The reprehensible link between Peter Munk, U of T, and Canadian foreign policy

by Pitasanna Shanmugathas*

On March 28, the death of Peter Munk, a U of T alum, produced a wave of remembrance and praise from mainstream media and the university alike.

Randall Hansen, U of T professor and interim director of the Munk School of Global Affairs, praised Munk as “a proud Canadian” and a “patriot in the best sense of the word.” U of T President Meric Gertler referred to Munk — the founder of the world’s largest gold mining company, Barrick Gold — as “one Canada’s most daring and successful entrepreneurs.”

However, all this praise largely overlooked the human rights abuses, environmental crimes, and corporate tax evasion committed by Barrick Gold. This is almost certainly due to Peter Munk’s enormous financial contributions to the University of Toronto.

Munk’s money and its influence

The Munk Centre for International Studies was established at the University of Toronto in 2000 with an initial $6.4 million donation from Peter Munk. This included a stipulation that the Centre would receive advice from Barrick’s international advisory board. The advisory board included then-US President George Bush and former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

In 2010, University of Toronto announced the opening of its new School of Global Affairs, partly the result of a $35 million donation from Peter Munk and his wife, Melanie. The donation came with an agreement between U of T and Munk, stipulating that Munk would have the power to shape priorities, in place of faculty and students, and even to potentially shape academic work at the university.

The agreement increased fear among U of T students that Munk’s affiliation with the university could push the university to pursue a right-wing agenda and even curtail academic freedom. It is a fear that persists to this day.

One right-wing policy pursued by the Munk School is its support of the Harper government’s conflict with Iran, which the Munk School has continued to support under Justin Trudeau.

In 2012, after the Canadian government cut diplomatic ties and designated Iran a state sponsor of terrorism, the Department of Foreign Affairs gave $250,000 in public money to the Munk School’s initiative, Global Dialogue on the Future of Iran, an initiative designed to incite opposition to the Iranian regime.

In 2015, the Department of Foreign Affairs gave the Munk School’s Digital Public Square $9 million dollars to expand the anti-Iran initiative.

With respect to stifling academic freedom, in 2013, Munk School Director Janice Stein, along with former Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird, were accused by a coalition of Iranian-Canadian community groups of stifling academic debate by attempting to sideline critics of Harper’s policy on Iran.

On July 1, 2018, the Munk School of Global Affairs and the School of Public Policy merged to become the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. The union of these two institutions is indicative of the degree to which the financial-academic nexus engineered by Munk has been successful.

As a result, Canada’s most influential global studies program, the brainchild of the mining magnate who had a personal investment in a particular foreign policy, will work even more actively to advocate policies shaped in Munk’s hard-right image.

Munk’s effect on Canadian policy

It is incumbent upon students at U of T to oppose the university’s ongoing endorsement and praise of Munk, whose mining company has committed horrendous human rights and environmental abuses in practically every continent. Furthermore, students must insist that the Canadian government stop supporting Canadian mining companies that commit such abuses.

Munk had a vested interest in preventing any actions by the Canadian government which would result in the withdrawal of diplomatic and financial support for Canadian mining companies.

As Executive Director of the Munk Centre in 2007, Marketa Evans helped spawn the Devonshire Initiative, which Canadian foreign policy critic and author Yves Engler asserts worked to undermine a government civil society roundtable that called for “withholding government financial and political support to resource [mining] companies found responsible for major abuses abroad.”

After immense pressure, the Mining Association of Canada agreed to 27 recommendations urging the government to monitor and address both human rights concerns and the environmental effects of Canadian companies operating in other countries. However, Munk opposed the position of the Mining Association of Canada and successfully lobbied the Conservatives to reject the recommendations.

In 2010, when a bill in Parliament that called for withholding some diplomatic and financial support to abusive mining companies was narrowly defeated, Munk wrote a letter published in the Toronto Star to support the MPs who voted against it and sided with the mining industry.

During the 2015 election, the Liberals claimed that they had “long been fighting for transparency, accountability and sustainability in the mining sector,” yet they have thus far failed to do so. Instead, individuals like the Liberals’ Canadian High Commissioner for Tanzania, Ian Myles, have praised Barrick as being committed to standards of fairness and corporate social responsibility.

Sakura Saunders, co-editor of the anti-Munk website, asserted that Peter Munk’s Barrick Gold is “leveraging the reputation of the university to avoid government regulation on mining abuses.”

Munk in Africa

Presently, the biggest example of Canadian exploitation on the continent of Africa is in the mining sector, according to the book “Canada in Africa” by Yves Engler. Canadian mining companies are active in 43 different African countries — displacing farmers and communities, employing forced labor, devastating ecosystems and carrying out human rights violations, all while Canadian mining companies like Barrick Gold bribe officials and evade paying taxes.

Barrick Gold’s North Mara mine in Tanzania has displaced thousands of artisanal miners, peasant farmers and their families since their operations began in 2001. In early 2016, a government report discovered that since 2006, Barrick Gold security and police had killed 65 people and injured 270 at North Mara. In addition, Tanzanian human rights groups estimate that there have been more than 300 mine-related deaths.

In addition, despite having a record of being Tanzania’s top gold producer, Barrick has consistently declared losses in order to pay minimal corporate tax. Due to the fact that Barrick Gold has many subsidiaries, including ones in infamous tax havens such as the Cayman Islands and Barbados, this poses a challenge to Tanzanian tax collectors to calculate what taxes were owed.

In 2016, a Tanzanian tribunal ruled that Barrick failed to pay any corporate taxes to the Tanzanian government between 2010 to 2013, while giving over $400 million dollars to its US shareholders. Yet Munk, who founded this company, is a man the University of Toronto praises as “generous.”

The Canadian government played a direct role in overthrowing democratically elected leaders in foreign countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Haiti, and in the post-coup environments, Canadian mining companies ended up benefiting. In the case of the Democratic Republic of Congo, in 1961, Canada helped United Nations military forces overthrow the first democratically elected leader, Patrice Lumumba.

Since the coup, companies like Barrick Gold have looted mineral resources.  In a 2002 report, Barrick Gold was found to have signed mining agreements with militias fighting in eastern Congo, who were known to have murdered hundreds of civilians. Of 29 mining multinationals that a 2001 UN report accuses of stealing resources from the Congo, eight are based in Canada.

Munk in Papua New Guinea and Chile

Munk’s egregious record is not limited to Africa. In Papua New Guinea, Barrick Gold owns nearly half of the Porgera gold mine. Hundreds of women have been sexually assaulted by Barrick Gold employees near the mine. To this matter, in 2011, Peter Munk responded in a The Globe and Mail interview that “gang rape is a cultural habit” in Papua New Guinea.

In addition, Barrick police and security guards have killed innocent villagers, wounded hundreds; the working conditions in the mines have resulted in thousands of the low wage miners enduring serious injuries. The mine caused significant ecological destruction with 40,000 tonnes of waste dumped into the area’s main river every day.

When the Canadian government continued to support Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile through his worst atrocities, Munk had strong praise for Pinochet. In response to allegations of Pinochet’s human rights abuses, Munk responded that Pinochet’s jailing of an enormous number of people was justified due to the wealth Pinochet produced — even though the wealth went to wealthy elites, including Munk, who benefited from Pinochet’s corporate tax exemptions.

Barrick Gold’s Pascua Lama Mine in Chile was among the world’s most controversial mining projects — with Barrick’s exploration activities having depleted glaciers, resulting in a shortage of water, dispossessing Indigenous people, and polluting rivers. Despite protests from Chileans, Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2007 visited Barrick Gold’s office in Chile and said that “Barrick follows Canadian standards of corporate social responsibility.” Harper was greeted with signs from anti-mining activists, reading “Harper go home” and “Canada: What’s HARPERing here?”

The need for reform

The University of Toronto must stop associating itself with Munk who exhibited, in his career as a mining magnate, blatant disregard for human rights and sustainability, and whose mining company evaded paying taxes to various foreign governments after looting their natural resources.

As far as reforms are concerned, Engler believes that the natural resources of exploited countries should be under the control of local communities and governments. Foreign corporations should not be extracting those resources.

Canada should not be undercutting the independent policies of foreign nations by tying its aid money to countries pursuing economic reforms enabling Canadian mining companies to take control.

In the immediate term, the Canadian government must make a commitment, preferably in the form of robust legislation, that it will not provide support to any Canadian mining company found in violation of human rights abroad.

By writing letters and petitioning key individuals within the University of Toronto, students can put pressure on the university to disassociate itself from Munk and the Munk Foundation in order to halt the university’s academic institutions from continuing to support human rights violations and neocolonialism.

* Pitasanna Shanmugathas graduated in June 2018 as a Political Science and Criminology student at the University of Toronto.