A group of activists opened the eyes of some East Yorkers at the recent community screening of a potent film about two Canadian mining companies’ impact on indigenous people in Guatemala.
A consortium of Cinema Politica – Danforth, Rights Action, CUPE Ontario and the Law Union of Ontario sponsored the screening of “Defensora,” a documentary about Skye Resources and its corporate successor, Hudbay Minerals, and their effects on the Guatemala’s Mayan Q’eqchi population. It was shown to a room full of East Yorkers at the S. Walter Stewart library, and was followed by a discussion led by a lawyer for the indigenous people and by Craig Scott, the New Democrat MP for Toronto-Danforth.
The film opened with a religious ritual followed by an shower of statistics demonstrating how Canadian mining interests have been operating in Guatemala for over 50 years — with hundreds of mines.
The producers of Defensora are particularly interested in land that they say Hudbay has taken from the Mayan people. Toronto lawyers Murray Klippenstein and Cory Wanless are now helping the Mayans with legal action against Hudbay. Their firm has a rack record with litigation on behalf of First Nations, women’s shelters and people held in custody during the G20 summit in Toronto.
But the allegations in the film extend far beyond just the improper takeover of land. They include charges of violence, like the alleged beating death of a Guatemalan land rights activist who had been working for the Mayans and the alleged sexual assault of 11 women, followed by the burning of their homes on the contested land.
After the film, Klippenstein joined Scott in addressing audience questions.
“We have a legal system not designed to respond to what goes on outside of Canada,” said Scott. But in an historic precedent, he and Klippenstein said, Hudbay has dropped its legal arguments against hearing lawsuits related to these cases in a Canadian court. They said that although a judicial decision is still years away, this opens the door for others to bring lawsuits against Canadian companies for environmental and human rights issues outside of Canada.
“All the big firms in downtown Toronto who act for mining companies issued their bulletins for clients,” Klippenstein said, “and we collected some with some really fascinating things to say. Because of this precedent, you can’t do what you used to do.”