Q&A following the new Canadian legal action launched on 23 November 2022.

1. Why is a legal action for human rights violations at Barrick Gold’s North Mara mine being brought in Canada?

Violence by police assigned to Barrick's North Mara mine against members of the Indigenous Kurya community, amongst whose villages in northern Tanzania the mine has been built, has been longstanding. In November 2022, a legal action was filed against Barrick by Kurya residents of those villages (the plaintiffs). The action concerns brutal killings, shootings and torture that the plaintiffs allege were committed by police engaged to guard the mine, who local residents refer to as “mine police”. The plaintiffs allege that Barrick is liable under the law for the harm caused. The legal action has been filed in Canada, where Barrick is incorporated and headquartered.

2. Why is this case important for Canada and Canadian law?

Canada is home to nearly half of the world’s publicly listed mining and mineral companies, which have long been associated with serious human rights violations and environmental damage. Yet Canadian companies have rarely been held to account for the harms arising from their operations. As Human Rights Watch recently observed, “Canada has consistently failed to implement promised reforms to hold these corporations accountable.” As a result, legal actions have assumed particular importance in developing the law to enable people harmed by the operations of Canadian companies abroad to seek redress where those companies are domiciled.

This case could be a particularly important step towards accountability for Canadian companies implicated in human rights violations abroad and provide greater access to remedy for those harmed. 

3. What are important precedents for cases against Canadian companies implicated in human rights violations at operations in another country?

Several cases have been brought against Canadian companies for human rights violations at their operations in other countries. These include Araya v Nevsun Resources and Garcia v Tahoe Resources Inc., which concerned human rights violations at mines in Eritrea and Guatemala, respectively.  The corporate defendants in these cases settled the legal actions. The Nevsun case was particularly important as prior to settlement, it established the precedent that Canadian companies may be directly liable for breaches of customary international law, such as the prohibition against torture, at their operations abroad.

Another important case is Choc et al v Hudbay Minerals et al, brought by Indigenous Mayan Q’eqchi’ plaintiffs from Guatemala against a Canadian mining company and its subsidiaries for violence committed by private and state security forces. An Ontario court determined that the case may proceed in Canada despite preliminary challenges by the defendant companies, ruling that they may be held liable under the law for the harms caused, including by state security forces. The case is ongoing. 

4. Why are legal cases for killings and assaults at the North Mara mine proceeding in both Canada and the United Kingdom simultaneously?

The North Mara mine began commercial production in 2002 and was acquired by Barrick in 2006. Between 2010 and 2019, Barrick’s subsidiary, African Barrick Gold (renamed Acacia Mining in 2014) operated the mine. This subsidiary, in which Barrick maintained a majority shareholding, was incorporated in the UK. In September 2019, Barrick acquired the remaining minority shares in Acacia, took it back in-house, and assumed operational control of the North Mara mine.

In 2013, a first group of Tanzanian nationals injured or whose family members were killed by security forces at the North Mara mine brought a legal case against Acacia Mining before the UK courts. The company settled these claims in 2015.

Then in 2020, a second group of Tanzanian nationals, represented by the British law firm Hugh James, brought another case in the UK for human rights violations at the mine between 2014 and September 2019. The claimants include a young man whose father was shot in the head at close range on the mine site, the father of a nine-year-old girl run over and killed by a mine vehicle driven by police, and four women who were fired upon as they gathered around the girl’s body. That case is ongoing before the High Court of England and Wales, and Barrick’s subsidiaries have denied liability.

The Canadian action filed in November 2022 is the first time Barrick has faced a legal action in Canada for  human rights violations at one of its operations abroad. The case against Barrick concerns human rights violations after September 2019, when Barrick took Acacia Mining back in-house. The legal case has been filed in the province of Ontario and is being brought by Tanzanian nationals represented by the Canadian law firms Camp Fiorante Matthews Mogerman LLP and Waddell Phillips.

Published 23 November 2022