File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS Jose Luis Abarca Montejo holds a newspaper article in Toronto in 2010 about allegations of corruption by Calgary-based mining company Blackfire Exploration Ltd. Abarca Montejo’s father, Mariano Abarca Roblero, was a vocal opponent to Blackfire’s Payback mine, and he was gunned down in front of the family home in Chicomuselo, Chiapas, Mexico, in November 2009.

Ottawa pledges co-operation in mining complaint over Mexican activist’s slaying

OTTAWA — The federal government pledged Tuesday to co-operate fully with any investigation into the possible role of Canadian diplomats and a former Calgary mining company in the shooting death of a Mexican activist.

Family and supporters of slain activist Mariano Abarca this week asked the Public Service Integrity Commissioner to investigate his death, filing a notice that accuses Canadian diplomats of turning a blind eye to the human rights violations that ultimately cost him his life.

But it could be months before any investigation begins.

Abarca, a father of four who was gunned down in November 2009, opposed the Canadian mining project, saying it harmed the environment and was bad for his community in the Mexican state of Chiapas.

The complaint, by a group calling itself the Justice and Corporate Accountability Project, alleges Canadian diplomats in Mexico City were more interested in helping the now-defunct Blackfire Exploration overcome local protests than in upholding the values of human rights and good corporate behaviour.

“We believe that the acts and omissions of Canadian diplomats put the life and well-being of Mariano Abarca — who had gone to the (Canadian) embassy for support — and other people at risk,” Miguel Angel de los Santos, the Abarca’s family lawyer, told a news conference on Parliament Hill through a translator.

Blackfire ran an open-pit barite mine near the border with Guatemala. Abarca helped organize a three-month blockade of the project one year before his death — in a shooting in front of his house that remains unsolved to this day despite several arrests.

Less than two months before his death, diplomats from the Canadian embassy travelled to Chiapas to meet local Mexican officials to help Blackfire overcome opposition.

“The embassy’s goal was to advocate for greater attention by Chiapas to try to resolve the challenges that Blackfire is facing,” a trade official at the embassy wrote in an Oct. 13, 2009 email.

“Embassy made the point that Blackfire is a significant Canadian investment in Chiapas and its treatment will send a signal to other foreign investors, both Canadian and non-Canadian as to the attractiveness of Chiapas as an investment location.”

The email also said that the embassy had “intervened at senior levels to troubleshoot for four Canadian mining investments in Mexico” and was “successful in obtaining progress in all four cases.”

The email was part of a 982-page collection of documents released to MiningWatch Canada under an access to information request that underpins this week’s complaint.

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