A trio of civil cases winding through the courts signal a breakthrough in efforts to hold Canadian-based mining companies accountable on home turf when they’re accused of violations abroad, human rights and legal observers say.
Historically, Canadian judges have been inclined to send such cases back to the jurisdictions where the alleged abuses occurred. But the three pending cases — two in British Columbia and one in Ontario — show that the legal landscape is shifting.
“Courts are now willing to hear these cases,” says Penelope Simons, a law professor at the University of Ottawa. “They’re not trying to punt them back to other places. That’s an important thing.”
Industry groups say they have taken steps to make sure members don’t run afoul of human rights and environmental laws when operating abroad. But several reports in recent years suggest more needs to be done in Canada, which is home to over half of the world’s mining companies reportedly worth $170 billion.
Last year, the Justice and Corporate Accountability Project at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School linked 28 Canadian mining companies to 44 deaths, 403 injuries and 709 arrests, detentions and legal complaints in Latin America from 2000 through 2015. The alleged targets were often anti-mining demonstrators.