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Canadian mining company defending itself against abuse allegations

Last Updated Jan 22, 2016 at 12:02 am PDT

(iStock file photo)

Judge to decide whether lawsuit involving Vancouver mining company and former African employees will go ahead.

Nevsun trying to have human rights abuse case tossed out of court.

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Should foreigners who allege human rights abuses against a Canadian company operating in a foreign land have their case heard in a Canadian court?

Such arguments are currently being heard in a Vancouver court. The case involves Vancouver-based mining company Nevsun and three employees from Eritrea.

In their notice of civil claim, the employees say they “were subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment as well as harsh working conditions including long hours, malnutrition and forced confinement for little pay. They worked under the constant threat of physical punishment, torture and

The claim outlines that the three were initially hired by way of military National Service in Eritrea. It says the three were unable to leave the Service once training was complete, and that instead they were “deployed” by a contractor to work at the Bisha Mine, operated by Nevsun, between 2008 and 2012.

But Nevsun is trying to prevent their case from being heard here in Canada, primarily arguing it should be heard in Eritrea and that a Canadian court is an inappropriate venue to hear accusations involving a foreign state.

University of Ottawa law professor and human rights specialist Penelope Simons says it’s a challenge to get allegations like these heard here.

“The act itself happened in a foreign country, the plaintiffs are foreign and the subsidiary of the Canadian company is established under the laws of the host state. So you have to show that somehow there is a real and substantial tie to Canada.”

She says out of a handful of similar lawsuits that have been brought to Canadian courts in recent years, only one has been granted the go-ahead to proceed. That case involves Hudbay Minerals and its Guatamala subsidiary being sued by the Maya Q’eqchi people in Guatemala, over the murder and gang rapes of villagers. That case has yet to be heard.

Simons says in most lawsuits, the Canadian mining company argues its subsidiaries are the ones to hold to account over what happens on foreign territory.

In the Nevsun situation, Simons says the employees are debating that point.

“They’re bringing the claim on the basis that through the parent company’s acts and omissions, they are responsible for the harm caused.”

Simons blames a lack of government policy with regard to conduct of transnational companies for leading to this type of litigation. She points out 75 per cent of the world’s largest mining companies are headquartered in Canada, so the Nevsun case won’t be the last to be tested in a Canadian court.

To read the statement claim filed by the plaintiffs click here: statement of claim