Canada: Lawsuit to prevent financing of life & culture destroying Copper Mesa Mining in Ecuador

“Financing being raised in Canada is travelling across borders to do harm,” said lawyer Murray Klippenstein by phone from his office in Toronto. “We want to find out if our legal system can respond to this.” Klippenstein is representing three villagers from the valley of Intag in northwestern Ecuador who are suing Copper Mesa Mining Corporation (TSX:CUX) and the Toronto Stock Exchange.

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They allege that company directors and the TMX Group have not done enough to reduce the risk of harm being faced by farmers and community leaders in Intag who have faced violent threats and attacks for opposition to a large open-pit copper mine in their pristine cloud forests. Still, they hope to go further. “What is happening in Intag is illustrative of a wider problem,” a summary of the legal claim states, “the corporate and financial unaccountability of the Canadian mining industry.”

So while the case uses established legal principles, the plaintiffs hope it will lead to long-awaited legal reforms to help better control thousands of Canadian financed projects abroad. Broad-based opposition to large scale copper mining arose when a Japanese company was initially carrying out mineral exploration a short distance away.

When the company released its Environmental Impact Assessment report for the proposed mine, the news that four communities would be displaced, as well as massive deforestation, local desertification, river contamination and harm to endangered species sparked vociferous opposition that persists. Since Copper Mesa, who has a strategic alliance with the giant Rio Tinto, took over the project in 2004, new issues have emerged with apparent attempts to break the opposition.

Now land trafficking, threats of violence, as well as relatively high-paying job offers have been driving a wedge between neighbours and families in these rural communities. “But,” commented Ramírez, “what most hurt is when they came… with armed men and sprayed us with gas.” In early December 2006, over 50 heavily armed security guards, mostly ex-soldiers, were hired to reach company concessions and set up camp.

Local residents had been tipped off and gathered along the narrow dirt road that the company-hired trucks would have to pass. When they arrived, Ramírez and others tried to urge the armed men to turn around. But instead, the security agents sprayed tear gas into their faces from only a metre away and fired their weapons into the air, injuring one man, also a plaintiff in the case.

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