Mining for the Truth, What lawsuits claiming rape and murder in a Guatemalan jungle mean for Canadian companies abroad article by Melinda Maldonado, photos by Roger LeMoyne, July 14, 2014, MacLean’s
The simple fact the case has made it this far has already raised the stakes for Can
adian companies operating abroad, Last year, when Superior Court of Ontario Justice Carole Brown ruled the three cases would be tried in Ontario, human rights activists hailed it as a landmark decision because it opened the door to further lawsuits against Canadian companies over their conduct—or that of their subsidiaries—outside the country. Just last month, another lawsuit was filed against another Canadian company related to a different Guatemalan mining project. In that case, seven plaintiffs filed suit in a Vancouver court against Tahoe Resources over alleged shootings at Tahoe’s Escobal Mine.
For an industry like mining, and for Canada, where three-quarters of all the world’s mining and exploration companies are headquartered, the implications could be particularly profound. A case like Hudbay “had never been done because there was no obvious mechanism for it,” says Ralph Cuervo-Lorens, a lawyer with Blaney McMurtry in Toronto, who is not involved with the lawsuit. “The law has fallen behind and is now playing catch-up.”
The other two cases before the courts in Ontario stem from shootings in
2009 that left activist Adolpho Ich dead and a man named German Chub paralyzed. A criminal investigation into those shootings is under way in Guatemala.
The plaintiffs did not pursue a lawsuit in Guatemala, however, turning instead to Canada, which has a stronger legal system and may be more likely to award higher damages.
Documents filed by Hudbay in May give a taste of what’s to come in a trial that lawyers for both sides admit won’t begin for another two to five years.
Win or lose, however, the three lawsuits have already accomplished what opposition legislators in Canada have already tried and failed to do in the past: exert a measure of control over Canada’s many mining interests in developing countries. In 2009, Liberal MPJohn McKay’s private member’s bill, C-300—which would have compelled miners to strengthen their environmental and human rights standards when operating in developing countries—was narrowly defeated in the House.
“I’m not so naïve as to think that these mining ompanies aren’t operating in difficult circumstances,” says McKay. If the allegations are proven, he says, it will send a message that “you can’t use your security service as, in effect, a paramilitary organization that terrorizes the local population. If that’s the only way in which you can operate a business, then you probably shouldn’t be doing business there.” [Emphasis added]
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