An Ontario court has cleared the way for a group of Guatemalans to sue mining company HudBay Minerals Inc. in Canadian courts over alleged shootings and gang rapes at a mining project.
The ruling, handed down Monday, means that the claims of 13 Mayan Guatemalans can proceed to trial in Canadian courts, according to a lawyer for the plaintiffs.
The Guatemalans are attempting to sue over gang rapes by security personnel and military personnel at the Fenix project nickel mine near El Estor, Guatemala in 2007 and 2009. The indigenous group have also alleged a shooting at the same mine paralyzed one victim, while a local community leader who voiced opposition to the mine was beaten and killed.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs called it a "wake-up call" for Canadian miners, saying the Toronto-based company could potentially be held legally responsible at home for actions by its subsidiary in Guatemala.
"As a result of this ruling, Canadian mining corporations can no longer hide behind their legal corporate structure to abdicate responsibility for human rights abuses that take place at foreign mines under their control at various locations throughout the world," said Murray Klippenstein, lawyer for the 13 indigenous Mayans, in a press statement.
"There will now be a trial regarding the abuses that were committed in Guatemala, and this trial will be in a courtroom in Canada, a few blocks from Hudbay's headquarters, exactly where it belongs. We would never tolerate these abuses in Canada, and Canadian companies should not be able to take advantage of broken-down or extremely weak legal systems in other countries to get away with them there."
In a posting on its website, HudBay says it acquired the Fenix mine in 2008 through the takeover of Guatemalan mining company Compania Guatemalteca de Niquel. CGN became a unit of HudBay and continued to operate the mine, the company said.
HudBay said CGI "had persistent issues with illegal land occupations that began in 2006, two years before Hudbay acquired the project" and evicted those occupying the land. CGN also sought legal action against protesters on the site, alleging they were violent.
"Based on extensive internal investigations and eye witness reports, Hudbay believes that the allegations in these matters are without merit and it is vigorously defending itself against them," HudBay said in its posting.
It had argued in Ontario court that it was not responsible for CGN’s actions in Guatemala.
HudBay sold all its Guatemalan holdings in 2011 to focus on its projects in Canada and Peru.
Human rights organizations, including Amnesty International Canada, have supported the 13 Mayans in their attempt to sue HudBay. In its web posting, HudBay argued social media have helped advance the Mayans' cause, but have distorted the facts.
Allegations of human-rights abuses have also been made against other Canadian mining companies with operations in developing countries, but no other lawsuit of this kind has advanced in Canadian courts.