Canadian mining companies will now face human rights charges in Canadian courts

Holding those with principal responsibility accountable in a Canadian court  will have a profound impact on corporate responsibility. An Ecocide Law would help prevent ecocide from occurring.

Vancouver-based Tahoe Resources mining company has been faced with years of resistance to its silver mining operation in Guatemala. Mining Watch Canada says two managers are presently in jail, one over an environmental issue, the other because of a shooting attack on protesters. Photo Credit: Resistencia PACIFICA “El Escobal” website

Canada is the undisputed powerhouse of the mining industry, home to 75 per cent of its companies — but the industry is plagued by allegations of rape and slavery abroad. Now those who feel harmed or violated can seek justice back in Canada

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. Located in southeast Guatemala near the community of San Rafael Las Flores and operated by Tahoe subsidiary Minera San Rafael, the mine was already controversial even though it hadn’t yet begun production.

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.

That day, under the orders of the head of security, a Peruvian named Alberto Rotondo, personnel guarding the mine allegedly fired on protesters with rubber bullets as they fled the entrance. Seven were injured.

Six years later, this skirmish is reverberating throughout the Canadian mining industry and has the attention of the country’s legal system.

A case for which court?

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.

“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.”

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.

(Guatemala ranked 96th out of 113 countries in the 2017-18 Rule of Law Index published by the independent World Justice Project, compared to No. 9 for Canada.)

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.

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. MORE