Canadian companies have been put on notice by the B.C. Court of Appeal that they can be held accountable in the nation’s courts for human rights abuses committed in foreign countries.
In a ruling with wide implications, the three-justice division dismissed a B.C. firm’s attempts to block a suit by African workers who say they were forced to toil as slaves at a gold mine 60 per cent owned by Nevsun Resources Ltd. and 40 per cent by Eritrean state companies.
“It’s a very important win because it means the case can proceed and Nevsun will have to answer the case on the merits, meaning they are going to have to respond to the allegations they were complicit in the use of forced labour in the building of that mine,” explained Joe Fiorante, a lawyer who represented the refugees.
“This decision does not in any way go into the merits of the allegations. What it says is the allegations will have to be confronted and dealt with in a proper court hearing in British Columbia and there are a number of novel legal issues that will have to be addressed at trial based on the full evidence. But this is a major win.”
He added that the firm headquartered in Vancouver has been trying for the last three years to have the litigation thrown out for several reasons. In its preliminary motions, for instance, Nevsun argued that Eritrea was a more appropriate place to hear the case, and that the case involved foreign governmental acts that Canadian courts cannot challenge.
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