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Claims Against Corporate Defendant Founded on Customary International Law Can Proceed in Canada

By Stephen G.A. Pitel, Faculty of Law, Western University

Eritrean mine workers who fled from that country to British Columbia sued the mine’s owner, Nevsun Resources Ltd. They sought damages for various torts including battery, false imprisonment and negligence. They also sought damages for breaches of customary international law. Their core allegation was that as conscripted labourers in Eritrea’s National Service Program, they were forced to work in the mine in intolerable conditions and Nevsun was actively involved in this arrangement.

Nevsun moved to strike out all of the claims on the basis of the act of state doctrine. It also moved to strike out the proceedings based on violations of customary international law because they were bound to fail as a matter of law.