Canadian company can face legal action over Congo massacre

By Richard Lee | June 20th, 2011
Canadian company can face legal action over Congo massacre

Landmark decision allows case against Anvil Mining to proceed

The Superior Court of Quebec ruled on 27th April 2011 that the case against Canadian corporation Anvil Mining Limited in relation to alleged involvement in a 2004 massacre in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) can proceed to the next stage.

The class action against Anvil Mining was filed in the District of Montreal on 8 November 2010 by The Canadian Association against Impunity (ACCI), an organization representing survivors and families of victims of the Kilwa massacre. Anvil Mining is accused of providing logistical support to the Congolese army who raped, murdered and brutalised the people of Kilwa in a massacre in 2004. According to the United Nations, over 70 civilians died as a direct result of the military action, including some who were executed and thrown in mass graves.

The Canadian Association against Impunity is represented by the Montréal based firm Trudel & Johnston. Members of the Association are six NGOs including two from DRC (ACIDH & ASADHO) two British (RAID & Global Witness) and two Canadians (L’Entraide Missionaire and the Canadian Centre for International Justice (CCIJ)].

In his decision, Judge Benoît Emery dismissed Anvil Mining’s attempt to have the case thrown out and concluded that there were sufficient links to Quebec to found the Quebec court’s jurisdiction over the case. Judge Emery also dismissed Anvil Mining’s argument that Quebec was not the appropriate forum and that the case should rather be brought in the DRC or Australia. Judge Emery stated:

"In fact, at this stage of the proceedings, everything indicates that if the Tribunal dismissed the action on the basis of article 3135 C.C.Q.[which allows the court to decline jurisdiction if another forum is more appropriate], there would exist no other possibility for the victims to be heard by civil justice” This decision represents a significant step forward in the process of trying to hold Anvil Mining to account and to bring some justice to the victims of the massacre and their families.

The court will now consider whether the case should be certified as a class action, allowing all those who suffered in Kilwa to bring claims against Anvil Mining. A hearing on the class certification is scheduled for June.

This decision is the culmination of six years of work by ACIDH, ASADHO and RAID. The NGOs have had to overcome enormous obstacles to get the case this far. There have been setbacks such as the outcome of the Congolese military trial and the decision of the Australian law firm to withdraw and attempts to prevent the NGOs from even reaching Kilwa to talk to the victims and their families. OSISA’s support has been critical because it has enabled the NGOs to work together in a systematic way gathering the testimonies of the victims and witnesses.

This outcome is crucial. It is a landmark decision in Canadian legal history: it is the first case concerning the alleged complicity in human rights by a company abroad ever to have been accepted by a Canadian Court. Anvil Mining does not have an automatic right of appeal at this stage in the proceedings but given the importance of the case the judge may grant them leave.

Obviously this is an important step in what will be a long legal battle.

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I never thought that I would

I never thought that I would see the day when Anvil Mining was actually forced to answer all the questions about the Kilwa massacre in court. I know that day is still a long way off - but this decision gives everyone hope that they will one day have to explain their actions in court. Well done to everyone who has fought this case for so long already!