Harper government withholds documents on controversial Canadian mining company

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TORONTO - The United Steelworkers (USW) union is asking federal Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault to investigate the Conservative government's failure, for more than eight months, to release information on a Canadian mining company's controversial operations in Mexico.

"This case reflects a disturbing pattern by Stephen Harper's Conservatives to obstruct public access to government information," said Ken Neumann, USW National Director for Canada.

"It also demonstrates how the Harper government condones the bad behaviour of Canadian mining companies operating abroad, where communities are protesting environmental, social and human rights abuses," Neumann said.

The USW filed requests under the Access to Information Act last November with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT), asking for the release of government documents relating to Canadian mining company Excellon Resources Inc.

Excellon operates a silver mine in Durango, Mexico, where communal landowners and workers have accused the company of numerous transgressions of their environmental, economic and labour rights.

More than eight months after the USW filed the information requests, and despite repeated follow-up requests made by the union, the government has failed to release a single document.

Recently, a similar complaint concerning the operations of Canadian company Blackfire Exploration in Mexico languished for 19 months before DFAIT replied.

In February 2013, the federal Information Commissioner stated in a CBC report that Canada was "at a record low in terms of timeliness" in responding to information requests. "Canadians should be angry" about the Harper government's handling of "a fundamental democratic right," Legault said.

This spring, Legault's office launched an unprecedented investigation into complaints that the Harper government is restricting public access to taxpayer-funded science.

Under the Harper government, Canada's access to information record ranks a lowly 55th in the world, according to the Centre for Law and Democracy, which notes the Conservatives have not given the Information Commissioner any authority to order resolutions of access complaints.

The USW believes the Canadian government may have acted irresponsibly in supporting Excellon Resources in its ongoing disputes with Mexican landowners and supporters of Los Mineros, the only democratic union that is seeking to represent workers at the Excellon mine.

"Although we expect much of the information we requested will be redacted based on some phony pretence, we believe that our complaint with the Commissioner is fundamentally necessary to protect our democratic right to obtain information and to hold our government accountable" said Neumann.

"This is also part of our effort to expose the Harper government's secrecy and how it supports corporations as opposed to working people in Canada and abroad."

Los Mineros is contesting in the Mexican courts the loss of an election to represent workers that included pressure and threats from mine management; the sudden appearance of some 100 men -- many carrying sticks -- who at one point blocked the mine entrance to prevent workers from entering; and the presence of a large number of heavily armed municipal, state and federal police.

Communal landowners on whose land the mine is located have also been fighting Excellon in the Mexican courts to get back their land and to enforce agreements the company made with them. In October 2012, another group of thugs attacked and destroyed a peaceful encampment where workers and landowners were protesting the actions of Excellon.

A chronology of the USW Access to Information efforts.

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