Schnoor v. Canada

Plaintiff Defendant

Canadian Ambassador Sued for Defaming Documentary Film Maker steven schnoor

Canada’s History in El Estor, Guatemala


A US-backed military coup installs the first of several military governments in Guatemala.


Canadian nickel mining company Inco begins negotiations with successive military governments regarding the construction of an open pit nickel mine near El Estor. [1]

- Guatemala’s bloody 36-year civil war starts.  The UN-backed truth commission later reports that 83% of the over 200,000 people killed or disappeared in the conflict were ethnic Mayans, and that the Guatemalan government was responsible for 93% of all human rights violations and violent attacks.


Inco seeks and receives Canadian government support for the proposed Inco nickel mine near El Estor.  Both Canada’s ambassador to Guatemala and Canada’s Department of External Affairs greet the proposed Inco project with enthusiasm, and begin pushing Inco’s cause in Guatemala. Around this time, Canada greatly strengthens diplomatic ties with Guatemala.[2]


Leftist guerrillas choose the hills surrounding El Estor as their base of operations.  The magazine Business International later reports that Inco “went to the underdeveloped and politically explosive area of Guatemala – headquarters for Guatemala’s leftist guerrillas . . . because that’s where the nickel is.”[3]


Inco receives a 40 year mining lease to an area 385 km2 in size near El Estor from the Guatemalan government.[4] In order to allow for open-pit mining, which was previously prohibited by the constitution, the military government suspends the constitution, dissolves congress and passes a new mining code – a code largely written by a mining engineer hired by Inco.[5] Inco’s agreement with the military dictatorship includes both extensive tax concessions and an understanding that the Guatemalan government would provide “stability” in the El Estor region.[6]


The Guatemalan military launches a “reign of terror” in the area around El Estor.  Military operations provide Inco with the needed stability and security to operate a mine.[7] Time magazine reports that 3,000 people are killed in the military’s sweep of the area, including over 2,400 “innocent peasants”.  Other sources estimate the dead at closer to 6,000.[8] The Colonel in charge of operations to pacify the area around Inco’s mine site is nicknamed “Butcher of Zacapa”. 


Q’eqchi’ Mayan farmers are expelled from land near Inco’s proposed mine, paving the way for mining operations and the construction of a new town site to house the mine’s workforce.  This process continues until 1971.[9] This land is the land that the Canadian Embassy now says is being ‘invaded’ by Q’eqchi’ Mayan ‘squatters’.


Canadian Ambassador to Guatemala signals Canada’s continuing support for Inco’s El Estor project by going on a well-publicized tour of the mine site.[10]


An ad hoc committee of Guatemalan lawyers and academics writes a report criticizing the 1965 agreement between Inco and the Guatemalan government.  The report argues that the agreement is a corrupt deal that gives away the nation’s resources.  The report is widely and publically distributed.[11]


The “Butcher of Zacapa”, Colonel Arana Osorio is elected president of Guatemala, with the promise that if necessary, he will “turn the country into a cemetery in order to pacify it”. [12] Arana immediately suspends civil liberties.


Public protest against Inco grows. The government orders mass arrests, suspends the constitutional right to assembly, and occupies the University of San Carlos in Guatemala City, the center of the opposition. The state begins a systematic attack against the authors of the report (see page 100-104 of the linked PDF). Law professor Julio Camey Herrera is assassinated hours after the university occupation ends. Law professor and congressional deputy Adolfo Mijangos López is shot dead in his wheelchair on a crowded street in the center of Guatemala City in January 1971. Alfonzo Paiz Bauer is wounded in an assassination attempt and Rodolfo Piedra Santa is forced into exile because of threats to his life.[13] The UN-backed truth commission later concludes that these crimes were committed as reprisals for opposition to the government’s policies, especially the government’s agreements with Inco (see Illustrative Case 100 of the linked PDF). One month before his assassination, Mijangos is quoted as saying “[e]very time I leave home to go to my office, my wife wonders if it’s the last time we’ll see each other. One hopes for a quick death. That’s all.”[14]


The Canadian government provides Inco’s subsidiary with a $17.25 million dollar loan through the Canadian Export Development Corporation.[15]


Employees of a subsidiary of Inco are involved in the execution of four persons near the El Estor mine site.  The UN backed truth commission classifies these murders as arbitrary executions (see page 105 of the linked PDF).

- In another incident, Jose Che Pop and Miguel Sub, protestors from near El Estor are shot at and wounded by men riding in truck owned by a subsidiary of Inco (see page 679 of the linked PDF).


Police travelling in a vehicle owned by a subsidiary of Inco abduct community leader Pablo Bac Caal from his home in El Estor.  He is later found murdered.  Bac Caal often spoke out on the issue of the land rights of indigenous peoples. The UN-backed truth commission classifies his murder as an arbitrary execution (see page 674 of the linked PDF).


Inco shuts down production at its mine near El Estor.  The shut down is blamed on high oil prices and a collapse in nickel demand because of a worldwide recession.  The shutdown occurs after the Government of Guatemala attempts to impose a 5% royalty on Inco. Inco retains control of the property.


Guatemala’s 36-year bloody civil war comes to an end.  The Guatemalan Peace Accords include provisions on protecting and returning historical Mayan lands to Mayans.  The Peace Accords also place restrictions on the use of the military and private security forces.

2004 Skye Resources, a Canadian mining company with deep connections with Inco, announces it has purchased the El Estor mine from Inco.


James Lambert, Canada’s then-Ambassador to Guatemala, engages in a PR campaign to shore up public support for the Canadian mining industry in Guatemala by appearing on talk shows, and writing op-ed pieces for local newspapers.  Ambassador Lambert writes in a Guatemalan newspaper that Canadian mining companies are at the “vanguard of advanced technology, protection of the environment and social responsibility”.  On the same day, the same newspaper releases a survey indicating that 95.5% of people living next to another Canadian-owned mine in another province in Guatemala are opposed to the mine.


In December, the Canadian Embassy in Guatemala arranges for Chief Jerry Asp of the Tahltan Band Council in British Columbia to travel to Guatemala to tell Mayan indigenous groups about the alleged benefits that mining provides to indigenous groups in Canada.  One month later, the legitimacy of the message is called into question when thirty five Tahltan elders occupy Chief Asp’s office for over a month to protest mining on their territory and to repudiate Chief Asp’s authority to speak on their behalf. 


Ambassador Lambert promotes the Canadian mining industry by appearing on the Guatemalan television show “Libre Encuentro” where he emphasizes the benefits mining provides to indigenous people in Canada.  Ambassador Lambert uses Chief Asp and the Tahltan nation as an example.


An agency of the United Nations finds that Guatemala has breached international law by granting Skye Resources mining rights near El Estor without consulting with indigenous groups.  The UN releases a report discussing the violation in 2007.


Mayan Q’eqchi’ populations return to their ancestral land in the area around El Estor including land that is formally part of Skye’s mining concession.

       - Police evict these Mayan Q’eqchi’ farmers without a court order on November 12.


Hundreds of police, military and private security forces evict Mayan Q’eqchi’ farmers from various communities on January 8, 9 and 17.  Some homes are burned down in the process.  Skye Resources publishes a news release expressing gratitude to the police force for carrying out the evictions.

       - The Canadian Ambassador to Guatemala spreads misinformation regarding a documentary film showing the evictions.  The Ambassador insists that the film is not credible, that one of the Mayan Q’eqchi’ woman being evicted was a paid actress, and that the still frames in the film were in fact taken many years before in the context of the civil war and were falsely portrayed in the documentary as having been taken in 2007. 


Throughout this time, the Embassy refers to Mayan Q’eqchi’ farmers as ‘invaders’ and ‘squatters’ without acknowledging that they or their families were forcibly removed from the land during the Guatemalan civil war, or acknowledging Inco’s bloody history.  The Canadian embassy also often requests help from the Guatemalan government on behalf of Canadian mining companies.

   - In August, Skye Resources is purchased by HudBay Minerals, another Canadian mining company.
       - In November, HudBay Minerals announces that it will delay the construction of the mine near El Estor until market conditions improve.


Community leader, local school teacher and vocal opponent of the mine Adolfo Ich Chamán is shot and killed by the security forces of a subsidiary of Canada’s HudBay Minerals.  Several other community members are wounded - one is rendered a paraplegic.

[1] J.H. Bradbury, “International Movements and Crises in Resource Oriented Companies: The Case of Inco in the Nickel Sector”, (1985) 61 Economic Geography 129 at p. 138.

[2] Peter McFarlane, “Inco and the Guatemalan Colonel,” in Northern Shadows: Canadians and Central America (Toronto: Between the Lines, 1989) 122 at pp. 123-124.

[3] “Central American Common Market: Profits and Problems in an Integrating Economy”, Business International, (New York, 1969) p. 27.

[4] Steven Driever, “The Role of Lateritic Nickel Mining in Latin American Countries with Special Reference to Exmibal in Guatemala” (1985) 11 GeoJournal 29 at p. 34.

[5] Jamie Swift, The Big Nickel: Inco at home and abroad, (Kitchener, Ontario: Between the Lines, 1977) at p. 68.

[6] McFarlane, supra note 2 at 127; see also, Swift, supra note 5 at pp. 68-69.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Régis Debray, The Revolution on Trial, (New York: Penguin Books, 1978) at p. 314.

[9] Bradbury, supra note 1 at p. 138.

[10] McFarlane, supra note 2 at p129.

[11] Swift, supra note 5 at 74-76; see also McFarlane, supra note 2 at pp. 129-130.

[12] McFarlane, supra note 2 at 130.

[13] Patrick Ball, Paul Kobrak, and Herbert F. Spirer, State Violence in Guatemala, 1960-1996: A Quantitative Analysis, online at

[14] Swift, supra note 7 at p. 76.

[15] Swift, supra note 5 at p. 73.