International human rights violations by mining companies make their way back to Canada
When traditional lands, occupied for hundreds of years, are uprooted and pillaged by foreign predators who seek only the precious metals beneath the soil, it is only natural to stand up and fight. But when that resistance is met with violent repression, where do you turn? Where do you find strength to carry on?
For Angelica Choc, courage is born from struggle.
Her quest for justice that began in a tiny village near Lake Izabal in Eastern Guatemala has ended up in the courtrooms of Canada.
On March 6, after two full days in an Ontario court, Choc, a Mayan Q’eqchi’ woman, flew to Halifax to share her story of resilience. The audience at Dalhousie University’s Schulich School of Law was silent and teary-eyed as the horrific details unfolded.
“Maybe you do not believe it, but this is the reality that we have lived,” said Choc, after footage was shown of a forced eviction of Indigenous Mayan families from their ancestral lands. The inhabitants helplessly standing by as police and military forces burnt their houses to the ground.
Choc is the plaintiff in one of three lawsuits filed against Canadian mining company Hudbay Minerals Inc.
Her husband, Adolfo Ich Chaman — community leader, anti-mining activist and father of five — was brutally murdered in 2009. He was shot and hacked with machetes by the private security forces employed by Hudbay Minerals’ subsidiaries HMI Nickel Inc. and Compañía Guatemalteca de Níquel S.A. (CGN) at their Fenix mining project.
She is suing on her own behalf and on behalf of her husband’s estate. Other suits have been filed by 11 women who were gang raped by uniformed mining security personnel during a forced eviction from their community, and the other by German Chub, a young man who was shot by mining security forces and is now bound to a wheelchair.
Klippensteins, Barristers & Solicitors represent the 13 Mayan plaintiffs. If the case is found eligible to be tried in Canada, it would be the first time a Canadian mining company would be held accountable to human rights abuses committed overseas.
But the battle has just begun. HudBay seeks to have all three lawsuits dismissed.
Last week, unexpectedly, HudBay abandoned a key defensive argument: that Guatemala represents the proper and most convenient forum for the cases to be heard and that proceedings in Ontario should be stayed on that basis. The reasons for this decision are unclear as this was one of the most significant legal barriers to having the case tried in Canada.
HudBay now seeks dismissal on another ground. Its representatives argue that the company cannot be held liable for the actions of its subsidiaries, HMI Nickel and CGN. For this reason, HudBay seeks the dismissal of the cases for presenting no reasonable cause of action. The Ontario judge who oversaw the proceedings on March 4 and 5, said she would release her decision soon.
While Choc’s case is only at the pre-trial stage, should it go to trial it would represent a significant victory for those engaged in the fight for justice against Canadian mining companies.
Canada has claim to the largest mining industry in the world. But a dark cloud overshadows this boast. Canada also has one of the worst reputations worldwide for committing human rights abuses and environmental degradation.
Latin America has become a hotbed for Canadian mining operations in the last decade. Neoliberalism has created an unjust relationship between the global North and the global South; the latter is left dependent on foreign investment, and the former exploits this relationship extensively.
This leads to a climate where multinational companies can operate with impunity and little to no regulation on their operations. Powerful mining companies are granted exploration concessions that give them access to mass amounts of land and water.
The land they choose to exploit is often occupied by Indigenous peoples, who depend on it and water not only as a source of life but also as a symbol of their beliefs and identity. Community resistance to the corruption of their land is fierce, a literal fight to preserve livelihood. This resistance is most often met with repression in the form of physical violence, intimidation, sexual assault and even murder.
Holding HudBay accountable for the actions of its subsidiaries would, in legal terms, pierce the corporate veil and effectively disregard the separate legal personalities of corporate entities. This legal victory would open the door for stricter corporate accountability regulations and could change the face of the Canadian mining industry and its destructive practices.
Angelica Choc’s son screaming “mami, mami” as he ran into the house after witnessing his father’s murder is the voice she carries in her head. It is where she finds her strength to continue the fight of her late husband Adolfo who laid his life down in this David and Goliath battle.
This article first appeared in the Halifax Media Co-op.