Indigenous Guatemalans bring Canadian mining company to court
October 20, 2013
For the first time, a Canadian mining company will appear in a Canadian court for actions committed overseas. Hudbay Minerals, Inc, will be standing trial for murder, rapes and attacks committed against Indigenous Guatemalans by security personnel working for Hudbay’s subsidiary, Compañía Guatemalteca de Níquel (CGN). The court case is proceeding thanks to a precedent-setting decision from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, which ruled this past July in favour of the Mayan Q’eqchi’ people of Lote Ocho, near El Estor, Guatemala.
“It is a massive victory for our clients and for human rights,” Cory Wanless, an attorney with the Toronto-based Klippensteins law firm, told The Dominion. “Before this decision, no claim brought by individuals that had been harmed by Canadian mining abroad had ever gotten into Canadian courts at all. They didn’t even have the ability to forward their claims.”
Wanless represents the Q’eqchi’ plaintiffs in a lawsuit accusing the company of negligence in its ground management of the Fenix open-pit nickel mine project. They allege that security personnel—under the control of Hudbay—gang-raped 11 women, shot dead an Indigenous leader and outspoken critic of mining practices and left another man paralyzed from the chest down after sustaining a gunshot wound.
Grahame Russell of Rights Action, a Canadian organization working mainly with Indigenous communities in Central America, has been doing solidarity work with the Q’eqchi’ people for almost 10 years and has worked closely on the case. “Two major pre-trial issues were fought over. One was jurisdiction, and one [was] whether Hudbay could be held accountable—directly or via its subsidiary CGN—over what happened in Guatemala,” Russell told The Dominion.
“We won on both counts. First, the company accepted that Canada can be the appropriate jurisdiction. Second, the judge decided in our favour, saying that it is appropriate to try to hold Hudbay accountable [for their negligence] in Guatemala.”
Russell explained that the conflict is rooted in unresolved tensions around what can be referred to in Canada as “prior land claims.” The events in question occurred between 2007 and 2009 in the context of a land dispute between the Q’eqchi’ people and the mining company.
“The specific context of the attack, rape[s] and murder is related to the mining company wanting to get the Q’eqchi’ people off their land so they can get the mineral resources under the ground,” Russell said. “There have been waves of repression in this region related to Canadian mining companies going back to the 1970s and early 1980s. This is an old story that is replaying itself out all over again.”
Rachel Small is an environmental justice activist working with communities impacted by Canadian extractive industry. “The abuses carried out by Canadian mining companies in Central America are part of a long and violent history of colonization, which continues today,” she told The Dominion.
Small, who visited the Q’eqchi’ community of Lote Ocho in 2010, said the Hudbay case is a classic example of environmental injustice. “Resources are being extracted for the benefit of Canadians—and primarily Canadian stockholders—at the expense of primarily Indigenous communities in Guatemala. It’s a blatant example of one of the ways that colonization plays out today and the costs are unimaginably huge for the communities who are being exploited.”