Pope John Paul students make a difference on mining legislation


ERIC HEINO | www.insidetoronto.com | Oct 13, 2010 - 2:57 PM  

Pope John Paul students make a difference in mining legislation

Scarborough-Guildwood MP pushing private member's bill

Pope John Paul students make difference in mining legislation. Scarborough-Guildwood MP John McKay speaks to students at Pope John Paul II Catholic Secondary School on Oct. 12 to thank them for sending more than 800 postcards to the federal government supporting a bill he moved to fight against environmental and human rights abuses in Canadian mining operations. Staff photo/ERIC HEINO In 2009 the students at Pope John Paul II Catholic High School sent more than 1,600 postcards urging the federal government to pass a bill to support human rights in Canadian mining operations around the globe.

Scarborough-Guildwood Liberal MP John McKay, who has helped pass his private members' Bill C-300 through two readings in the House of Commons, visited the students at Pope on Tuesday, Oct. 12, before the bill goes to a third and final reading on Oct. 27.

The students had the chance to see democracy in action, from their pens to the lawmakers on Parliament Hill. Bill C-300 is designed to give the Canadian government more teeth to deal with mining companies that abuse human rights and environmental standards abroad, but to the students at Pope it represents grass roots efforts making a difference on an international level.

McKay stopped by the school for a few hours to give a quick civics lesson and thank the school for participating in government and reiterate the serious abuses that often go unchecked during international mining operations.

He said Canada is lagging far behind other countries in terms of industry regulation and his bill would make a statement by cutting off Canadian taxpayer investment in companies found guilty of violating international standards.

"I could take you on a world tour of Canadian mining interests and in each one of these countries there is a serious conflict," said McKay. "We have this teen-tiny little bit of legislation with repercussions that can never be as far reaching as they need to be and mining companies are spending millions of dollars to try and defeat it."

After explaining the workings of how the federal government passes laws and going through the details of his bill, McKay opened the floor to questions.

Students like Grade 12 Abirami Shanmugaratham took full advantage of the chance to grill their MP on social justice and environmental issues.

The school organized its postcard campaign through a Catholic charity called Development and Peace, which managed to deliver 500,000 cards from across Canada to Parliament Hill last April.

As part of the school's environmental and social equity club, Shanmugaratham was excited to see the their efforts have been taken seriously by the MPs.

"The fact is that I'm a student and the whole student body made a collective effort. The fact that my voice is heard makes me feel special in a way. Hopefully future initiatives will also be able to be so successful," said Shanmugaratham.

Teacher Stephanie Silliker was impressed by the volume of intelligent questions being thrown at McKay by students.

"It's been an ongoing mission to work with their collective voice and to get the attention of their MP. It was a grass roots effort from the kids at Pope John Paul," said Silliker. "As a community we wanted to rally together to show our support for Mr. McKay, show our support for Bill C-300 and let the world know that youth are engaged in civic causes and social justice and environmental issues."

McKay is working on getting fellow Liberals to join the Bloc Quebecois and the NDP in voting for the bill, but said he has been told that the Conservative majority Senate will likely not pass it into law.