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Filipino environmental activist brings message to Manitoba

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While Canada prepares to host world leaders to discuss issues of poverty and climate change, a Filipino environmental activist visiting Winnipeg says those issues are becoming more urgent in his country.

"If you have destroyed the natural resource base of the people in the rural areas, you have destroyed their livelihood, forcing them to move out," says Ricarido Saturay Jr., of the Centre of Environmental Concerns, who visited several Catholic parishes and schools in Manitoba in early May.

"In order to address poverty, you really have to address environmental destruction."

Saturay's visit was sponsored by the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, which has provided funds to CEC for the past two decades.

His Canadian tour comes about just as Development and Peace wraps up a multi-year campaign among its 14,000 members on international mining practices and how they may be connected to issues right in Canada, explains Roberta Gramlich, Winnipeg-based educator for Development and Peace.

"We're providing them (CEC) funds, but they're also giving us input for our educational programs," she says. "As Christians, we believe we should be the voice of those who are oppressed and who are not heard."

Gramlich says the Catholic organization is lobbying for the passage of Bill C-300, a private member's bill put forward by Liberal MP John McKay. The bill has passed two readings and is now in the committee stage.

Bill C-300 calls for Canadian-based mining, oil and gas companies operating in developing countries to respect human rights and undertake best environmental practices, and to provide accountability, explains Development and Peace's national educational program co-ordinator.

"The need for the bill is that Canada is a leader in the mining sector and there have been numerous complaints (about their actions) in the global south," says Siobhan Rowan in an interview from Toronto.

Saturay says many mining companies operating in the Philippines are foreign-owned, and people on the island of Rapu-Rapu are still affected by a 2005 cyanide spill from a foreign-owned mine.

He says people in his country are not opposed to mining, but not at any cost.

"We want mining on our land, but we want it in a proper framework, to help local people and help agriculture," he says.

"What happens now is just money for industrialized countries."

For Winnipegger Bea Goussaert, taking a stand in Canada about safe mining practices is one way she can help improve lives halfway around the world.

"We're all part of creation and we're required to be good stewards of creations," says the member of the development and peace group at St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church.

"We're not just talking about the global south and we're also talking about our home province, but we're blind to some of what happens."

BEFORE world religious leaders come to our city next month, Winnipeggers can get a glimpse of their agenda and issues at an upcoming interfaith meeting.

"It really seems if we're going to do anything good in the world, we have to have broad public support," explains Tom Faulkner, a University of Winnipeg theology professor who will chair a public meeting focusing on poverty reduction, environmental issues and peace.

All Manitoba MPs have been invited to the 7:30 p.m. meeting on Tuesday, scheduled to take place at Convocation Hall at the University of Winnipeg.

At deadline, only Conservative MP Rod Bruinooge had accepted the invitation, but Faulkner says the meeting will proceed with or without political representatives.

"We want people to be aware of the (United Nations) Millenium Development Goals, Canada's commitment to them and how they're being monitored," he says of the agenda for the public meeting.

"It will be very disappointing if none of them (MPs) come."

As part of the lead-up to the World Religions Summit in Winnipeg June 21 to 23, Canadians were encouraged to invite their MP to an interfaith dinner to discuss the Millennium Development Goals and how Canadian officials could urge other G8/G20 countries to honour them. Canada hosts the G8/G20 meetings in Huntsville and Toronto June 25 to 27.

Winnipeg organizers decided to forgo the dinner component of the meeting, and focused on a public event featuring speakers from various traditions, says Shar Mitchell, member of the local organizing committee for the summit.

"The more we associate with each other, the more we realize we're the same," says Mitchell, a member of Winnipeg's Baha'i community. "I think it helps to build trust when you work alongside each other."

Speakers at the event include lawyer Omar Siddiqui, chairman of Canadian Muslim Leadership Institute, Janet Plenert of Mennonite Church Canada, and Mead Simon of the Baha'i community.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 15, 2010 H13

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