Canada’s Diplomatic Support for Mining Companies Overseas

The Canadian government actively promotes and supports the international operations of Canadian extractive companies. This support takes many forms, including political backing (eg. support by embassies and trade commissions in opening doors overseas).

Shin Imai v. Canada (Minister of Foreign Affairs)

Access-to-information lawsuit concerning Canada’s intervention in human rights cases against Goldcorp Inc. in Guatemala.

Case update: 

The Federal Court has ruled that the Canadian government is not legally required to disclose details about its diplomatic interventions on behalf of a Canadian mining firm accused of human rights abuse in Guatemala.

The court found Ottawa was justified in blacking out key details in the documents it released because revealing them would reasonably be expected to bring “harm to Canada’s international relations.” The court initially issued a confidential decision, several weeks before making it public in February.

Read the latest press release.

“If Canadians can’t obtain meaningful information about the diplomatic support our government is providing to companies overseas, then our public disclosure rules are out of date and in need of reform,” says Emily Dwyer, Policy Director at the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability.

Overview of the case:

On March 2, 2021, the Federal Court of Canada heard arguments in a lawsuit seeking information about the Canadian government’s response to a human rights case concerning a Canadian-owned mine in Guatemala. The suit was brought by York University law professor and co-founder of the Justice & Corporate Accountability Project (JCAP), Shin Imai, who first sought the information through access-to-information requests in 2014.

The documents released to date, though redacted, show that Canadian officials engaged on Goldcorp’s behalf with decision-makers in Guatemala and Washington after the Organization of American States’ human rights commission called for a suspension of operations at the company’s Marlin mine in 2010. The Guatemalan government ultimately denied the commission’s request, which was meant to protect the rights of Indigenous communities, and the commission retracted it in 2011.   

The lawsuit contends that Global Affairs Canada improperly withheld information from public disclosure, and that the Office of the Information Commissioner erred when it reviewed the case and found the redactions were justified under the Access to Information Act. Professor Imai asked the court to order the disclosure of further details that could clarify the extent to which Canada pressed the human rights commission and the Guatemalan government to act in Goldcorp’s interest, without due regard for the concerns of Indigenous communities. In doing so, Canada may have run afoul of its international obligations.

Mr. Imai’s legal challenge was developed by JCAP and is supported by the following civil society groups: Above Ground, Amnesty International, the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability, Inter Pares, MiningWatch Canada and the Steelworkers Humanity Fund.

“The Canadian government’s decision to go to court rather than disclose this additional information raises the question: what else did it do to support Goldcorp?” says Shin Imai of JCAP. “The public should be able to scrutinize the government’s actions here, to assess the extent to which it undermined Indigenous communities’ efforts to defend their rights.”

Timeline of key events

Why this case matters:

Prof. Imai’s lawsuit argues that there is a clear public interest in disclosing the records. The public must be able to scrutinize the extent to which the Canadian government acted in the service of Goldcorp’s interests, while undermining Indigenous communities’ efforts to defend their rights. This disclosure would inform broader public debates regarding mining industry influence over Canadian foreign policy and the government’s compliance with its own policies and international human rights law. 

The case also highlights broader concerns regarding Canada’s access-to-information system, notably the broad use of exemptions to avoid accountability, competence and timeliness in government responses to requests, and the Office of the Information Commissioner’s effectiveness in guaranteeing the public’s right to access information. The current review of the Access to Information Act must address these concerns.

Updates and resources: