Canada: Mining companies to face charges against human rights abuses in their operations abroad
Author: Andrew Findlay, The Narwhal, Published on: 14 June 2019
"Canadian mining companies will now face human rights charges in Canadian courts", 7 Jun 2019
In April 2013, a group of Guatemalan farmers, among them Adolpho Augustin Garcia, converged outside the front entrance of Vancouver-based Tahoe Resources’ Escobal mine...
Garcia and fellow protesters faced off against private security personnel working for Alfa Uno, the firm that Minera San Rafael had contracted to guard Escobal, which went on to become one of the world’s largest silver mines, producing a world record 21.2 million ounces of silver concentrate in 2016. Lucrative as it potentially was, the mine was plagued by protests by the local Indigenous Xinca, small-scale farmers and community leaders, many of whom fear its impact on water and land.
In June 2014, seven Guatemalan plaintiffs, including Garcia, launched a civil suit against Tahoe Resources in B.C. Supreme Court, alleging negligence and battery at the hands of Escobal mine security. Then in November 2015, Justice Laura Gerow ruled that a Canadian court didn’t have jurisdiction, agreeing with Tahoe that the case should be heard in Guatemala...However, the plaintiffs appealed a year later, and in 2017 the B.C. court of appeal overturned Gerow’s decision, supporting the argument that the Guatemalans likely wouldn’t get a fair trial in their own country.
Tahoe asked the Supreme Court of Canada for leave to appeal, but the request was denied that June. Garcia vs. Tahoe had cleared its final legal hurdle, and this potentially game-changing case is set to proceed in a Vancouver courtroom. (In February 2019, another Vancouver-based company, Pan American Silver, completed its acquisition of Tahoe Resources for roughly $1 billion.)..
It’s a shot across the bow of corporate Canada, warning companies that when it comes to overseas operations, they can no longer pawn off responsibility for human rights violations to in-country subsidiaries.
It also marks a legal milestone: the first time a Canadian court has agreed to allow foreign plaintiffs to seek justice in Canadian courts for incidents alleged to have occurred abroad.
Joe Fiorante, a partner at Vancouver law firm Camp Fiorante Matthews Mogerman, represents the seven plaintiffs, three of whom settled out of court with Tahoe. “In terms of setting precedent, it is very important for there to be a public trial,” Fiorante says. “Our goal is to make the parent company responsible at the highest level,” he adds.
“If a board of directors knows that it will be responsible for the conduct of its subsidiaries abroad, that will have a profound impact on corporate responsibility.”
As of May 2019, no trial date had been set.
Related companies: Tahoe Resources (part of Pan American Silver)