An important chapter in the search for justice by survivors of a massacre in the Democratic Republic of Congo came to a disappointing end this week, when the Supreme Court of Canada rejected their appeal of a lower court’s dismissal of their claims against Anvil Mining.
In 2004, an estimated 100 civilians died when the Congolese army attacked the town of Kilwa, which served as the base of operations for Anvil Mining, a Canadian/Australian company. The survivors alleged that Anvil employees transported the soldiers to Kilwa, paid them, and gave them logistical support, including driving them around Kilwa during the massacre. A Superior Court judge in Québec initially gave the plaintiffs a green light to pursue their claims, but the decision was later overturned by the Québec Court of Appeals, which ruled that the case should instead proceed in Congo or Australia. (I analyzed this decision in a previous blog post.)
The Supreme Court’s decision to turn aside the plaintiffs’ appeal means that the Canadian courts are closed to their claims. This outcome is not exactly surprising; Canadian courts have been quite aggressive in their use of the forum non conveniens doctrine to rid themselves of international human rights cases. It’s disappointing, though, because for a brief moment the Canadian judiciary appeared to be willing to exercise the authority it has to apply universal human rights standards to companies that benefit from doing business in Canada.