End of the Road for Justice in Canada: Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Appeal by Family of Murdered Mexican Environment Defender

MiningWatch Canada — Mariano Abarca Environmental Foundation (FAMA) —Mexican Network of Mining Affected People (REMA) — Otros Mundos Chiapas

(Ottawa, Chiapas) The Supreme Court of Canada has refused to hear an appeal from the family of assassinated Mexican environment defender Mariano Abarca, effectively shutting the door in Canada to any investigation into the role Canadian diplomacy may have played in endangering Mariano’s life. 

Mariano Abarca, an outspoken community leader in the struggle against the social and environmental impacts of Canadian mining operations in his hometown of Chicomuselo, Chiapas, was murdered in 2009. Believing that the Canadian Embassy’s unconditional support for Blackfire Exploration put Mariano at further risk in the weeks and months before his assassination, his family filed a complaint under Canada’s whistleblower law in 2018. Ignoring over 1000 pages of evidence documenting the Embassy’s actions in support of the company, the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner – whose responsibility is to look into complaints by whistleblowers and ensure confidence in the public sector – refused to open an investigation. 

Upon judicial review, one federal court judge conceded that “perhaps Mariano Abarca would not have been murdered” if the embassy “[had] acted in a certain way”. Nonetheless, legal challenges of the Commissioner’s decision failed to elicit an investigation, culminating with the Supreme Court dismissal on January 12 of the family’s application for leave to appeal

With accountability mechanisms in Canada having failed Mariano Abarca’s family, they will now turn for justice to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. 

“We have exhausted all avenues to get at the truth in Canada,” says Mariano’s son Jose Luis Abarca. “My father was murdered 13 years ago and today, we are no closer to understanding the role Canadian officials may have played in putting his life in danger. While the actions of these Canadian officials go uninvestigated, Canadian embassies around the world continue to provide significant diplomatic support to Canadian mining companies, likely putting the lives of other human rights and environment defenders at risk. It is time we turn to international bodies to hold Canada accountable.” 

Supreme Court decision undermines the right to access justice for environment defenders, lawyers say

Legal Counsel for the family Nicholas Pope says, “By denying leave to appeal, the Supreme Court of Canada has ended the possibility for Canadian administrative and judicial inquiry into the wrongdoings of Canadian officials in Mariano Abarca’s case.  The integrity of Canada’s ethical review procedures for its international activities is a matter of tremendous concern for Canadians. It is unfortunate that the Court has closed this door.”

Shin Imai of the Justice and Corporate Accountability Project (JCAP) says, “This case extends beyond a mere investigation into the acts and omissions of Canadian officials at the embassy in Mexico. Had the appeal been approved by the Supreme Court, it would have been the first time that Canada’s much maligned whistleblower system would have come under scrutiny at the highest court – with significant implications for democracy, transparency, and Canada’s problematic diplomatic support for Canadian corporations abroad.” 

Canadian government continues to prioritize business over human rights 

In 2022, the value of Canadian mining assets abroad totalled $188 billion – assets owned by companies who receive significant financial and diplomatic support from the Canadian government. 

Professor Charis Kamphuis of the Justice and Corporate Accountability Project (JCAP) says that economic diplomacy can have adverse human rights impacts and can be fundamentally at odds with Canada’s international obligations. “While Canadian officials provide robust political support to advance Canadian mining interests abroad, they regularly fail to uphold Canada’s own policies on the protection of threatened human rights and environment defenders,” she says. “Unfortunately, in Mariano Abarca’s case, the Canadian courts were not willing to take this issue seriously and require an investigation of the actions of Canadian officials.”

Gustavo Castro of Otros Mundos Chiapas and the Mexican Network of Mining Affected People (REMA) has worked with the Abarca family since before Mariano’s murder. “The Supreme Court of Canada’s refusal to hear this appeal is disappointing and reaffirms our perception of just how much Canadian authorities are captured by the interests of their mining companies. This case is about Mariano Abarca’s murder in Mexico, but also about human rights and environment defenders protecting their land and water from the harms caused by Canadian mining operations in Latin America and everywhere,” he says. 

Background information:

Media Contacts: 

  • Nicholas Pope, Hameed Law, 613-656-6917
  • Shin Imai, Professor Emeritus, Osgoode Hall Law School, 647-524-2312
  • Viviana Herrera, Latin American program coordinator, (to set up interviews with the family), 438-993-1264