Abarca Family Files with Federal Court of Appeal, insisting that Canadian Embassy in Mexico Must Be Investigated

Family of Mariano Abarca – Justice and Corporate Accountability Project – Otros Mundos Chiapas – Red Mexicana de Afectados por la Mineria (REMA) – MiningWatch Canada

August 19, 2019 (Ottawa/Mexico City/Tuxtla Gutiérrez) The family of Mariano Abarca, who was murdered nearly ten years ago for his leadership in community protests over the environmental and social impacts of a Canadian-owned mine in Chiapas, Mexico, have filed notice with the Federal Court of Appeal. They are appealing the July decision of Federal Court Judge Keith Boswell who conceded that “perhaps Mariano Abarca would not have been murdered” if the Canadian embassy in Mexico “[had] acted in a certain way,” and yet refused to order an investigation.  

 “We don’t accept the latest decision from the Federal Court and urge the appeal court to give our petition serious consideration. There is substantial evidence that the Canadian Embassy in Mexico put my father in greater danger and we need an investigation to help ensure this doesn’t happen again,” remarked José Luis Abarca, son of Mariano.

The Abarca family together with a group of Mexican and Canadian organizations submitted their original complaint to the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner in February 2018 based on evidence found in nearly 1,000 pages of emails and briefing notes obtained through an access to information request. The documents reveal how the Embassy provided essential support to Calgary-based Blackfire Exploration in order to get its barite mine in Chiapas up and running, and continued troubleshooting for the company - including to call on Chiapas authorities to quell community protests - despite knowledge about the intensifying threats and criminalization that Mariano Abarca was facing in the weeks and months before his assassination.

This case raises the vital issue of ethical standards that Canadian public officials must meet in addressing the endangerment of human rights defenders in the context of the Canadian extractive sector throughout the world,” stated Ottawa-based civil rights lawyer Yavar Hameed who is representing the family.

Decisions from the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner and the Federal Court of Canada concerning the Abarca family’s request for an investigation throw into question whether or not public officials are obliged to follow government policies that have been publicly announced and that appear on government websites. In this case, the responsibility of officials to follow policies pertaining to corporate social responsibility, corruption, and human rights defenders have been raised by litigants. Neither authority was willing to undertake a serious evaluation of the public interest arguments for an investigation.

 “This is not the only case in which we have seen the Canadian Embassy go to bat for its mining investors embroiled in deadly conflicts in Mexico. It does not surprise us to be facing such an uphill climb for justice in Canada when we’re talking about the state’s involvement, but it is vitally important for Canadian courts to take this process seriously when the wellbeing of communities fighting to protect their health and territory from mining harms in Mexico and around the world hang in the balance,” stated Gustavo Castro from Otros-Mundo Chiapas, a signatory to the complaint.

 “As a family we are determined to continue this fight, convinced that Canadian authorities bear some responsibility for the injustice my brother was dealt ten years ago and the importance of setting precedent in this area for others,” commented Mariano’s brother Uriel Abarca.

The Abarca family together with Otros Mundos Chiapas, the Human Rights Centre of the Autonomous University of Chiapas, the Mexican Network of Mining Affected People (REMA by its initials in Spanish), and MiningWatch Canada presented a complaint about the embassy’s conduct to the PSIC in February 2018. After the PSIC refused to open an investigation in April 2018, these same groups applied to the Federal Court for judicial review. Now, after receiving this frustrating decision, they are reaffirming their commitment to seek accountability with regard to the Canadian embassy’s conduct in the months leading up to Mariano’s murder. With this aim, they are preparing to exercise their right of appeal to the Federal Court of Appeal.