Rio Tinto Group has found trouble on both ends of Canada. The global mining giant is being told it can’t skirt a pair of lawsuits that reach back to projects built in the 1950s, a quarter-century before it first set foot in Canada.
On a single day in October, the Supreme Court of Canada cleared the way for separate aboriginal groups to challenge the future operations of a Rio Tinto hydroelectric dam in British Columbia and an iron-ore mine, with accompanying railway and port, in Quebec and Labrador.
The rulings received scant notice during the final days of a dramatic Canadian election that brought Justin Trudeau and his Liberals to power.
Now the cases are sparking a debate as to whether they will discourage investment in the resource sector, or perhaps instead force companies to treat Canada’s 1.4 million indigenous people as full partners.
For Rio Tinto, which paid $38 billion in 2007 for Canadian-based Alcan Inc. and took control of The Iron Ore Company of Canada through a A$3 billion deal in 2000, the legal challenges come at a bad time.
The company is already reeling from the plunge in global commodity prices, with its shares down 65 percent from their high in 2008.
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