, Excellon Resources, that collaborated with the police and military to violently suppress anti-mining protests in the community in which they were operating. Documents uncovered by an Access to Information Request also reveal that the Embassy gathered information on local land defenders and shared that information with the company (without community consent) and that the Embassy expressed its approval of the company using violence against land defenders.
  • Rates of sexual violence and workplace harassment tend to be elevated in communities nearby resource extraction projects, in part because these projects create “man camps” of largely transient and predominantly white, male workers. Racism and misogyny clearly intersect here, as indigenous women and two-spirit people are especially likely to face violence and harassment in these

These multiple dimensions of imperial violence are clear in the operations of the Marlin Mine, in San Miguel Ixtahuacan, Guatemala, one of the most well-known cases of community resistance to a Canadian mining project. Here, Vancouver-based Goldcorp Resources began operations in 2004 despite not obtaining the free, prior, and informed consent of local communities, who are predominantly Maya Quiche and Maya Sipakapa. Community-members who sold their land say that they were told the company planned to plant flowers, not construct a mega-mine. The community held a referendum in 2007 where the vast majority of residents voted against the mine, and land defenders organized massive demonstrations against the project, but its operations continued regardless.

Several indigenous land defenders have been murdered by private security forces linked to Goldcorp, including one land defender (whose family seeks to keep his identity anonymous) who was set on fire by two men who broke into his home in the middle of the night. The mine’s operations have also polluted local water supplies with heavy metals and cyanide, according to a study conducted by the Pastoral Commission
for Peace and Ecology.

Meanwhile, Canadian government officials have played an “active” role in supporting Goldcorp. They have repeatedly met with company and government representatives, have published op-eds in local papers supporting the mine, and have failed to respond to community demands that mining companies be held accountable. Moreover, the Canadian State has previously thrown its weight behind so-called “structural adjustment programs” that forced this country (as well as many others in the Global South) to spend less on social services and devote more money to paying back Global North lenders, an imperial dynamic that “structurally adjusts people into poverty [while] its corporations to sweep in to profit”.

The mining industry has a clear and major role in Canada’s ongoing imperialism within and outside its colonial borders.


  1. Dave Dean, “75% of the World’s Mining Companies are based
    in Canada”, Vice News (2013); Government of Canada, “Doing
    Business the Canadian Way: A Strategy to Advance Corporate Social
    Responsibility in Canada’s Extractive Sector Abroad” (2014).
  2.  Jaume Franquesa, Power Struggles: Dignity, Value, and the Renewable
    Energy Frontier in Spain (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2018).
  3. Shin Imai, “The ‘Canadian Brand’: Violence and Canadian Mining
    Companies in Latin America”, Osgoode Legal Studies Research Paper
    Series: Justice and Corporate Accountability Project (2017).
  4. Elaine MacDonald, “Exposing the Toxic Legacy of Canada’s
    Mining and Tar Sands Projects”, Ecojustice.
  5. Todd Gordon, Imperialist Canada (Halifax: Fernwood Press, 2012).
  6. Gabriel C. Goyette, “Charity Begins at Home: The Extractive Sector
    as an Illustration of the Harper Government’s De Facto Aid Policy”,
    in Rethinking Canadian Aid, Second Edition edited by Stephen
    Brown, Molly den Heyer and David R. Black (Ottawa: University of
    Ottawa Press, 2016); Les Whittington, “John Baird’s Appointment to
    Barrick Job Raises Questions”, Toronto Star (March 30, 2015).
  7. Jen Moore, “Unearthing Canadian Complicity: Excellon Resources, the Canadian
    Embassy, and the Violation of Land and Labour Rights in Durango, Mexico”,
    MiningWatch Canada (2016); Catherine Nolin and Jacqui Stephens, “We Have
    to Protect the Investors: ‘Development’ and Canadian Mining Companies in
    Guatemala”, Journal of Rural and Community Development 5:3 (2010).
  8. Jen Moore, “Unearthing Canadian Complicity: Excellon Resources,
    the Canadian Embassy, and the Violation of Land and Labour
    Rights in Durango, Mexico”, MiningWatch Canada (2016).
  9. Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing
    and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Government of Canada (2019).
  10. Martin Mowforth, “The Violence of Development” (London: Pluto Press, 2014).
  11. Shin Imai, “Breaching Indigenous Law: Canadian Mining in
    Guatemala”, Indigenous Law Journal 6:1 (2007).
  12. Comisión Pastoral de Paz y Ecología (COPAE), “Elaboración del
    Monitoreo del Aguas Superficiales Alrededor de la Mina Marlín,
    San Miguel Ixtahuacan y Sipacapa, San Marcos, A Través de
    Análisis Físico Químicos por Espectrofotometría” (2018).
  13. David Hill, “Welcome to Guatemala: Gold Mine Protestor
    Beaten, Burnt Alive”, The Guardian, August 12, 2014,
  14. Imai, “Breaching Indigenous Law”.
  15. Nolin and Stephens, “We have to Protect the Imarnvestors”.
  16. Gordon, Imperialist Canada, 262.