When Justin Trudeau visited Trent University, he spoke candidly about Canada’s current political climate, and how we are now perceived by the world as opposed to the past. “There was a time,” he said, “that leaders would turn to Canada and ask, how are the Canadians doing it? They get it right. For the first time in our history, this is not the case.”
With a range of issues surfacing, such as Canadian practices towards aboriginal peoples and the environment, mining companies are now coming into light with three international lawsuits. Skye Resources, which merged with HudBay Minerals Inc., owned and tried to operate a nickel mining operation in Guatemala.
The cases against the Canadian mining company are as follows: the targeted killing of community leader Adolfo Ich, the shooting and paralyzing of German Chub Choc and the gang rape of eleven Mayan Qeqchi women.
On January 17, 2007 nine men broke into Rosa Elbira’s house in a forced eviction of her community Lote 8. In a sworn court document Rosa testifies to the incident stating that the men, some of who were security personnel of the mining company, broke into her home and brutally raped her. These trials are to take place in Canadian courts March 4 and 5, and will become a pivotal moment in human rights history.
The location of the proceedings itself is important as HudBay had filed extensive legal briefs arguing that the lawsuit should be heard in Guatemala, not Canada. This was eventually denied, as it is well known that the Guatemalan justice system is dysfunctional, making it impossible for victims to get justice there.
According to the United Nations, Guatemala is one of “the world’s most violent countries officially at peace”. According to Human Rights Watch, 99.75 percent of violent crime in Guatemala goes unpunished due to corruption, and intimidation and attacks against judges and witnesses.
In Defensora, a film that focuses on this struggle of the Mayan Qeqchi people of eastern Guatemala and Canadian mining on their lands, the man paralyzed by these perpetrators testifies to this fact.
German Chub Choc was shot at close range and decided to sue because, “here in Guatemala you can’t do anything, if I want to make a lawsuit the lawyers and government only work with bribes. If a company has money can pay the bribes and leave my case to the side. That is why I decided it is better to take my lawsuit to Canada.”
HudBay’s defense against the allegations, as seen on their website, are that these “self- identified” indigenous peoples were occupying land that was designated for CGN (Compania Guatemalteca de Niquel). They pursued the Guatemalan legal system to remove the inhabitants and that is when the events occurred. HudBay dismisses the claims against their company saying official police reports were never filed for rape and believes “the allegations in these matters are without merit and it is vigorously defending itself against them.”
Erica Rumbolt, a graduate of Trent University with a degree in Ecological Restoration, spent the past summer in Guatemala. The trip was organized by a not-for-profit organization named Operation Groundswell. The theme of her trip was to learn about fair-trade practices, spend time with local coffee-farmers, as well as hearing stories and living with families who are affected by Canadian-mining companies.
Having experienced the political climate, she attests to the relationship the people of Guatemala have with police officials.
“A lot of people who live near this mining location have a hard time talking about it because they have been directly or indirectly affected. It seems like every story we heard where a person reported rape was murdered, went missing or sent to jail. Many locals became emotional, and a few of them would start telling their story but could not continue because it was too much.”
According to the US Department of State in its 2011 report on Human Rights Practices in Guatemala, “[r]ape and other sexual offences remained serious problems [in Guatemala ] . . . . Victims [of sexual assault] frequently did not report crimes due to lack of confidence in the justice system and fear of reprisals.”
HudBay’s response to the people suing being “self- identified” aboriginals insinuates doubt surrounding their authentic indigenous roots. This is tied in with the very dispute of the land, as the people of Guatemala have had to struggle to keep what they consider their ancestral lands. HudBay sold its mining interests in 2011 at an estimated $200 million, while the people of Guatemala are left to deal with the repercussions of these atrocities.
When asked about her thoughts on the international identity Canada is now facing, Rumbolt says, “I think it is a good thing; not many people know about Canadian mining practices. I think it will open a lot of people’s eyes because it is a lawsuit and getting media attention. Canada’s reputation is not as good as people think. A classic example of this is that Canada still mines asbestos (the use of it is banned in Canada) but we export it to developing countries.”
Her time spent in Guatemala allowed her to live with the people and experience their kindness and humble lifestyle, “I would love to see the people of Guatemala get justice. They deserve it.”