Canada's top court rules Nevsun lawsuit can proceed, paving way for more overseas abuse cases

(Reuters) - Canada’s top court on Friday said a lawsuit by Eritrean workers against miner Nevsun Resources Ltd can proceed, a decision that clears the way for cases to be brought domestically against Canadian companies accused of abuses abroad.

Legal advocates and civil society groups hailed the court’s 5-4 decision as a landmark victory.

The Supreme Court of Canada dismissed an appeal from Nevsun and said a lawsuit by three Eritrean workers against the miner for alleged violations of human rights could go forward.

The plaintiffs, who were employed by Nevsun at its Bisha gold mine in Eritrea, Africa, have accused the company of slavery, forced labor and crimes against humanity.

“It sends a clear message that you could be sued in Canada if you become entangled or engaged in human rights abuses abroad,” said plaintiff lawyer Joe Fiorante at Vancouver law firm Camp Fiorante Matthews Mogerman LLP.

Nevsun, bought last year by China’s Zijin Mining Group Co Ltd (601899.SS), has denied the allegations.

Non-government groups have for years called for greater oversight of Canadian mining companies abroad following a number of environmental incidents and accusations of human rights abuses.

Another case, against Hudbay Minerals Inc (HBM.TO) over alleged abuses in Guatemala, is at trial.

Nevsun had objected to a ruling by the British Columbia Court of Appeal on grounds the lower courts did not have the power to pass judgment on the lawsuit. It cited a doctrine that says courts in one country are not allowed to rule on what another country does.

In its judgment on Friday, the Supreme Court said the lawsuit could go forward and that the trial judge would have to decide whether Nevsun breached customary international law. (

Vancouver-based Nevsun said in a statement on Friday it does not intend to comment further on the judgment. It added that it expects a trial of the claims, and those of other similar claimants, will proceed in the Supreme Court of British Columbia in September 2021.

Reporting by Jeff Lewis in Toronto and Shradha Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Tom Brown