Integrity Commissioner’s Refusal to Investigate Canadian Embassy Prompts Application to Federal Court of Canada
(Toronto/Ottawa) The family of Mariano Abarca, a highly respected community leader who was murdered in late 2009 after leading peaceful protests over the impacts of a Canadian-owned mine, has applied for judicial review of a decision from the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner.
The Commissioner refused to investigate allegations that the Canadian Embassy in Mexico provided support to Blackfire Exploration, which put Mr. Abarca’s life at greater risk.
The decision claims that Canada’s strategy for extractive industries abroad, along with government documents and public statements did not constitute “official policy” and therefore civil servants were not required to follow them.
Ottawa-based civil rights lawyer Yavar Hameed, who is representing the family, says the decision is baffling.
“It cannot possibly be true that, as a matter of principle, civil servants are under no obligation to follow government policies, which are publicly announced and which appear on government websites,” said Hameed.
“If allegations that Canadian Embassy support for a mining company could have endangered the life of a human rights defender are not worthy of an integrity investigation, what is the point of having an integrity commissioner?”
Access-to-information requests showed that the embassy intervened with Mexican government officials to support the company even when it knew about conflict over Blackfire’s project in Chiapas, Mexico, including risks that Mr. Abarca was facing. Mr. Abarca had personally alerted the Embassy about community concerns over the mine’s impacts and related threats. Shortly after, Mr. Abarca was detained without charge on accusations filed by the company, and just weeks before his murder, the embassy asked Mexican authorities to quell protests over Blackfire’s operations.
Federal officials at the time told a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development that the role of Canadian embassies was to “work closely with companies and the affected communities, governments, indigenous peoples and civil society organizations to facilitate an open and informed dialogue between all parties.” Nevertheless, the Canadian Embassy in Mexico refused to meet with the family and civil society organizations that work in the community until months after Mr. Abarca’s murder, although Embassy officials continued to provide support to the company.
“It is painful to read the Commissioner’s response, expressing concern for my family, and then ignoring much of the evidence we presented to him about the embassy’s refusal to respond to my father’s appeal for support, despite their knowledge of the risks he was confronting,” said Mr. Abarca’s son, José Luis Abarca.
The application for judicial review argues that the Commissioner’s decision is based on a narrow interpretation of his mandate and an erroneous and poorly-argued conclusion that there were no policies that the embassy should have been following other than to lobby on Blackfire’s behalf. It also argues that the decision fails to consider whether the actions and omissions of the Canadian embassy endangered Mr. Abarca’s life.
“If it’s true that Canadian embassies have no other obligation than to promote Canadian mining companies’ interests no matter the cost to people in Mexico and around the world, then there is a gaping hole in Canadian foreign policy,” said the Abarca family’s lawyer Miguel Angel de los Santos.
The Abarca family is joined by the Mariano Abarca Environmental Foundation, the Faculty of Law at the Autonomous University of Chiapas, Otros Mundos Chiapas, the Mexican Network of Mining Affected People and MiningWatch Canada in their application for judicial review.
- Yavar Hameed, Canadian Lawyer for Jose Luis Abarca et al, firstname.lastname@example.org, 613 627-2974
- Jen Moore or Jamie Kneen, MiningWatch Canada, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, (613) 569-3439
- Shin Imai, Justice and Corporate Accountability Project, email@example.com, (647) 524-2312
 Testimony of Mr. Grant Manuge (Director General, Trade Commissioner Service, Operations, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade), Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, Tuesday, December 1, 2009.