By looking at the nature of criminalization in multiple countries in the Americas in connection with Canadian extractive industries and in the context of the extractivist model today, we can note the following four points:

1. Criminalization of dissent

woman stands with her hand held up stands in front of a line of Guatemalan National Police in riot gear
Yolanda Oquelí stands in between the Guatemalan National Police and the entrance of the El Tambor mine on May 23, 2014; photo: Guatemalan Human Rights Commission

▷ Criminalization of communities defending land and life is carried out systematically through stigmatization, spurious legal processes, as well as targeted violence and militarization.

▷ We see this repression intensifying over time.

▷ While criminalization takes a toll on the work of land and environment defenders, corporations continue committing abuses with impunity and with their economic interests intact.


Tahoe Resources, a Vancouver-based mining company, employed a strategy with state support at its Escobal project in southeastern Guatemala which has included legal challenges against community consultation processes, the criminalization of visible community leaders promoting consultation processes, and criminalization of vulnerable community members involved in protests.

From 2011 to 2013, company representatives, individuals believed to have company backing, and state agents brought nearly 90 legal cases against peaceful protesters and community leaders.

2. Role of the state in supporting the extractive industry

Banner in Cuenca, Ecuador: "We are not terrorists, we defend life and nature."
Banner during a demonstration against the criminalization of protest in Cuenca, Ecuador that reads “We are not terrorists, we defend life and nature.” Photo: MiningWatch

an image of a grey scale against a maroon background - one side of the scale is lower holding gold nuggets and so tipped lower than the other▷ Laws and justice are applied and reformed in a biased fashion to favour the interests of extractivist projects.

▷ The justice system is stacked in favour of companies over people and affected communities.

▷ Government resources are deployed to further corporate interests.


In Ecuador, despite a new 2008 political constitution that claims to protect resistance in favour of human rights, Indigenous organizations have been sounding the alarm about a new wave of criminalization against social protest and dissent.

Since 2008 Canadian authorities and companies have played a key role in containing efforts to strengthen mining regulations and tax measures governing Ecuador’s nascent mining sector.

The Canadian Embassy successfully lobbied against application of a constitutionally ranked decree that should have annulled the mining concessions of most Canadian-owned projects for lack of prior consultation with communities.

3. Canadian government support for the extractive industry abroad

Ceremony to remember Mariano Abarca, killed on November 27, 2009 in connection with his resistance to Blackfire Exploration's Payback barite mine in Chicomuselo, Chiapas. Photo: MiningWatch
Ceremony to remember Mariano Abarca, killed on November 27, 2009 in connection with his resistance to Blackfire Exploration’s Payback barite mine in Chicomuselo, Chiapas. Photo: MiningWatch

▷ The Canadian government uses diplomatic services, aid money, and foreign policy to aid companies.

▷ Canadian Embassies, overseas development aid and trade pacts have all been used to justify Canadian mining projects.

▷ The Canadian Government lobbies in favour of profit over the well-being of mining-affected communities.


In Mexico, the Canadian Embassy held Blackfire Exploration’s hand from 2007 to 2010 to enable the company to get its barite mine up and running. It also helped troubleshoot for the company when community opposition and complaints over environmental and social impacts arose.

The Canadian Embassy consistently ignored threats to the lives of local community leaders such as Mariano Abarca, and to continued defending the company’s interests even after Abarca was murdered, evidence of corruption had come to light, and the mine was shut down on environmental grounds.

4. Canada supports deregulation and repression within its own borders to favour extractivism

A group of Indigenous protesters gather behind a sign that reads "No mining our sacred headwaters"
Members of the Neskonlith Secwepemc Nation and Ancestral Pride Ahousaht Sovereign Territory voiced opposition to Imperial Metals and made clear no mining on unceded territories without free, prior and informed consent. After a rally outside the AGM, five Indigenous activists and a few allies gained access inside, but were grabbed and tossed out by VPD police officers. Photo: mining justice alliance

▷ Groups opposed to government policy, particularly surrounding the development of the energy and extractive sectors, have been infiltrated and the object of surveillance by both CSIS and the RCMP.

▷ First Nations activists have been targeted and been the object of special spy operations carried out by the Canadian military during assessment of projects such as the Northern Gateway Pipeline. Intelligence gathered is shared with energy companies during private briefings by security agencies, including CSIS.


Now, the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act, Bill C-51, which aims to give enhanced powers to Canadian intelligence agencies, redefines security to include preventing interference with the economic or financial stability of Canada.

This bill also lowers the threshold for making preventative arrests and obtaining a peace bond and extends the period of time that recognizance conditions can apply; it expands criteria to prevent an individual from boarding a plane without the need for a judicial warrant; and includes provisions that will criminalize “advocating” or “promoting” the commission of terrorism offenses.

All of this raises further worries about how it could be used in particular against Aboriginal peoples and organizations that contest the extractivist agenda in Canada.