Canadian and U.S. organisations condemn judge’s ruling that a lawsuit against Vancouver-based mining company Tahoe Resources must be heard in Guatemala, not Canada.
Six plaintiffs allege that security personnel attacked protesters in 2013 with rubber bullets at the Tahoe Resources-owned Escobal mine in Guatemala. According to their claim, the plaintiffs suffered serious injuries as a result of the shooting, which was ordered by Tahoe’s Guatemala security manager.
Contending that they have little faith that justice can be achieved in Guatemala owing to the poor state of the country’s judicial system, the six men initiated a civil claim against the company in British Columbia’s Supreme Court.
However, on November 9, Justice Laura Gerow declined jurisdiction and ruled that the case should be heard in Guatemala. Focusing on the amount of time and resources required to hear the case in Canada, Gerow wrote in her judgement that “it is apparent that trying this action in British Columbia will result in considerably greater inconvenience and expenses for the parties and dozens of witnesses”.
She added that in light of case law and factors set out in the Court Jurisdiction and Proceedings Transfer Act (CJPTA), Guatemala was the appropriate forum for the case to heard, and that “the question is not whether Canada’s legal system is fairer and more efficient than Guatemala’s legal system. It is whether the foreign legal system is capable of providing justice”.
On November 17, three organisations – Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network, MiningWatch Canada, and the Network in Solidarity with the Peoples of Guatemala, issued a press statement in which they said the decision was “willfully blind to the gravity of the case and the obstacles faced by the victims in bringing a transnational corporation to justice”.
“It is unclear what persuaded the judge to think that the victims could get a fair trial in Guatemala, where mining abuses are so prevalent and so poorly addressed. Guatemala’s impunity rate hovers above 90% for every sort of crime, and an international commission recently unearthed a series of massive corruption scandals that implicated high-level government officials, including a number of judges. Justice has never been served in Guatemala in terms of holding a foreign company to account and it is unclear why Justice Gerow thinks this case would be special,” said Ellen Moore, of the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala.
For more information about the case, visit www.tahoeontrial.net.