Canadian Mining Company Being Sued for Violent Death of Community Leader in Guatemala

(Ottawa) A recently announced lawsuit against HudBay Minerals Inc. points to the industry’s failure to take responsibility for corporate abuses beyond Canadian borders. Paradoxically, the company recently won an award for Corporate Social Responsibility from the Mining Association of Canada.

Toronto-based HudBay and two of its subsidiaries are being sued for the death of Adolfo Ich Chamán, who was hacked and shot to death by private security forces employed at the company’s nickel mining project in eastern Guatemala on September 27th 2009.

Rights Action and Klippenstein’s law firm announced the lawsuit during concurrent press conferences in Toronto and Guatemala City on Wednesday.

Angelica Choc, Adolfo’s wife and mother of five children, is seeking justice on behalf of her husband who was a known critic of the harms and human rights abuses associated with mining activities in their community near the town of El Estor, Guatemala.

HudBay was among this year’s winners of the Mining Association of Canada’s “Toward Sustainable Mining” awards for 2009. The awards were presented last week during MAC’s annual lobby day “Mining Day on the Hill”.

In a press release, MAC stated that its Toward Sustainable Mining (TSM) initiative has been developed “to improve the industry’s performance by aligning its actions with the priorities and values of Canadians.”

But the lawsuit against HudBay, together with concerns about the impacts that this and other award winning companies are having here in Canada, highlights the question of what Canadian priorities and values the industry is aligning itself with.

Until its recent closure, HudBay’s smelter in Flin Flon, Manitoba, was one of Canada’s dirtiest industrial facilities. It was the country’s largest single source of toxic metals such as lead, arsenic cadmium and mercury, and of acid-rain causing sulphur dioxide.

Another award winner, Vale, is a Brazilian company that bought out the Canadian company Inco in 2006. Vale has since earned an anti-labour reputation for the record-breaking prolonged strikes at its Sudbury and Voisey’s Bay operations. The Sudbury strike lasted a year and the Voisey’s Bay strike continues into its seventeenth month.

Teck Resources Inc. was also an award winner. Its Red Dog mine in Alaska has caused serious pollution issues and been the subject of legal challenges from local communities. In October of this year the company reported a significant mercury release from its smelting facility in Trail, BC.

The Iron Ore Company of Canada (IOC) was another MAC award winner. In a recent press release concerning ongoing mineral developments in their territory, the Innu of Uashat mak Mani-Utenam stated, “The IOC caused – without our consent – serious and permanent damage to the integrity of the traditional lands of the Uashaunnuat, and these damages were never repaired.”

The domestic and international records of its award winners show that the industry is not in touch with Canadian values and expectations. Another demonstration of this was the leading role MAC played in a powerful lobby against Bill C-300. The industry group said that the bill, which sought to improve government oversight of the Canadian extractive industry overseas and which was narrowly defeated in Parliament on October 27th, would “have damaged Canada’s exploration and mining industry.”

But the evidence of poor performance at home and abroad, combined with the industry’s opposition to mechanisms that could involve sanctions or legal accountability, are the real threat to Canada’s reputation.