VANCOUVER, BC – Over 1000 individuals and civil society organizations are signatories to a letter petitioning coalition universities to dissolve the mining, oil, and gas think-tank headquartered at UBC.
Among the signatories are professors Glen Coulthard (UBC), David Suzuki (UBC, emeritus), Stephen Collis (SFU), Stephen Brown (U. of Ottawa), and Boaventura de Sousa Santos (U. of Coimbra), and author Naomi Klein. Many other professors and hundreds of students at the coalition universities join them. Additionally, hundreds more community members, stakeholders, and public intellectuals have added their names to the petition, including Hugo Blanco, community organizer and editor of Peru’s Lucha Indigena; Alberto Acosta, economist and former member of Ecuador’s Constituent Assembly; and Uruguayan journalist Raúl Zibechi.
Funded $24.6M by the federal government, plus roughly $21M more by coalition universities and strategic partners, the Canadian International Resources and Development Institute—CIRDI (formerly known as CIIEID)—has received consistent opposition by academics and civil society alike.
Addressed to the Presidents and Boards of Governors of UBC, SFU, and École Polytechnique de Montréal, the petition specifically lists a loss of academic freedom, biased representation and conflicts of interest, lack of credibility and trust, and a lack of accountability as the reasons to pull out of the agreement with the federal government. It states that the signatories do not want their universities “linked with an industry currently being rejected by many communities in Canada and around the world because of its destructive impact on their lives and on the environment.”
A project with origins in the Prime Minister’s Office, in 2013 the coalition of three universities signed an agreement with the federal government to run the institute mandated to intervene in developing countries’ “policy, legislation, regulatory development and implementation, training, technical assistance, and applied research related to their own extractive sectors.”
A fundamental disconnect in CIRDI’s mandate, however, is that these so-called developing countries’ own extractive sectors are comprised in their majority by Canada-based transnationals. Indigenous and non-indigenous communities, and grass-roots organizations in solidarity with those affected by extractive projects have long been calling for an end to the impunity that Canadian companies have, and demand mechanisms of accountability in Canadian legislation to hold the companies accountable in our courts for abuses committed abroad.
Now academics, alumni, rights-holders, and stakeholders across Canada and in Latin America have made it clear to the decision-makers at the universities that, rather than attempting to overhaul a fundamentally flawed experiment, it is now time to take the precedent-setting step of dissolving CIRDI, advocating rather for research into the role and impacts of Canadian extractivism abroad that is truly independent from conflicted interests.
The letter states that “an appropriate institute would rather be accountable to communities impacted by extractive projects, and emphasize their rights to free, prior, and informed consent, which includes the right to legislate against or reject a given extractive project. The appropriate problem to be addressed by such an institute is Canada’s responsibility in resource extraction conflicts both here and abroad, and the lack of accountability for Canadian companies accused of abuses abroad.”
Signatories to the petition expect the Boards of Governors to write off the sunk cost resulting from the 2013 decision and ultimately to dissolve the Canadian International Resources and Development Institute.