Seven who allege security at Canadian-owned mine shot them with rubber bullets want case heard in Canada

Written by James Munson

Published Monday, October 31st, 2016

Lawyers for seven Guatemalan men who allege a Canadian mining company attacked their protests will appeal a B.C. Supreme Court’s decision to throw out their claims in Vancouver tomorrow.

Lawyers from Camp Fiorante Matthews Mogerman will argue the court erred in November when it decided that Guatemala was the proper forum to hear allegations that security guards at the Escobal mine, owned by Vancouver-based Tahoe Resources Inc., shot the seven men on April 27, 2013.

Transcripts from audio recordings of security personnel submitted during the trial allegedly include the head of security bragging about shooting the protestors with rubber bullets. Alberto Rotondo, the mine’s then head of security, has since fled Guatemala.

The appellants’ legal team will argue endemic corruption and flawed legal procedures run the risk of denying the seven men a fair trail.

“The issue that is being analyzed is whether there is a real risk of an unfair trial in Guatemala if this case were to proceed in Guatemala,” said Matt Eisenbrandt, legal director the Canadian Centre for International Justice, a human rights NGO supporting the seven men.

The appellants are also arguing that technical procedures in the Guatemalan legal system make British Columbia the better jurisdiction for hearing a human rights case of this kind, he said.

In November, the B.C. Supreme Court decided that Guatemala was the more appropriate forum even if B.C. courts have jurisdiction over the case, said Eisenbrandt. The court found that Guatemala has a functioning judicial system and that Canadian courts need to respect foreign courts and be cautious about criticizing them, he said.

“The evidence that we’ve put in and continue to rely on includes detailed reporting about the concerns about corruption and lack of impartiality in the Guatemalan judicial system,” he said.

Adolfo Garcia, one of the appellants, and Rafael Maldonado, Garcia’s lawyer in Guatemala, are travelling to Vancouver to take part in the appeal hearing but will not testify during the proceedings, said Eisenbrandt.

Rotondo, the mine’s head of security who allegedly ordered the shooting of rubber bullets, left Guatemala in the months after the B.C. Supreme Court decision. He was awaiting trial in Guatemala over charges stemming from the attack.

INTERPOL agents in Peru intercepted him in January, according to the Guatemalan press.

The appeal hearing is expected to last one day and a decision could take several months, said Eisenbrandt.

Tahoe did not respond to a request for comment sent via email before press time.

The trial is one of three in Canada involving mining companies and alleged human rights abuses overseas.

A civil suit launched by dozens of Eritrean nationals against Vancouver-based Nevsun Resources over alleged human rights abuses at the company’s Bisha mine was allowed to continue after a ruling in Vancouver earlier this month.

Another civil suit over alleged deaths and gang rapes at the hands of security personnel working for the Fenix mining project in Guatemala, once owned by Toronto-based Hudbay Minerals, is still winding its way through Ontario courts.

Eisenbrandt said he would not discuss how Garcia and Maldonado were financing their trip to Canada.