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Occupy Protestors Target Barrick AGM

Protesters rallied outside the gold giant's annual general meeting on Wednesday, while other concerned activists addressed shareholders inside.

Protestor Pieter Basedow speaks to media after attending Barrick Gold's AGM.

Tuesday’s May Day protests and re-Occupation continued on into Wednesday as roughly 75 demonstrators, some of whom had camped out over night in Simcoe Park, protested Barrick Gold’s annual general meeting at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

Toronto-based Barrick is the world’s largest gold-mining firm, and has been criticized for both its environmental practices and its dealings with indigenous peoples near some of its mines.

The event was, for the most part, relatively low key, with protesters listening to speeches from environmental activists and representatives of people affected by Barrick’s overseas operations. The lone moment of excitement came when the group crossed the street in an attempt to confront Barrick shareholders. They had heard that shareholders were being directed to leave via the Intercontinental Hotel, though when they arrived, they were greeted by a line of police, but few others. Undeterred, they stood outside the hotel for roughly 20 minutes while chanting slogans and delivering amplified speeches.

Sakura Saunders is both a member of Occupy Toronto and the co-editor of Protest Barrick, a web site dedicated to drawing attention to the company’s environmental and human rights record. She says that the fact her group didn’t get to speak to any shareholders is not a failure, but proof that they’re doing something right. “We went down there in force and we’re chanting very loudly with loudspeakers into the Intercontinental Hotel, and not very many shareholders came out, and I can only assume they redirected them to another entrance,” she said. “But when the shareholders have to be escorted by police and entrances have to be shut off, then you know we’re doing our job, because of the great lengths they’re going to to avoid the truth.”

Inside the AGM, a protest of a different sort was taking place: two protesters attended the AGM as proxies for shareholders. They both read statements from people who say they have had their lives dramatically altered as a result of Barrick’s operations. (A third protester, who had travelled from a Barrick-affected community in Tanzania, also attempted to attend the meeting as a proxy, but wasn’t allowed in.) One of those proxies, Pieter Basedow, a member of Science for Peace, says that while the protest outside the meeting was important, it’s equally important for concerned parties to be representatives inside the meeting.

“Shareholder activism is something that’s very effective in Europe,” he said. “I come from Germany originally, and I sat on the board of several companies in Germany. This is something that needs to be done outside of the [traditional] protests. The shareholders and pension funds need to know.”

Saunders said that, while she has been protesting Barrick’s AGM and bringing in representatives of affected communities for five years, she’s never seen this much media attention at a Barrick protest before, something she can only attribute to Protest Barrick’s teaming up with Occupy.

“We’re really thankful for the support of the Occupy movement,” she said. “Impacted communities have been coming to Barrick shareholder meetings…but the press ignores them. But for some reason, with Occupy here, we get the necessary attention to these communities speaking about their experiences living next to the mines. We’re so thankful that we’ve gotten more presence than we’ve ever gotten before.”

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