On Friday, sociology professor and controversial author Alain Deneault visited University College to speak about his new book, Imperial Canada Inc. Deneault’s invitation to speak on campus is the latest in a series of vocal protestations against mining mogul and philanthropist Peter Munk’s presence on campus.
In 2010, Munk donated $35 million to the university to found the Munk School of Global Affairs. The official ribbon-cutting ceremony for the school’s new building at 315 Bloor St. was held this week.
Since news of the endowment broke, the Munk School has been dogged by accusations of improper donor influence. Groups such as “Peter Munk Out of U of T” have hung a series of signs from the building at 315 Bloor. Last June, graduating student Michael Vipperman publicly renounced his degree on stage at Convocation Hall, “in protest over the ongoing commodification and bureaucratization of education at this University, best exemplified by the increasingly intimate relationship between the University and such venemous institutions as Barrick Gold.”
Deneault is best known as the author of Noir Canada, an academic text that claimed Barrick Gold’s alleged complicity in the deaths of fifty-two miners in Tanzania, and Banro Corporation’s fuelling of violent conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Peter Munk is the founder and chair of Barrick Gold. Shortly after its publication, Barrick Gold sued the book’s publisher, Les Éditions Écosociété, and the book’s three authors, including Deneault, for more than $6 million. The suit effectively ended the sale of the book within Canada, and only a few hundred copies are in circulation. The Noir Canada case attracted international attention, winning sympathetic comments from public figures such as Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky, and Yann Martel.
“We work with communities around the world that are impacted by Barrick Gold, and time and time again we see that Barrick lies about their community relations and that they are causing a lot of harm in these communities,” said Sakura Saunders, editor of ProtestBarrick.net.
Jacob Nerenberg, a PhD student in anthropology at U of T who helped organize the event, has also been involved with the protests against Munk. Nerenberg says the main problem with the donor agreement signed with Munk to establish the school is that it effectively cedes decision-making power to the corporate sector, adding that he is concerned that Munk’s corporate interests could exert undue influence over questions explored — or not explored — at the Munk School.
Spokespeople for the Munk School of Global Affairs declined to comment on Deneault’s visit. In an email to The Varsity, the school said that the issues had been “resolved directly by the parties in a legal process, and it is inappropriate to comment.” The spokesperson also added that “the Munk School has no relationship with Denault” and that “he was invited by the Development Seminar Series, which is currently not affiliated with the Munk School.”
The Development Seminar Series co-sponsored the event with the Faculty of Arts & Science. Last year, the series chose to distance themselves from the Munk School.
“Development Seminar has been running at U of T for past decade, but will not be doing this through Munk School anymore,” said Tania Li, a member of the committee of conveners. “People were not comfortable being under the Munk umbrella because it doesn’t match our themes and concerns. At a big university like U of T, we need a diversity of groups to engage in healthy debate.”
Kim Luke, assistant dean and director of communications for the Faculty of Arts and Science told The Varsity that although the faculty does not play a role in selecting speakers, they did agree to provide partial financial support for the series. Luke says the faculty decided to support the series because it provides opportunities to explore different viewpoints and encourage civil debate.
In his speech on Friday, Deneault expressed his concerns over the growing influence of multinational mining corporations based in Canada.
According to Deneault, more than two-thirds of the mining companies in the world are listed in Canada, with about 60 per cent of those in Toronto. Tax breaks and legal flexibility encourage mining companies to set up shop in Canada. Deneault also railed against the growing number of corruption claims, pollution cases, and toxic corporate relationships with warlords, especially in South Africa.
In his closing statements Friday, Deneault called for Canadians to fight for an enquiry commission to investigate the affairs of mining companies.
“I know that what I’m proposing is a bit unrealistic and seems like a utopia, but I don’t think any democrat could go beyond my proposal.”
The Development Seminar will be hosting their second event on October 26, with professor Guy Standing as keynote speaker.