Rape, murder, dismemberment — these are just a few of the horrific allegations against Canadian mining operations in foreign countries.
And thanks to a landmark Ontario ruling, Canada’s courts are set to decide whether corporations based here are culpable for atrocities committed by their contractors thousands of miles away.
“Survivors of abuses associated with Canadian mining companies are increasingly frustrated and vocal about the lack of redress in Canada because there is no meaningful government regulation or process to seek remedies from Canadian corporations,” Matt Eisenbrandt, of the Canadian Centre for International Justice (CCIJ), said in a statement. “Survivors are turning to civil lawsuits as the only means for accountability and compensation.”
In one case, three separate lawsuits were filed against Hudbay Minerals Inc. of Flin Flon, Man., and its El Estor mine site in Guatemala, located on lands the Mayan Q’eqchi locals claim is traditional ancestral territory.
One statement of claim alleges that in January 2007, police, military and the mine’s security personnel cleared out Lote Ocho (Lot 8), burned down the houses and gang-raped 11 women.
In another, the widow of Adolfo Ich Chaman, described as a “respected community leader” who was critical of Canadian mining activities in the area, says in September 2009 security forces hacked off her husband’s arm with a machete and shot him in the head in front of witnesses.
On the same day, and by the same security staff, German Chub claims he was shot in what is described as “an unprovoked attack,” leaving him a paraplegic.
In July 2013, Ontario’s top court, hearing the Hudbay case, said, for the first time ever, that a Canadian mining company could potentially be held legally responsible for the actions of a foreign subsidiary.
Hudbay does not dispute that one worker was killed and another “severely injured,” spokesman Scott Brubacher told Yahoo Canada News. The company denies its personnel were responsible, and disputes the claims of sexual assault.
Hudbay also disagrees that the ruling sets a precedent, saying on its website the court “did not make any determinations with respect to the facts of the cases.”
Nonetheless, it cleared the way for two other cases now winding their way through the courts. Seeking justice in their own countries was not an option for foreign workers who hail from regimes criticized by various human rights groups.
Three Eritrean workers filed suit last November against Vancouver-based Nevsun, claiming they were subjected to torture and slavery at the company’s gold-copper-zinc mine in Bisha.
A report last month by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said Nevsun is complicit in the Eritrean government’s systems of national service and forced labour “that effectively abuse, exploit and enslave” citizens indefinitely.
In its response, the company called the allegations “sensational and unbelievable.”
“Nevsun remains firmly committed to compliance with Eritrean national law and the continuation of international standards and practices with respect to human rights,” CEO Cliff Davis said in a statement.
Davis previously said that both internal and third-party audits show “the Bisha mine has adhered at all times to international standards of governance, workplace conditions and health and safety.”
In June 2014, seven Guatemalan workers sued Vancouver’s Tahoe Resources Inc. for injuries they say they suffered when security personnel opened fire on them during a peaceful protest on April 27, 2013. They claim the shooting at the Escobal silver mine in the village of San Rafael les Flores was “planned, ordered and directed” by security manager Alberto Rotondo Dall’Orso, and they are seeking damages for pain, suffering and loss of income, among other things.
Neither Nevsun nor Tahoe was available for comment to Yahoo Canada News.
The mining industry may have to dig deep if the courts rule against them. Late last year International Trade Minister Ed Fast announced a new “enhanced” corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategyfor Canada’s extractive sector.
Fast was not immediately available for comment.
All three cases may, in fact, hinge on the companies’ publicly stated CSR policies, which “place responsibility for human rights impact on the board of directors of the parent company,” says lawyer Joe Fiorante, who is representing the Tahoe and Nevsun plaintiffs, along with the CCIJ. “That doesn’t carry any meaning unless it’s enforceable with a consequence. We would like to see … more pressure brought to bear so that companies are actually required to demonstrate they’re complying with (their CSRs).”
In arguments heard in B.C. Supreme Court in April, Tahoe sought to have its case dismissed, arguing Canada does not have jurisdiction. The court has reserved its decision and did not indicate when it planned to make a ruling.
The Nevsun case is scheduled to begin hearings in January 2016, Fiorante said.
The Hudbay trial is still pending.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
Source: Sherry Noik, Yahoo News, 8 July 2015, https://ca.news.yahoo.com/blogs/dailybrew/landmark-ontario-ruling-paves-way-for-foreign-workers-to-sue-canadian-companies-160133398.html