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A major set-back for victims in the Anvil Mining case

Jennifer Wiebe

On January 25th, the Quebec Court of Appeal overturned a lower-court decision in the lawsuit against Anvil Mining Limited—a potentially precedent-setting case that would have paved the way for victims of human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to seek remedy in the Canadian justice system.

In November of 2010, the Canadian Association Against Impunity (CAAI) filed a Class Action against Anvil Mining for its alleged involvement in a 2004 massacre near its mine in the DRC. Anvil, a Canadian company, is accused of providing logistical support—such as planes, trucks, and drivers—to the Congolese military who raped, murdered, and tortured the people of Kilwa in an effort to crush a rebel uprising. As a result, more than 70 civilians were killed, at least 28 of whom were summarily executed.

Determining there to be no viable channels through which the Congolese victims and their families could seek justice, Judge Benoit Emery of the Quebec Superior Court ruled last April that sufficient links existed for establishing jurisdiction in Quebec. This decision followed a controversial military trial in the DRC from 2006-7, in which nine Congolese soldiers and three former Anvil employees were acquitted of all charges. Denied the right to appeal, the victims of the massacre were left with no recourse for justice. 

Anvil, however, moved to appeal Judge Emery's decision, and, on November 25th of 2011, a trial began in Montreal to determine the appeal's legitimacy.

This past month, much to the disappointment of those impacted by the case, Quebec's Court of Appeal reversed Justice Emery's earlier decision, ruling that it lacked the necessary legislation to allow the case to proceed in Canada. Citing jurisdictional issues, a three-judge panel determined there to be inadequate connections to Quebec since Anvil's Montreal office had not yet been established at the time of the massacre. Further, they ruled that the victims could seek justice in the DRC or Australia, where Anvil had its offices.

Given that previous attempts by survivors to seek legal recourse in both the DRC and Australia ultimately failed, the CAAI—a coalition of NGOs and associations acting on behalf of Congolese victims and families of the massacre—expressed profound disappointment with this decision. As a result, they are now asking the Supreme Court of Canada to hear the case.

With no access to effective remedies by home countries due to narrow interpretations of legal principles around "jurisdiction," victims of corporate abuses abroad often have nowhere to turn for justice. As Amnesty International recently stated, "While multinational corporations are able to benefit from lucrative operations carried out overseas, they can escape legal liability by exploiting the many barriers to justice facing victims of human rights violations in which they are implicated."

In response to cases such as these, on October 5th of 2011, NDP MP Peter Julian tabled Private Members Bill C-323, the International Promotion and Protection of Human Rights Act.  If passed, this bill would ensure that victims of abuse by Canadian companies operating overseas could seek justice in Canada's Federal Courts.