Here Today, Guatemala: HudBay Minerals withdraws forum non conveniens motion in Canadian international human rights case

Photo of Angelica Choc, Adolfo Ich Chamán’s widow. (Dec. 1, 2010) Original image via mimundo.org.

Jeff Gray at the Globe & Mail, reports on three pending cases involving HudBay Minerals Inc. [“HudBay”] brought by Mayan Q’eqchi’ individuals from Guatemala, who have alleged human rights abuses were committed against them by the subsidiaries of Canadian mining companies. The Guatemalan victims claim that security guards employed by HudBay’s subsidiary at a Guatemalan mine shot and killed one man, shot and beat another and gang-raped 11 women. According to the story, HudBay has withdrawn its motion to stay the action on forum non conveniens grounds, which plaintiffs’ counsel describes as a “breakthrough”:

[Plaintiffs’ counsel] Mr. Klippenstein is pursuing a $55-million claim in Ontario Superior Court over clashes in 2009 between local Mayan people opposing the mine and security and police allegedly acting on behalf of HudBay’s former local subsidiary. HudBay, which sold its interest in the mine in 2011, denies the allegations, saying they are “without merit.”

HudBay had been preparing to argue that the case should be heard in Guatemala, not Canada, on jurisdictional grounds – an argument that Mr. Klippenstein was expected to counter by pointing to well-documented problems with the small Latin American country’s justice system.

But Mr. Klippenstein claims the company abruptly changed its strategy after hearing depositions from his clients, who flew to Toronto from Guatelmala in December.

The Globe & Mail article adds:

“Contrary to Mr. Klippenstein’s statement, HudBay’s voluntary decision to have the cases heard in the Ontario Superior Court was based on its desire to avoid the complications of trying the cases in Guatemala, particularly in terms of time and travel,” HudBay John Vincic, HudBay’s vice-president of investor relations and corporate communications, said in an e-mail.

“Our decision does not create precedent or change the law in any way. Based on the cross-examinations referred to by Mr. Klippenstein, HudBay is increasingly confident the cases are without merit and will be favourably resolved on the merits in Ontario.”

Recently, Madam Justice Carol J. Brown granted Amnesty International intervenor status in Choc v. Hudbay Minerals Inc. et al., 2013 ONSC 998 (CanLII). Carol J. Brown, J.  concludes:

[12]           I am satisfied that Amnesty has discharged its onus to establish that its presence can assist the court in determining certain of the issues in the motions, and in bringing to the attention of the court considerations of an international nature regarding the issues in play in these cases. I am satisfied that it can bring a perspective different from that of the parties, particularly given its expertise in the areas of international human rights abuse, international and transnational business accountability, and as a result of its involvement in and consultation with the UN Special Representative on the Issue of Human Rights and Transnational Corporations. Given that Amnesty International will not be involved in any of the evidentiary or factual aspects of the cases, I do not find that intervention by Amnesty will cause undue disruption or delay in the motions. Given that Amnesty will only be involved in providing a different view with respect to the legal considerations to be had in determining the issues in the motions, there will be no opportunity for it to use these motions as a “political platform” as argued by the defendants. While the actions involve private disputes, namely actions involving individuals and an international Corporation, with operations in the plaintiffs’ home state, the issues involved have international, transnational and public policy overlays which make them appropriate for intervention by Amnesty, which, I find, can make a useful legal contribution.

[13]           Considering the issues raised in the pleadings, the nature of the three cases, and the nature of the interventions sought to be made by Amnesty, I grant leave to Amnesty to intervene. The intervention will be limited strictly to making submissions with respect to the issues of law, and particularly international law, standards and norms concerning the existence or scope of the duty of care.

The timing of the withdrawal of HudBay’s forum non conveniens motion is intriguing; but it may also have something to do with focusing arguments around ‘reverse veil piercing’ raised in Chevron/Lago Agrio enforcement proceedings in Ontario and elsewhere. Nevertheless, the defendants’ Rule 21 motion to dismiss the claims against them as disclosing no reasonable cause of action will proceed on March 4 and 5, 2013.

Stay tuned.

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