Critical analysis of the limited information that’s been released over the last year and a half from the Canadian International Resources and Development Institute (CIRDI), hosted at UBC in coordination with Simon Fraser University (SFU) and the École Polytechnique de Montréal (EPDM), leads to some damning conclusions. CIRDI is a mining, oil, and gas industry think-tank with aims of helping Canadian transnationals’ competitive advantage in resource-rich nations, thinly disguised as an academic unit focused on extractive sector policy and legislation in foreign countries.
UBC and SFU students identify this as a problem.
It’s a problem for our universities to host CIRDI. Its mandate, leadership structure, partner network, and lack of transparency lead us to identify CIRDI as equipped only to serve the interests of the Canada-based transnational extractive sector at the expense of communities and countries already made vulnerable by foreign intervention. It’s not just a few bad apples, but something that is pervasive in the industry. Some of the largest and most prominent of the 1200 or so mining companies based in Vancouver are accused of abuses abroad. And CIRDI has made strategic partnerships with some of these very companies.
CIRDI originates from the Prime Minister’s Office back in 2011, as part of Canada’s Corporate Social Responsibility Strategy to “improve the competitive advantage of Canadian international extractive sector companies”. Originally called the Canadian International Institute for the Extractive Industries and Development (CIIEID), it receives $24.6 million from the federal government’s ‘international development’ budget, $3.39 million direct and $3.3 million in-kind aid by UBC, $4.15 million by SFU, $1.4 million by EPDM, and $9 million from its strategic partners. It is instructed to find further funding from sources including the extractive industry and financial institutions.
From efforts to understand the initiative, we conclude that CIRDI
- was originally mandated by the federal government to benefit the Canadian extractive sector in its operations overseas (despite hat tips to poverty alleviation, equitable sharing of the benefits of extraction, and improvements in extractive sector “governance” in developing countries),
- fits into a historical context that encourages wariness of Canadian development or research initiatives supporting the extraction of resources in others’ sovereign territory, and
- has a predisposition to ignore critical voices and those calling for transparency.
There’s a wealth of literature challenging the argument that academic independence and integrity can be maintained with industry funding and no safeguards. CIRDI’s funding scheme and partnership structure – relying on industry contributions after the federal government’s 5-year seed funding runs out – will make CIRDI 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 CIRDI 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.
The communiqué was posted last month on the Stop the Institute blog in English and Spanish. An extensive network of solidarity organizations are also actively distributing it to communities and grass-roots organizations outside of Canada.
If you’re concerned that CIRDI or its partners may be pursuing projects or meddling in legislation or governance in an area where languages other than English or Spanish are spoken (specifically Mongolian, Vietnamese, Quechua, any of the Mayan languages, and French), and you can volunteer to translate the document, please connect with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A regularly-updated list accompanying the communiqué names the academic and non-governmental organizations as collaborating with CIRDI, identifying those listed as the front-lines of information-gathering or legitimization for the Canadian extractive sector abroad.
This can impart a reputational liability to each organization, department, or faculty supporting CIRDI, and we unapologetically acknowledge that this may challenge other on-the-ground programming and research carried out under the name of the listed organizations.
However, as these organizations formally withdraw their support from CIRDI, or as individuals leave their management or directorial positions with the Institute, we’ll remove their names. Similarly, as we find out more information (say, through Freedom of Information requests), we’ll update the page accordingly.
Explore the Stop the Institute site for more information on CIRDI, details about the many concerns, the recommendations students and civil society have made, and what we students are doing to see our universities close it.
Article by Samuel Stime, with content from the Stop the Institute blog
The full text of the communiqué follows.
Communiqué from SFU and UBC students who identify CIRDI as a threat to the well-being of mining-affected communities
13 November 2014
Dear members of mining affected communities beyond Canada’s borders,
As students from Simon Fraser University (SFU) and the University of British Columbia (UBC) which reside on the unceded territories of the Coast Salish people, we write to warn you of a potential threat to your communities. It comes in the form of the Canadian International Resources and Development Institute (CIRDI), previously known as the Canadian International Institute for the Extractive Industries and Development (CIIEID) and its network of partners, which we see as working for Canada-based mining, oil, and gas companies, using academics, government institutions, and NGOs to legitimate and normalize their predatory practices.
We are undergraduate and postgraduate students in public health, political science, engineering, law, education, and social work, among other careers, and, in an attempt to ally with your own efforts to protect your families, livelihoods, and futures, for the past year we have been working together to halt this institute.
The majority of the world’s mining and mineral exploration companies are headquartered in Canada, partly because Canada has mining, land tenure, tax, and libel laws that flagrantly prioritize the extractive industries’ profits above public well-being. Through diplomatic, financial, and now academic means, the Canadian federal government is rapidly encouraging the export of these laws to other countries.
You are probably already aware of Canada’s use of diplomatic & economic means to oversee changes to mining, tax, land tenure, and environmental laws in resource-rich countries such as yours, and you are probably already experiencing the impacts. Right now in Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia, Peru, Mongolia and many other countries, there is environmental destruction and social upheaval as a result of Canadian extractive ‘investment’ there.
CIRDI is a fairly new institute mandated by the Canadian government to “meet developing countries’ needs for policy, legislation, regulatory development and implementation, training, technical assistance, and applied research related to their own extractive sectors,” though the majority of extraction in these countries is by Canada-based transnational mining companies that take for themselves the majority of the benefits. CIRDI is thus mandated to help lobby your governments to implement legislation that will bring more benefits to Canadian companies, and we recognize that this will come at the cost of your Indigenous and human rights, your control over domestic resources, your decision-making process at the local and national levels, and protections for your environment and your public interest. History attests to Canada’s role in undermining other countries’ sovereignty and indigenous peoples’ autonomy and self-determination for the benefit of companies incorporated here.
CIRDI is housed at three Canadian universities, is partnered with many other universities and NGOs in Canada and elsewhere, and receives many millions of dollars of support from companies in the extractive industry (including Goldcorp Inc.) with allegations of abuse everywhere they operate. Here in Canada, we are manifesting our disapproval of our universities’ involvement with this, and that our federal government is funding it. We hope that student efforts here, in the global headquarters of mining, will constructively contribute to your communities’ resistance.
We write to you only after performing extensive due diligence that has included
- repeated requests for full disclosure of information about the institute, its budget and projects, and its partners,
- clear explanations on our website of the dangers of how the institute is currently organized and mandated, and our demands for how to reorganize (or close) it,
- multiple invitations to CIRDI executives to bear witness at student-led events challenging the predatory mining industry,
- communication with the organizations, academics, and other groups listed on the CIRDI website as partners/collaborators,
- and we have finally resorted to formal requests for information through BC’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
Our requests for information and invitations to bear witness have received inadequate and limited response; it is now time to warn you.
Because of its mandate, its organizational and financial structure that closely aligns it with transnational extractive interests, and the opacity with which it is run (consistently refusing to answer to the Canadian public), we identify CIRDI as a threat to the well-being of communities and their environment in the vicinity of mineral or hydrocarbon extraction sites where Canadian companies or their subsidiaries have an interest, and to the local, regional, and national governments’ sovereignty to make decisions on their own terms around land and resource use. The Canadian extraction paradigm holds paramount an unsustainable demand for minerals and hydrocarbons to support an insatiable consumer lifestyle, leading to unproductive arguments for the inevitability of Canadian companies’ access to the mineral wealth in your country. Under this paradigm, Canadian companies will extract your resources, and they know it will be much cheaper if they can manipulate popular opinion for a perceived “social acceptance” of their mega mining projects.
Since CIRDI is mandated by the Canadian federal government, and has many direct links to the transnational mining, mineral exploration, and hydrocarbon extraction industries, people in your country or community will easily see through the thinly veiled language of its vision to “improve the ability of developing countries to use and benefit from their extractive sector resources in order to stimulate sustainable economic growth and reduce poverty,” and will be wary to collaborate with the institute. However, CIRDI lacks legitimacy to work in a way that is actually beneficial to the host communities. So, based on the assumption that “researchers have the trust and credibility in the communities” that this industry lacks, mining companies, lobby groups on their behalf, the Canadian diplomatic corps, and the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development (DFATD) are partnering with academics and NGOs to act as the front line of their “community engagement” work.
Though the details of CIRDI projects are being withheld, we are aware that the Canadian government has previously funded ‘community engagement’ projects near mining sites around the world, ultimately aimed at appeasing uncooperative communities so an extractive project can advance. We have not been able to compile a comprehensive list of the names of individual researchers and NGOs yet, but the current list is available here, and will be updated as we find out more.
With this in mind, we advise you to exercise great caution when outsiders approach your community, to ask them enough questions so that your community can be sure that they (academics, NGOs, etc.) are not acting on behalf of the foreign (or Canadian) extractive firms, on behalf of CIRDI (or other groups similar to it), and will not commit your community to agreements that will bring you harm in the future.
In addition to the questions that you already ask outsiders seeking to access your territory or perform any type of ‘research’ in your community, we encourage you to seek formal (written) confirmation of where their funding comes from, what connections they have to Canadian extractive interests, what university or NGO they’re associated with, and what their motivation is. Further, we encourage you to seek input from other communities, groups, or NGOs that you trust to provide feedback on what is proposed in your community. Amnesty International, Rights Action, and MiningWatch Canada are three organizations that we are aware of that could offer third-party analysis, and all operate specifically for peoples’ and communities’ benefit.
As students in Canada, we are close to the headquarters of international exploitation, but find ourselves distant from the specific experiences of your community as you are faced with extractive projects by foreign transnational corporations. We commit to ally with your cause of sovereignty and dignity as you resist usurpation and destruction of your land and rights by foreign interests. Your feedback and histories will help us to work aligned with your objectives. Please contact us at email@example.com.
Concerned SFU & UBC students