Corruption, Destruction And Oil: Canada Has Gone From Squeaky Clean Innocence To Oil-Hungry Capitalists In Just A Few Short Years

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The Canadian company SNC-Lavalin (TOR:SNC) was identified in a recent report by the International Business Times as having 115 entries in the World Bank blacklist. The number of companies on that roll of infamy has soared in 2013, up from around 60 last year to more than 250, with 119 coming from Canada alone. Most are guilty of corruption and won’t be entitled to receive or take part in World Bank projects for as many as 10 years, although some are barred permanently. The World Bank notes this figure is likely to rise as it reports that $40 billion of the $200 billion invested in projects in developing countries has gone missing.

The 119 Canadian companies on the blacklist represent the most ever from one single country, and the number draws serious attention to Canadian companies' global behavior and to what’s happening in Canada with regard to the environment and human rights.

At one time Canada was a nation held in high regard by the world, especially for the way it dealt with environmental issues and human rights. It enabled a high quality of life for its citizens and often made it to the top of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development's development indexes. But on Dec. 13, 2011, Canada became the first country to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol -- which the U.S. never joined in the first place -- ending a 14-year association with an attempt to address climate change that Canada once helped lead. This withdrawal appears to been a major signal for Canada’s environment and in turn, the indigenous population, because it was a statement of intent leading directly back to Canada’s controversial tar sands.

Twelve years ago, before Prime Minister Stephen Harper came to power, he told his Conservative Party supporters of the “biggest struggle” they would ever face.

"We're gearing up for the biggest struggle our party has faced since you entrusted me with the leadership. I'm talking about the 'battle of Kyoto' -- our campaign to block the job-killing, economy-destroying Kyoto Accord," read Harper's 2002 letter.

Western Canada’s tar sands are estimated to contain about 1.7 trillion barrels of crude oil, the second-largest reserves after Saudi Arabia's. But getting that oil out of Alberta’s rough and frigid terrain takes five times as much energy and creates 12 percent more greenhouse gas per barrel than the conventional methods for extracting oil. The huge tar sand area covers 54,000 square miles, about half the size of the United Kingdom and about 5 percent of Canada’s enormous land mass.

The indigenous population in the area has long protested against the destruction of their homeland. Recently the Fort McKay First Nation have started their own companies to get in on the act, but for others living in those areas, it has destroyed the hunting lands, poisoned rivers and has seen cases of cancer increase.

But it doesn’t stop there for Canadian companies. A leaked report from 2010, commissioned by the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada, found that among 171 high-profile incidents involving mining companies over the last decade worldwide, 34 percent of the implicated companies were Canadian. These incidents involved conflict with local communities, environmental and human rights abuses, as well as unethical behavior. The report also noted that Canadians were involved in four times as many incidents as their closest peers from Australia and the UK.

In 2009, a bill labeled C-300 bill was introduced in Parliament in Ottawa. It was designed to make Canadian companies working in developing countries comply with international human rights and environmental standards. But the bill was defeated and nothing changed.

SNC-Lavalin appears to be just another in a long line of black marks that have sullied the Canadian business image around the world, which looks likely to continue if Canada doesn’t sign on to international agreements on the environment or human rights.  

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