Lawsuit against B.C. mining company should be heard in Guatemala: judge

VANCOUVER – Seven protesters hurt outside a Guatemalan mine owned by a company registered in British Columbia must file their lawsuit in the Central American country, a judge has ruled.

The men launched a civil claim in B.C. Supreme Court against Tahoe Resources Inc. (TSX: THO) after security guards sprayed protesters with rubber bullets outside the Escobal Mine in 2013.

The Guatemalan citizens had argued the case should be heard in B.C. because they had no faith that their country’s legal system would hold the company accountable.

But Tahoe asked the court to decline jurisdiction and stay the lawsuit, and Justice Laura Gerow agreed with the company.

“It is apparent that trying this action in British Columbia will result in considerably greater inconvenience and expenses for the parties and dozens of witnesses,” she said in a written decision.

She noted that translators would be required for all the Spanish-speaking plaintiffs, and evidence and witnesses would have to be transported from Guatemala and Tahoe’s U.S. offices.

Tahoe is incorporated in B.C. but its headquarters and majority of its staff are in Reno, Nev. It is the parent company to Guatemalan-based Minera San Rafael, which owns the mine.

The judge ruled that Guatemala is clearly the more appropriate forum for the suit. She said the country’s legal system is “imperfect” but functional.

“In my view, the public interest requires that Canadian courts proceed extremely cautiously in finding that a foreign court is incapable of providing justice to its own citizens,” the decision said.

“To hold otherwise is to ignore the principle of comity and risk that other jurisdictions will treat the Canadian judicial system with similar disregard.”

A criminal case is already underway in Guatemala against the security manager who allegedly ordered the shooting. The plaintiffs are seeking compensation for their injuries as part of that case.

The incident unfolded on April 27, 2013, when guards attempted to disperse protesters gathered outside the silver, gold, lead and zinc mine under construction.

Adolfo Garcia claimed a projectile lodged in his spine when he was shot in the back, while Luis Monroy said his sense of smell was destroyed when he was shot in the face.

The other plaintiffs, ranging in age from 17 to 40, are farmers and students who claimed projectiles hit them in the legs, knee and foot. They alleged shotguns, pepper spray and buck shot were also used.

The suit claimed Tahoe was liable for either authorizing the use of excessive force or negligence for not preventing the violence.

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