Seven men allege they were shot at close range during a peaceful protest
A group of men wounded last year during a protest outside a Guatemala mine is suing the Vancouver-based mining company, Tahoe Resources Inc., in British Columbia Supreme Court arguing it should be held liable for the alleged violent action against them.
It is the first time a Canadian company has been sued in B.C. for events that occurred at operations outside of Canada, but it follows from three suits against Toronto-based Hudbay Minerals, which were accepted to proceed to trial by an Ontario Superior Court Judge last year, also related to alleged violent incidents in Guatemala.
Together, the suits are part of increasing efforts of non-government organizations seeking greater accountability from Canadian mining companies operating abroad.
“The plaintiffs feel like they’ve not got justice for what happened to them (in Guatemala),” said Matt Eisenbrandt, legal director for the Canadian Centre for International Justice.
The seven men named in a notice of civil claim allege they were shot at close range during a peaceful protest on a public road outside Tahoe’s Escobal silver mine east of Guatemala City on the evening of April 27, 2013, in what they argue was a planned act of intimidation by the company’s security guards.
The allegations have not been proven, but the men are seeking damages from the company for battery and negligence, arguing that Tahoe either authorized the use of excessive force or was negligent for not preventing the violence or is liable for the security guards’ actions.
The mine’s security manager, Alberto Rotondo, was arrested and faces criminal charges of obstruction of justice, causing injury and mistreatment of a minor, Eisenbrandt said.
However, while that case is underway, the plaintiffs believe Tahoe should also be held accountable. Eisenbrandt said Canada’s formal institutions that regulate Canadian companies abroad are too weak to do the job, so they are seeking damages in a Canadian court.
“At the end of the day, what the plaintiffs are looking for is a judgment from a Canadian court that Tahoe is responsible for what they suffered,” said Eisenbrandt, who is part of the legal team that put the claim together.
The Guatemalan men’s claim was filed by Vancouver lawyer Joe Fiorante of the firm Camp, Fiorante, Matthews, Mogerman. They are represented in Guatemala by the Guatemalan Centre for Legal, Environmental and Social Action.
Tahoe could not be reached for comment Wednesday but in a statement last year disputed the circumstances of the incident, alleging in return that men armed with machetes were approaching the gate at shift change in a hostile act and were turned back by security guards using tear gas and rubber bullets.
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