Do access to justice and accountability for grave abuses count when Canadian courts decide whether to consider a human rights lawsuit by foreigners against a company with operations in Québec? The seven human rights NGOs, including ERI, who signed a public letter written by the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR) hope that the Canadian Supreme Court will answer in the affirmative, and give the family members of the victims of a Congolese massacre a chance to seek justice in Canada.
In a blog post last month, I wrote about a devastating decision from the Québec Court of Appeals. The court decided that Anvil Mining, which has an office in the province, could not be sued in Québec over allegations that it was complicit in crimes against humanity committed against inhabitants of the Congolese mining town of Kilwa. As the signatories of the letter make clear, this decision closed an important avenue for the victims to seek justice for human rights abuses, brushing aside the fact that their attempts to hold Anvil responsible both in Congo and in Australia had been stymied by corruption, intimidation, and technical legal barriers.
According to the letter, it has recently been announced that Anvil was acquired by a Chinese metals company. When Monterrico, a British mining company that was similarly being sued for human rights abuses in the U.K., was acquired by a Chinese company, the new owners decided to strip Monterrico’s assets from the U.K., which would have made satisfying a judgment next to impossible. Fortunately, the British and Hong Kong courts issued freezing injunctions, requiring Monterrico to maintain assets sufficient to satisfy a judgment in the U.K. until the legal process was over. (In the end, Monterrico and the plaintiffs settled the case before trial.)
ERI and the other signatories of the letter stand behind the Kilwa plaintiffs as they take their case to the Canadian Supreme Court. We hope that the justices see the case as we do – that countries have the duty to provide an effective remedy for human rights violations, and that domestic law should not be read restrictively so as to leave victims of the most serious abuses without redress. A promising first step would be following the Monterrico court’s lead and attaching Anvil’s assets in Québec until this case is over.