Open Letter to the YWCA: Committed to Goldcorp or Community?

YWCA Metro Vancouver
Janet Austin, C.E.O.

cc: Directors and Board of Directors

535 Hornby Street
Vancouver BC, V6C-2E8
(604) 895 5800, enquire@ywcavan.org, http://ywcavan.org/

An Open Letter to the YWCA:

Committed to Goldcorp or Community? Where is your integrity?
Dear Janet Austin and the team of Directors of the YWCA Metro Vancouver, Members of the Board and YWCA supporters,

My name is Sara Kendall; I am a multi-generational Vancouverite and a social services worker with a decade and a half of experience in non-profit organizations of the Lower Mainland.  I am also a professional paramedic and a medical school student.  Throughout my childhood, youth and working life in Vancouver, I have connected with the programs of the YWCA, and I see the importance of your work.  I particularly commend you on the framework of advocacy that you are forwarding and the specific attention to supporting women and girls who face issues of housing, violence, sexualization and life without legal status, all of which pertain to my reasons for writing you today.

Undermining the work that YWCA has done (and continues to do) is its relationship with Goldcorp. This relationship began with Goldcorp being a funder and has now escalated as it is the recipient of the recent YWCA “Workplace” award.

For the YMCA to deepen its ties to the company can only be described as an arrogant dismissal of the mass violence committed by Goldcorp.  This is extremely concerning from a professional perspective.  From a personal perspective it is frankly disgusting.

Two years ago, I met with two of your YWCA Program Coordinators and presented documentation, testimonials and avenues for more information about Goldcorp and their impact in Canada and Latin America (Goldcorp operates in other regions of the world, as well, the reports from those sites are devastating, but I know less about them).  The information I presented at this meeting was four years of my research and first-hand witnessing.  I now learn from your own staff that not only did upper level management do basically nothing to actually investigate the situation, but also you have bestowed the company with an award of distinction.

To recap, let me explain the gist of it: Goldcorp is a major human rights and environmental abuser.  The testimonies and reports from community members, doctors, civil society organizations and legal organizations are unequivocally expressive of what has and continues to occur where Goldcorp operates: toxic levels of heavy metals in human bloodstreams and bodies of water; disappearance of primary water sources for entire communities; appearance of grave illnesses such as massive skin lesions; cancers; miscarriages and children born with partial brains; brutal assassinations and physical intimidations or murder attempts of community members who oppose the Goldcorp mines in their communities; disruption of community based democratic assembly and decision processes; rises in sexual violence and in prostitution; rises in alcoholism and intra-community violence; destruction of private property (especially homes cracked and destroyed because of tremors from mine operations); and out-migration and displacement of families (in some cases entire communities) after the loss of agricultural production because of the mines… heartbreakingly, the list goes on.

Let’s be simple about this.  In exchange for being a funder of the YMCA, Goldcorp gets social capital and good PR.  Goldcorp is a multi-billion dollar company.  They don’t need the money they donate; it’s an irrelevant fraction of their profits.  What a human rights abuser like Goldcorp does need, however, is a good cover-up face, and the community, environment, and arts programs that Goldcorp funds in BC provide exactly that.

Let’s get personal, too.  While you as the YWCA offer praise and advertisement for Goldcorp in Vancouver, you are dealing a blow to the indigenous and campesino (peasant farmer) communities where the company actually operates.  And, from one non-profit employee to another, that means that you are personally making your own very comfortable salaries at the literal cost of the well being of people who are already very (financially) poor.

This is not an invitation to debate some abstract philosophical question of “isn’t all money dirty money”?  This is also not a question of naming you as “bad people who don’t care” or oversimplifying the important conversation about where money for social services will come from.  I myself come from a family with a long history of work in the mining industry, and I too have been the Director of Programming and the fundraiser for non-profits.  This is a serious alert about a direct relationship that you have to a very powerful company that is destroying people and their homes, right now.  And it is most definitely a request of you (and all of us in similar positions), to check your privilege and your decision-making.

Call me stubborn, but I believe that there is still chance to bring some more consciousness and courage into the way we work.  Indeed the people who are risking and at times losing their lives to this company aren’t going to stop in their struggles.  Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m writing to give you the benefit of the doubt that at least some of your staff will step up.   I’m hoping that while you may have missed the seriousness of this situation before, your principles as a long-standing organization that works to serve marginal populations will kick in and Vancouver will see some positive leadership from the YWCA.

And of course, I am happy to connect further to support such leadership.

Sara Kendall

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