MiningWatch in the News

How an Ontario court case could change Canadian mining overseas​

CBC Radio One – The Current

Protesters demonstrate outside the Hudbay Minerals annual general meeting in 2013. Can multinational mining companies be held liable in their country for past human rights abuses at mines they operate abroad even before their acquisition? (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Listen 19:57

Eleven women from a remote Guatemalan community are seeking damages from a Canadian mining company over allegations they were raped by employees of one of its former subsidiaries.

The women, who have travelled to Toronto as part of an Ontario civil court case launched in 2011, claim they were victims of gang rape in 2007 during forced evictions by security staff of a mining business called Compania Guatemalteca de Niquel, or CGN.

They feel like they can't get justice in Guatemala," CBC's Lorenda Reddekopp told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"They feel like this could be their only hope."

Hudbay Minerals purchased CGN's Fenix nickel project in a corporate takeover of Skye Resources in 2008, but sold it in 2011.

Since CGN wasn't a subsidiary of Hudbay Minerals at the time of the alleged assaults, industry watchers are paying close attention to what constitutes Hudbay's liability in this case.

The allegations have yet to be proven in court. 

Indigenous Guatemalans demand that President Otto Perez hand over of their lands and protest mining exploitation, March 27, 2012. (Luis Soto/AFP/Getty Images)

Precedent-setting court case

Cory Wanless, one of the lawyers for the Guatemalans, said Hudbay is arguing that "the parent company isn't responsible for the subsidiaries actions."

"They're also arguing and, frankly, I find this a bit shocking, but that the the rapes didn't happen at all."

The court case is setting a precedent just by happening, according to Wanless.

"The mining industry didn't actually think that it was possible that lawsuits could be brought in Canada, and now they know that that's actually a real risk, and the hope of our clients … is that as Canadian mining companies go out into places like Guatemala in the future they look over their shoulder," said Wanless.

"They know that there is a potential risk that if they don't behave properly, they can be sued in Canadian courts."

The case has received worldwide attention as a potential precedent for holding multinational mining companies liable in their country for past human rights abuses at mines they operate abroad even before their acquisition.

According to government statistics, more than 50 per cent of the world's publicly-listed exploration and mining companies have Canadian headquarters.

Hudbay Minerals statement

The Current requested an interview with Hudbay Minerals. The company declined but sent the following statement:

"While we would like to accept this invitation, at this time these matters are part of a legal proceeding and are best heard there.  Given the sensitive nature of the allegations, we recognize that some people will find it hard to reserve judgment until the facts are established. However, we hope that people will accept the facts are in dispute, the matter is before the courts and we should trust our legal process to deliver a just verdict based on the evidence."

The Current also spoke to Jennifer Moore, a program coordinator at MiningWatch. Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.