Ottawa, June 8, 2017
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. As is customary, the Supreme Court did not provide reasons for refusing to hear Tahoe’s petition.
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. The Court of Appeal concluded that “there is some measurable risk that the appellants will encounter difficulty in receiving a fair trial against a powerful international company whose mining interests in Guatemala align with the political interests of the Guatemalan state.”
The plaintiffs are supported in Canada by a legal team comprised of Vancouver law firm Camp Fiorante Matthews Mogerman (CFM) and the Canadian Centre for International Justice (CCIJ). In Guatemala, they are represented by lawyers at the Guatemalan Centre for Legal, Environmental and Social Action (CALAS).
“Victims of abuses linked to Canadian companies operating abroad deserve justice in Canada,” said Amanda Ghahremani, Legal Director of CCIJ. “We are thrilled that the country’s highest court is allowing this important case to go to trial.”
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.
Last October, Eritrean plaintiffs overcame a forum non conveniens challenge in their slave labour lawsuit against Vancouver-based Nevsun Resources Ltd. That lower court ruling is now on appeal and will also be heard by the BC Court of Appeal, in September 2017.
“We have always believed that British Columbia is the appropriate forum for this case,” said Joe Fiorante, Q.C., a partner with CFM. “We are excited that the plaintiffs have the opportunity to pursue their claims here.”
In the Vancouver lawsuit, Tahoe faces claims of battery and negligence for the actions of its Guatemala Security Manager, Alberto Rotondo, and other security personnel in the April 2013 shooting, something the plaintiffs allege was a planned show of force to intimidate the local community and eliminate opposition to the Escobal mine.
Rotondo was criminally charged in Guatemala but less than two months before he was scheduled to go on trial, Rotondo escaped from house arrest and fled to Peru, his home country. The Guatemalan case, in which some of the victims were participating as civil parties, was suspended.
Today’s news from the Supreme Court of Canada comes just days after six police officers were convicted in Guatemala for their roles in allowing Rotondo to escape.
“The responsibility of the Guatemalan police in permitting the chief of security to flee shows the tremendous obstacles to accountability in Guatemala,” said Rafael Maldonado, Legal Director of CALAS. “We are very pleased that the Canadian courts have understood that justice in this case can only be assured in Canada.”
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Joe Fiorante, Q.C., +1-604-689-7555, JFiorante@cfmlawyers.ca (English only)
Rafael Maldonado, +502-5307-4250, email@example.com (Spanish only)
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Amanda Ghahremani, +1-514-915-0920, email@example.com (English, French, Spanish)
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