First Nations peoples on are on the front lines of Canada's climate struggle. Photo: Alex Hsuan Tsui /

Trudeau’s Canada: two-faced climate culprit

  • September 24, 2019

Climate & Catastrophe

Despite efforts to craft a climate-friendly public image, Canada’s continued support for the fossil fuel industry highlights the hypocrisy of the current government.

Canada has worked hard to cultivate a reputation as a fair and peaceful nation. This image is embodied by current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who, when elected in 2015, promised to usher in sunny ways, following a near decade of Conservative leadership.

It is in keeping with his “sunny ways’’ image that Trudeau announced, during the G7 meeting in Biarritz in late August, that Canada would be offering $15 million to help fight the Amazon fires that have been raging over the past month and that are now threatening to do irreparable harm to one of the planet’s most extensive ecosystems.

To the critical eye, this image of Canada as a peacekeeping and progressive nation is entirely deceptive. The country has supported most US-led foreign interventions —recent examples include Afghanistan and Libya — and is part of the anglophone mass surveillance and intelligence network known as the 5Eyes which is responsible for mass surveillance and data interception as evidenced by the Snowden revelations.

The Canadian government also supports exploitative and abusive actions by its corporations at home and abroad. To this, of course, also add the continued marginalization and oppression of First Nations people.

Despite this, Canada desires to be seen as an effective leader in the climate crisis. Pledging help to extinguish the Amazon fires lines up perfectly with Trudeau’s habit of offering symbolic and ineffective solutions to a problem that is, in no small part, fueled by Canadian policies and actions.

The government’s hypocricy is on display almost daily. Recently, it pledged to ban plastic straws and then announced it would be financing the construction of a major pipeline a few days later. Canada is indeed one of the preeminent culprits of the climate crisis and, thus, needs to be held accountable and firmly denounced both by its citizens and the global community.

Actively supporting the fossil fuel industry

Given the perceived importance of Canadian tar sands for the country’s economy, not many politicians are willing to criticize the oil industry that operate in western Canada. Despite renewed calls by experts and international bodies such as the UN to stop this extremely harmful and wasteful form of extraction — extracting one barrel of oil from the tar sands requires two to five barrels of water and emissions created by the tar sands are about three to four times higher than those of conventional oil (though these are conservative figures, some studies claim it to be much higher) — Canada has continued to permit the fossil industry to extract oil from the tar sands at an alarming rate.

As a result of continued exploitation of the tar sands Canada’s carbon emissions have increased by eight million tons in 2017, meaning that it is most likely to fail in attaining its emission reduction goals.

Moreover, to facilitate transport and export of tar sands oil, the Federal government has actively supported the construction of several major pipelines — Keystone XL and Trans-mountain being recent examples — and as such has been condemned by ecological groups and activists.

These groups rightly point out that additional pipelines will not only favor increased rates of oil production from the tar sands but also pose a substantial risk to the ecosystems and waterways they traverse — notably endangering human habitation. In addition, most of the proposed pipelines pass through indigenous territories, amplifying the dangers for locals and echoing the Federal government’s disregard for these communities.

Unfortunately, Canada’s support for the fossil industry does not limit itself to protecting tar sands oil production and the construction of pipelines. Less known is Canada’s myriad of corporate subsidies, totaling $3.3 billion, designed to promote fossil fuels. As a result of these subsidies, the government is actively inviting corporations to profit from the country’s plentiful natural resources at the expense of both its citizens and the environment.

These subsidies directly counteract the Trudeau government’s carbon tax, one of its most publicized “solutions” to the climate crisis. Indeed, as stated by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD): “It’s like raising taxes on cigarettes to discourage smoking, while also giving tobacco companies a tax break so they can make more cigarettes.’’

Corrupt affairs

Those following recent Canadian politics will be familiar with the SNC – Lavalin affair that has cost the Trudeau government much of its credibility. It is alleged that the Canadian government interfered with the country’s judicial system to protect SNC – Lavalin from being held accountable for bribing the Libyan government in order to gain lucrative contracts — among them a $58 million contract for the construction of the Benghazi pipeline.

Collusion between the Canadian government and SNC – Lavalin might, at first glance, seem irrelevant to climate issues. However, SNC – Lavalin, as one of the world’s largest engineering firms, annually reaps billions of dollars in profits from the extractive industries. The company also has a considerable presence in the Middle East, including in Libya and in Saudi Arabia, where its 9000 employees help build and maintain the fossil industry’s infrastructure. SNC – Lavalin’s role in furthering climate destruction is thus undeniable.

The Canadian government’s intimate ties to SNC – Lavalin seems to be another example of its ties to the extractive industry and, by extension, of its responsibility for the climate crisis.

Support at home, destruction abroad

SNC – Lavalin is far from the only example of a Canadian company profiting from environmental destruction. Canadian mining companies have been active in destroying ecosystems and committing human rights abuses throughout the world.

Among them is Barrick Gold, one of the world’s most important gold mining enterprises. According to a report published by Human Rights Watch in 2011, this corporation has been dumping tons of toxic chemical waste — 16,000 tons per day to be precise — in rivers in Papua New Guinea, thus poisoning the water supply relied upon by local communities. The extent of the ecological disaster has even led Norway to remove Barrick Gold from its pension fund investments. As stated in the HRW report:

The Norwegian government’s pension fund excluded Barrick from its investment portfolio in March 2009 on the recommendation of its Council on Ethics, which found that [the company’s] practice of riverine tailings disposal carried unacceptable risks of harm to human health and “long-term and irreversible environmental damage.

On top of that, Barrick Gold has also been accused of horrendous crimes against locals, including targeted killings by its security contractor and gang rapes. As recently as July 2019, a report published by The Guardian detailed the extensive environmental destruction and human rights abuses perpetrated by the mining company in Tanzania.

Canadian companies have also been responsible for important environmental destruction in Latin America. In Venezuela, Canadian based Crystallex, also a mining company, successfully sued the government, in 2011 in order to gain access to the Imataca forest, one of the country’s largest conservation areas and home to several indigenous communities. It is now estimated that more than one tenth of the forest has been destroyed by mining activities.

In Costa Rica, Canadian owned Infinito Gold aggressively lobbied the government in order to be granted permission to create a massive open pit mine in Cerro Crucitas conservation area — the project being officially approved in 2015.

It is deplorable that Canadian corporations are allowed to profit from this type of abuse. Even more deplorable, however, is the deafening silence from the Canadian government who, amidst all its rhetoric about ecological sustainability, fails to condemn these companies and their actions.

A vital moment

Through its continued support for the extractive industries, at home and abroad, and profound lack of transparency, Canada has aided and abetted those intent on profiting from environmental destruction and climate change.

Now that global temperatures are expected to rise two degrees or more in the coming decades, rendering many areas inhabitable to human beings and causing ecosystems to collapse, it is time to denounce the empty words of the Trudeau government and to hold Canada accountable for its support of eco-criminality.

Actions of civil disobedience by groups such as the youth-led climate movement as well as by First Nations and other activists should be widely supported by the public. Indeed, one of the core principals of these movements is “Tell the truth about the climate emergency,” this should therefore include calling out Canada’s monumental failures in condemning the environmental destruction and human rights abuses perpetrated by Canadian corporations as well as denouncing the government’s ineffective and dangerous energy policies.

With the upcoming Federal election, the climate will undoubtedly feature as a prominent topic in Canadian politics. Most candidates will gleefully seize upon growing climate anxiety to win points with the public — indeed the Liberal party has already used it to detract from the recent Trudeau blackface scandal.

This is a vital moment for Canadians to call out the government’s hypocrisy concerning the environment and demand that abuses by Canadian corporations abroad be denounced.

Moreover, considering the urgency of the climate crisis, Canadian’s condemnation should go beyond the ballot box and into the streets — significant collective action is needed to enforce climate accountability and push for a just and sustainable transition that would prominently consider the rights and struggles of First Nations peoples.

Until then, Canada’s self-righteous rhetoric on climate remains empty and laughable.

Elizabeth Leier

Elizabeth Leier is a freelance journalist and graduate student at Concordia University in Montreal. Her interests include international politics, foreign policy and climate justice.

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