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Canadian Embassy's Role Questioned in Mexican Delegation's Complaint to Integrity Commissioner

OTTAWA, MONTREAL and TORONTO - Mexican community leader Mariano Abarca was killed in 2009 for fighting to defend human rights and the environment in the small town of Chicomuselo, Chiapas, where Calgary-based mining company Blackfire operated with close communication and support from the Canadian Embassy in Mexico. No one has been held accountable in his death.

On Monday, Mr. Abarca's son, José Luis, along with supporting organizations from Mexico and Canada, filed a complaint with Canada's Public Sector Integrity Commissioner (PSIC) formally requesting an investigation into the embassy's acts and omissions, which they believe heightened the danger faced by Mr. Abarca and others.

"My father appealed directly to the Canadian Embassy for support when he and others were being threatened by Blackfire employees," says José Luis Abarca. "Shortly after, he was detained on false accusations made by the company. The embassy knew all this, but it supported the company, pressuring Chiapas state authorities to protect Blackfire's interests."

Information released through an Access to Information request shows that, despite the Canadian Embassy's considerable knowledge about the conflict over Blackfire's operations, including threats faced by Mr. Abarca, it lobbied the Chiapas state government to quell protests against the mine. In so doing, the complaint argues that the embassy violated policies aimed at protecting human rights and its own stated role to "facilitate an open and informed dialogue between all the parties."

"The Canadian Embassy could have used its influence to protect the life and wellbeing of Mr. Abarca and other residents of Chicomuselo, but it did the opposite," says lawyer Miguel Angel De Los Santos from the Human Rights Centre at the Autonomous University of Chiapas.

"The PSIC must investigate the embassy, which we believe contributed to putting Mr. Abarca's life in danger, and issue corresponding recommendations so this will not happen again."

Days after Mr. Abarca's murder, Blackfire's barite mine was closed on environmental grounds, lending credence to the struggle that Mr. Abarca and others had been fighting. Still, the embassy continued its support for the company, advising it to sue Mexico under the terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

"Persecution, threats and violence against land and environment defenders has only intensified in Mexico since the time of Mr. Abarca's murder," says Libertad Díaz from Otros Mundos Chiapas. "Given the importance of Canadian investment in the Mexican mining sector, we are deeply concerned about the role of Canadian authorities in cases where communities are struggling to protect their land and water from the negative impacts of Canadian mining operations."

Miguel Mijangos of the Mexican Network of Mining Affected People (REMA in Spanish) adds that Canadian mining has been booming in some of the most violence-ridden parts of Mexico, with public support from the Canadian Embassy.

"It is urgent that Mariano Abarca's case be thoroughly investigated and measures be taken to prevent the lives and wellbeing of communities in Mexico from being sacrificed for Canadian profits," said Mr. Mijangos.

The complaint to the PSIC was prepared by the Justice and Corporate Accountability Project, a volunteer initiative based at Osgoode Hall Law School and Thompson Rivers University.

While in Canada, the Mexican delegation will participate in public events in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto:

- Tues., Feb. 6, 7-9 p.m., Carleton University, Senate Room, 608 Robertson Hall, 1125 Colonel By Drive, Ottawa;
- Wed., Feb. 7, 5-9:30 p.m., Chaufferie de l'Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), 175, avenue du Président-Kennedy, Montréal;
- Thurs., Feb. 8, 7-9:30 p.m., OCAD University, Room 330, 113 McCaul Street, Toronto.

The Mexican delegation is supported by MiningWatch Canada, the Steelworkers Humanity Fund, Common Frontiers, the Public Service Alliance of Canada Social Justice Fund, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the Council of Canadians, the Committee for Human Rights in Latin America (CDHAL), Inter Pares, KAIROS, the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLMG) and others.

See justice4mariano.net for up-to-date information about events.

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For further information:

Jen Moore (Mining Watch Canada), 613-569-3439, jen@miningwatch.ca
Shin Imai (Justice and Corporate Accountability Project), 647-524-2312, simai@justice-project.org

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