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Tanzanians are suing Canada’s Barrick Gold over alleged abuse at the mine

Tanzanian villagers are accusing the Canadian mining giant of complicity in killings and torture at the North Mara gold mine.

A group of Tanzanian villagers are suing Canadian mining giant Barrick Gold over alleged police killings, torture and other ill-treatment at a gold mine in northwestern Tanzania.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in the Supreme Court in Ontario, Canada, accuses the world’s second-largest gold miner of being complicit in extrajudicial killings by police guarding its North Mara facility, which is about 30 km (18 miles) ) away from the border is Kenya.

According to the file, the plaintiffs include relatives of five men who were killed by the Tanzanian police assigned to the mine. Nine of the plaintiffs were themselves beaten or shot by the police, it said.

The claim says residents in North Mara routinely enter “rock waste areas” to salvage rocks with traces of gold, which they process and sell. Police there responded violently to people entering the mine, the lawsuit says.

It also claims that Barrick had “effective and practical control” over the Tanzanian police stationed at the mine and that the company’s security arrangements with the police make them effectively the mine’s “private and heavily armed security force.”

“The lawsuit brought by the plaintiffs, who are members of the Kurya indigenous community in whose villages in northern Tanzania the mine was built, concerns brutal killings, shootings and torture which they allege were committed by police associated with the… guarding the mine,” RAID, a company guard, said in a statement Wednesday.

A Barrick Gold spokesman told Reuters that the company had received a copy of the lawsuit and that it was “riddled with inaccuracies.”

The spokesman said the lawsuit “seeks claims against Barrick Gold Corporation of Ontario based on alleged actions by the Tanzanian Police, although Barrick exercises no control or direction of any kind over the Tanzanian Police.”

“We intend to vigorously defend these allegations in the appropriate forum,” she said.

This is the first case filed against Barrick Gold in a Canadian court for alleged overseas violations. It comes after the country’s top court ruled in 2019 that Canadian company Nevsun Resources Ltd could be sued in Canada over alleged forced labor and other abuses at a mine in Eritrea.

Canadian companies have been accused for years of complicity, failure to investigate or prevent alleged rights violations and environmental damage in their operations outside the country.

Canada “is home to nearly half of the world’s publicly traded mining and mineral exploration companies,” says Natural Resources Canada, a federal department, on its website.

Most of the profits come from the work of the companies abroad. In 2020, 730 Canadian mining and exploration companies had assets in 97 countries worth US$150 billion (CAN$188.2 billion), the ministry reports.

While Canada created the Office of the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Business (CORE) to monitor business practices involving Canadian companies in mining and other sectors, advocates say the government needs to do more to curb abuses.

Wednesday’s lawsuit against Barrick Gold is the seventh human rights lawsuit filed by foreign plaintiffs against a mining company in Canada since 2010, according to the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability.

“We stand in solidarity with these plaintiffs and will be following the case closely. At the same time, we are calling on Ottawa to stand up and pass legislation to prevent abuse in the first place,” Emily Dwyer, the group’s political director, said in a statement.

Anneke Van Woudenberg, RAID Executive Director, also welcomed the Ontario lawsuit, saying, “Tanzanian communities have had little choice but to turn to Canadian courts for justice and an end to the culture of violence at the mine.”

“This case is an important test of whether Canada is prepared to hold its own companies accountable for wrongdoing, or to override its legal human rights obligations when it comes to people harmed by Canadian companies operating abroad will,” she said in a statement.

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