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CUPE has added its name to a letter from Canadian labour, faith, social justice, and solidarity organizations to the Canadian Embassy in Colombia expressing concern that Canadian mining companies may be aggravating or benefitting from violence.

Civil society groups are troubled by recent news of the murder of Father José Reinel Restrepo, an outspoken advocate against the displacement of the urban centre of Marmato to make way for an open-pit gold mine project owned by Toronto-based Gran Columbia Gold.

Father Restrepo’s murder comes shortly after Prime Minister Harper celebrated the coming into effect of the Canada Colombia Free Trade Agreement in Bogotá. Harper accused those who put human rights before free trade of “protectionism.”

On September 2, the body of 36 year-old Father Restrepo was found shot dead near his motorcycle. No perpetrators of the crime have yet been identified, nor has a motive been determined.

Shortly before he was killed, the Marmato parish priest told the Colombian press that the church is a defender of the poor, and that “this Canadian multinational company wants to take advantage of the population; they want to drive them out.”

Marmato has historically relied on small-scale mining activities. Indigenous artisanal mining has taken place for centuries in this area, with Afro-Colombians and more recently other miners adopting the same vocation.

Shortly after Restrepo’s body was found, Gran Colombia Gold issued a statement saying, “We hope the authorities will fully investigate this crime and swiftly establish what took place. The company reiterates our complete rejection of any acts of violence.”

The Canadian company Colombia Goldfields Ltd originally began working in Marmato in 2005, before Medoro Resources bought them out in 2010. Medoro Resources then merged with Gran Colombia Gold Corp in June 2011, a company in which the Canadian Pension Plan reports holdings of $6 million CDN.

Canadian social organizations are asking the Embassy to cooperate with investigations, to urge the company to do the same, and to provide stronger guarantees and mechanisms to hold companies to account.