Tahoe Resources lawsuit (re Guatemala)


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On 18 June 2014, seven Guatemalan men filed a lawsuit in Canada against Tahoe Resources seeking damages for injuries allegedly suffered during a shooting outside the company’s Escobal silver mine in April 2013.  Tahoe Resources is a Canadian mining company.

The residents of the Guatemalan town where the mine is located, San Rafael Las Flores,  allege that they were injured when Tahoe’s security personnel opened fire on them during a peaceful protest against the mine over concerns about its potential impact on their water supply and the lack of meaningful consultation with the community about the project.  They claim the shooting was “intentional” and a premeditated attempt by mine security personnel to "suppress" local opposition.  The plaintiffs allege that Tahoe Resources implicitly or explicity authorized the conduct of its security personnel.  The plaintiffs also allege that Tahoe’s Guatemala Security Manager, Alberto Rotondo, personally ordered the shooting and instructed the security personnel to "falsify accounts of the shooting and destroy or cover up evidence".  Guatemalan authorities have criminally charged Mr. Rotondo with assault and obstruction of justice.  Juan Pablo Oliva Trejo, a former Tahoe employee and security advisor to Rotondo, was arrested in Guatemala and charged with concealment of evidence related to the April incident.

In a statement, the company said that its security personnel had only resorted to non-lethal measures when trying to drive back about 20 people armed with machetes when the protest “turned hostile”.

In December 2014, a Guatemalan court ordered that Alberto Rotondo be put on trial on charges of causing serious and minor bodily harm during the attack, and obstruction of justice. A hearing was scheduled to take place in February 2015.

The Supreme Court of British Columbia held hearings in this case in April 2015.  Tahoe Resources asked the court to dismiss the case claiming that Canadian courts do not have jurisdiction over the case because all of the plaintiffs' claims relate to events which occurred in Guatemala. In November 2015, a British Columbia Supreme Court Judge decline jurisdiction in the case.  She ruled that the plaintiffs could seek justice in Guatemala.  On 1 November 2016, the plaintiffs appealed the decision, arguing that there are barriers to access justice in Guatemala and that the judge was incorrect to require the evidence to show that justice could never be done there.  Rather, they argued, they only need to provide evidence that there is a real risk of an unfair trial process in Guatemala.  In January 2017, the British Columbia Court of Appeal overturned a lower court decision and said it has jurisdiction over the claims as it would be difficult for the plaintiffs to have a fair trial in Guatemala.  The company appealed and in June 2017, the Supreme Court of Canada declined to hear Tahoe Resources' appeal, clearing the way for the case to be tried in Canada.

- "High court won't hear challenge over venue in Guatemalan mine protest case", Canadian Press, 8 Jun 2017
- "Court rules that lawsuit against Tahoe Resources can proceed in B.C.", Hayley Woodin, Business in Vancouver, 26 Jan 2017
- "Lawsuit against B.C. company by miners injured in shooting must be heard in Guatemala: Judge", Canadian Press, 10 Nov 2015
- "B.C. mining company latest to be challenged in Canada for alleged actions abroad", Jennifer Brown, Canadian Lawyer InHouse, 3 Jun 2015
- “Injured men sue Vancouver company after Guatemalan mine shooting”, Tamsyn Burgmann, Canadian Press, 19 Jun 2014
- “Lawsuit Against Tahoe Resources a Wake Up Call for Investors and Canadians [Guatemala]”, Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA) - Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network - MiningWatch Canada, 18 Jun 2014

Tahoe Resources:
- "Tahoe Resources Responds To Jurisdictional Ruling", News Wire, 26 Jan 2017
- “Tahoe Resources clarifies reports regarding incidents near Escobal Project”, 1 May 2013.

Canadian Centre for International Justice:
- "Supreme Court of Canada declines to hear appeal by Vancouver mining company in Guatemalans' lawsuit", 8 Jun 2017
- "In milestone, BC Court clears Guatemalans’ lawsuit against Vancouver mining company to go to trial", 26 Jan 2017
- [PDF] Canadian Centre for International Justice Q&A session on the case, 18 Jun 2014.
- “CCIJ's Public Cases and Interventions: Tahoe Resources Inc.”, 18 Jun 2014
- [ES] “Casos e Intervenciones del Centro Canadiense de Justicia Internascional: Tahoe Resources Inc.”, 18 Jun 2014
- [FR] « Des Guatémaltèques intentent une poursuite judiciaire contre une compagnie minière canadienne pour une fusillade en 2013 », 18 juin 2014
- Tahoe Resources (Canada/Guatemala)

- [PDF] Notice of civil claim, Camp Fiorante Matthews Mogerman [plaintiffs’ lawyers], 18 Jun 2014

Supreme Court of British Columbia:
- Garcia v. Tahoe Resources [judgment dimissing jurisdiction], 9 Nov 2015

Court of Appeal of British Columbia:
Garcia v. Tahoe Resources [judgment allowing case to proceed], 26 Jan 2016

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15 April 2019

Canadian courts wrestle with questions of cross-border accountability for human rights abuses

Author: Whitney Eulich & Sara Miller Llana, The Christian Science Monitor

"When mining companies work abroad, should justice follow them home?" 9 April 2019

Canadian mining firms account for 40 percent of large mining operations in Latin America, and there have long been accusations of abuse at their operations on the ground... A decade ago, Canadian courts were reluctant to try these cases domestically, says Ian Binnie, a former Canadian Supreme Court justice... “I think that the judges are becoming more sensitive to the fact that if they refuse jurisdiction in Canada, assuming the head office is here, that these people won’t have any redress and will be left without a remedy..."

... Proceedings against three Canadian companies have been breaking new legal ground... Hudbay Minerals faces three distinct cases... Another case alleges that security personnel at Tahoe Resources, in... Guatemala, opened fire on demonstrations in 2013. The British Columbia Court of Appeal ruled that the case could proceed in Canada, and it is now before the trial court there... A third case involves Nevsun Resources Ltd., which has been sued for alleged complicity in a government subcontractor’s use of forced labor at a mine in Eritrea, worked by conscripts in the repressive country’s national service system. The Supreme Court of Canada is weighing whether Canadian courts should recognize civil claims based on breaches of customary international law, and whether the case can proceed...The Canadian government has responded to pressure for better business conduct abroad by creating a new ombudsman position last January... Many are concerned that the office does not have a sufficient mandate to investigate abuses. “They want what they call joint investigation, so the company has to agree to the investigations,” says Professor Imai, from York University, of mining companies. 

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8 June 2017

High court won't hear challenge over venue in Guatemalan mine protest case

Author: Canadian Press

Another roadblock has been lifted for seven protesters hurt outside a Guatemalan mine who want to pursue a lawsuit in British Columbia against a company registered in the province.

The Supreme Court of Canada refused today to hear a challenge from Tahoe Resources Inc. about the venue for the civil claim.

The men launched their claim in B.C. Supreme Court against Tahoe Resources after security guards sprayed protesters with rubber bullets outside the Escobal mine in 2013.

The Guatemalan citizens had argued the case should be heard in B.C. because they had no faith that their country's legal system would hold the company accountable.

Tahoe asked the court to decline jurisdiction, and a judge ruled that Guatemala was clearly the more appropriate forum for the suit.

The B.C. Court of Appeal overturned that decision earlier this year and, as usual, the Supreme Court gave no reasons today for refusing to hear the case.

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Author: Centre Canadien pour la Justice Internationale (Canada)

La Cour suprême du Canada a...refusé d’entendre l’appel de Tahoe Resources Inc. dans un procès civil intenté par plusieurs Guatémaltèques cherchant à obtenir réparation pour des blessures subies lors de la violente répression d’une manifestation pacifique devant la mine de Tahoe au Guatemala.

Plus tôt dans l’année, la Cour d’appel de Colombie-Britannique a rejeté une requête de Tahoe visant à faire annuler ces poursuites ; le refus de la Cour suprême d’entendre l’appel de Tahoe maintient cette décision intacte, ouvrant la voie à un procès sur le fond...

La Cour d’appel a décidé en janvier que les poursuites devaient être entendues au Canada car...les preuves de corruption systémique dans les institutions judiciaires guatémaltèques...

...[L]es plaignants revendiquent la responsabilité de Tahoe pour voies de fait et négligence suite aux actes de son directeur de la sécurité, Alberto Rotondo, et d’autres membres du personnel de sécurité... Rafael Maldonado, directeur juridique de CALAS [a expliqué],... «La responsabilité de la police guatémaltèque dans la fuite du chef de la sécurité de la mine montre les obstacles considérables au bon fonctionnement de la justice au Guatemala »...

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8 June 2017

Supreme Court of Canada declines to hear appeal by Vancouver mining company in Guatemalans’ lawsuit

Author: The Canadian Centre for International Justice & CALAS

The Supreme Court of Canada today declined to hear an appeal by Tahoe Resources Inc. in a Canadian lawsuit brought by several Guatemalan men for injuries they suffered during the violent suppression of a peaceful protest at Tahoe’s mine in Guatemala.

Earlier this year, the British Columbia Court of Appeal rejected efforts by Tahoe to dismiss the case, and the Supreme Court’s action today leaves that judgment intact, clearing the case to go to trial in Canada...

The Court of Appeal ruled in January that the case should remain in British Columbia as a result of several factors, including evidence of systemic corruption in the Guatemalan judiciary, that pointed away from Guatemala as a preferable forum for the case...

Until recently, the legal doctrine of forum non conveniens had been an obstacle for foreign victims of corporate abuse seeking redress in Canadian courts. The doctrine gives courts discretion to dismiss a case in favour of a foreign jurisdiction in certain circumstances and had previously shielded Canadian companies, particularly in the extractive sector, from judicial scrutiny of their overseas operations...

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30 March 2017

Commentary: Canadian companies are increasingly at risk from lawsuits over human rights abuses of foreign subsidiaries

Author: Miles F. Pittman & Rick Williams, Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, on Mondaq

"Canada: Canadian Companies And The Effects Of Foreign Operations – Out Of Sight, Front Of Mind", 27 Mar 2017

Foreign litigants are increasingly using the Canadian court system to attempt to recover damages from Canadian parents or affiliates in cases where the claim arose from foreign operations entirely conducted by a foreign affiliate or subsidiary...[In] Garcia v Tahoe Resources...[t]he BC Court of Appeal...held that the correct [forum conveniens] test is whether...evidence discloses a real risk of an unfair trial process in the foreign court...The plaintiffs' claims...are novel because they focus on the Canadian parent's public statements regarding its commitment to corporate social responsibility, thus avoiding the corporate veil issue...the fact that the action is proceeding on the merits gives significant leverage to the Guatemalan plaintiffs to negotiate a settlement...[I]n Yaiguaj​e v. Chevron...the plaintiffs chose Canada [due to] its relatively low threshold for enforcement of foreign judgments]...[T]he test is that the subject-matter of the action must have a "real and substantial connection" to the jurisdiction where the action was brought; once that is shown, there are limited defences to the enforcement of the action...

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17 February 2017

Commentary: Recent decisions show willingness of Canadian courts to hold companies liable for overseas abuses of intl. human rights norms

Author: Michael G. Congiu, John Kloosterman, Stefan Marculewicz, Aaron Saltzman & Lavanga Wijekoon; Littler, on JD Supra (USA)

"Advancing Human Rights Claims Based on Global Supply Chain Activities: Recent Developments in California and Canada", 15 Feb 2017

Courts in California and Canada have emerged as testing grounds for advancing claims of forced labor in global supply chains...Over the past several years, non-Canadian plaintiffs have filed multiple civil actions in Canada against multinational companies that are based or incorporated in Canada on the theory that international norms...form a standard of care that, when violated, constitutes actionable negligence...In Nevsun and Garcia, Canadian courts have signaled a willingness to permit non-Canadian plaintiffs to pursue monetary damages against Canadian-based multinational companies based on violations that allegedly occurred on foreign soil...[T]he Nevsun opinion suggests that Canadian law could allow foreign plaintiffs to pursue private rights of action against Canadian companies based on violations of customary international law...[T]he Canadian cases suggest that it is increasingly important that multinational companies monitor their supply chains, or they could face litigation at home over alleged malfeasance...Plaintiffs will likely be heartened by these developments...and rely on them to further transform “soft law” into “hard law” in support of their efforts to impose international norms...as a standard of care for multinationals operating overseas.

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26 January 2017

Canada set as jurisdiction for Guatemalan suit against Tahoe Resources

Author: Susan Taylor, Reuters

A Canadian court ruled on Thursday that a lawsuit against Tahoe Resources Inc filed by Guatemalan men who claim to have been shot by the miner's private security guards can proceed in British Columbia...The decision by the Court of Appeal for British Columbia, which reverses a 2015 provincial Supreme Court ruling, said that Vancouver-based Tahoe had not proven Guatemala was a more appropriate forum for the case...Seven Guatemalan men allege in a civil lawsuit that security personnel hired by Tahoe opened fire on them in April 2013 during a protest outside the Escobal silver mine in southeastern Guatemala...The men...are seeking unspecified punitive and compensation damages against Tahoe...The company said that it will decide whether to appeal the ruling after reviewing the decision, and plans to defend itself regardless of the jurisdiction...

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Author: 20 minutos

Una corte de apelaciones canadiense en Columbia Británica aceptó continuar con una demanda civil de un grupo de campesinos guatemaltecos contra una minera de aquel país por violación a sus derechos humanos durante una protesta en 2013.  La demanda civil que enfrenta la empresa Tahoe Resources obedece a las agresiones ocurridas durante una protesta de campesinos frente a las instalaciones de la mina de plata, oro y zinc de su propiedad llamada El Escobal...Según la investigación de la fiscalía de Guatemala, el entonces jefe de seguridad de la mina, Alberto Rotondo, presuntamente ordenó disparar contra manifestantes a un grupo de agentes privados de seguridad...Según el abogado Rafael Calas...este es el primero fallo en el que una corte de apelaciones canadiense permite que un proceso, por violaciones a los derechos humanos cometidos por una empresa canadiense en el extranjero, avance.  La empresa minera había argumentado que el sistema judicial guatemalteco era más adecuado para conocer el caso, pero en su sentencia la corte argumenta que hay "un riesgo real de que los apelantes no obtengan justicia en Guatemala"...

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26 January 2017

Court rules that lawsuit against Tahoe Resources can proceed in B.C.

Author: Hayley Woodin, Business Vancouver

The British Columbia Court of Appeal has ruled that a lawsuit brought by seven Guatemalan men against Tahoe Resources Inc. ...can proceed in B.C.  The landmark judgment overturns a previous BC Supreme Court decision that rejected the case on the basis that Guatemala would be a more appropriate jurisdiction for the plaintiffs’ claims.  This is the first time a Canadian appellate court has allowed a lawsuit to proceed against a Canadian company for alleged human rights violations committed abroad, said Matt Eisenbrandt, legal director with the Canadian Centre for International Justice (CCIJ)...Tahoe...faces claims of battery and negligence related to an altercation that occurred near its Escobal mining project in April 2013...Criminal proceedings in Guatemala have since been suspended. That, along with “evidence of endemic corruption in the Guatemalan judiciary” were reasons for the Court of Appeal’s ruling today, according to the judgment...

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Author: Centre Canadien pour la Justice Internationale (CCIJ)

La Cour d’appel de la Colombie-Britannique a rejeté aujourd’hui l’appel de Tahoe Resources Inc. visant à écarter un procès civil intenté par sept Guatémaltèques cherchant à obtenir réparation pour des blessures subies lors de la violente répression d’une manifestation pacifique devant la mine de Tahoe au Guatemala.

Cette décision représente la première fois qu’une cour d’appel au Canada ouvre la voie à un procès contre une entreprise canadienne concernant des violations présumées des droits humains commises à l’étranger.

Dans sa décision, la Cour d’appel a renversé le jugement d’une cour inférieure selon laquelle la demande aurait dû être entendue par les cours guatémaltèques. La Cour d’appel a décidé que plusieurs facteurs, incluant les preuves de corruption systémique dans les institutions judiciaires guatémaltèques, défavorisaient le Guatemala en tant que forum préférable pour entendre le procès…

« La décision majeure d’aujourd’hui montre que les cours canadiennes sont ouvertes aux victimes d’abus liés aux activités de compagnies minière à l’étranger », a expliqué Matt Eisenbrandt, directeur juridique du CCJI...

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