Leaders of Ecuadorian indigenous rain forest communities have won the right to take Chevron to a short “mini-trial” to try to seize roughly $12 billion in company assets in Canada to enforce an environmental judgment, despite a technical legal ruling from a trial judge in Toronto that seems to put up a temporary roadblock to their corporate accountability campaign.
Justice Glenn Hainey of the Ontario trial court ruled Friday that the villagers “may proceed to trial” against Chevron with the company being allowed to present a limited number of defenses related to its claims that the Ecuador judgment was a product of fraud. However, three layers of courts in Ecuador already have rejected Chevron’s fraud claims, which have further weakened in recent months with an admission by Chevron’s star witness that he had lied under oath.
The latest ruling knocked out several key Chevron defenses to enforcement of the Ecuador environmental judgment on the grounds that the company already litigated them in Ecuador. Chevron accepted jurisdiction in Ecuador in 2001 and in 2011 was found guilty of dumping billions of gallons of oil-laced toxic waste into the rainforest, causing an outbreak of cancer and other diseases affecting 30,000 people.
The liability portion of the Ecuador trial court decision against Chevron was affirmed unanimously by Ecuador’s Supreme Court in 2013. Because the company refuses to pay the judgment, the villagers are enforcing it in Canada where that country’s Supreme Court already rejected a Chevron jurisdictional challenge in 2015. Interest on the judgment since the enforcement action was filed has increased its amount to roughly $12 billion.
In his decision, Hainey also ruled that Chevron’s estimated $25 billion in assets in the country are off-limits to collection because they are held by a wholly-owned subsidiary called Chevron Canada. But the plaintiffs predicted that part of the decision would be “swiftly reversed” by an appellate court, as already happened with a different Chevron jurisdictional challenge in 2014
The part of the decision that knocks out Chevron’s subsidiary from the enforcement action still allows the villagers to proceed against Chevron itself. Chevron Canada will be reinstated as a defendant in the enforcement action should that part of the decision be reversed on appeal, which is expected to be decided in roughly six months.
“The bottom line is that we are now one big step closer to our goal in Canada of forcing Chevron to comply with the rule of law and be held accountable for its environmental crimes in Ecuador,” said Carlos Guaman, the leader of the Amazon Defense Coalition, the grass roots organization in the rainforest that brought the underlying lawsuit and the enforcement action.
“The part of the decision allowing us to proceed to trial is extremely helpful while we see the corporate separateness issue as something we will win on appeal, allowing us to go ahead with our plan to seize the company’s assets,” he added.
Karen Hinton, a U.S.-based spokesperson for the villagers, issued the following statement in response to the Canada trial court decision:
This latest decision at core is a resounding victory for Ecuadorian indigenous groups and farmer communities who have struggled for more than two decades to force Chevron to clean up its toxic waste. The court sent Chevron a powerful message that it can no longer ride the legal merry-go-round and re-litigate the same discredited defenses in different court as part of its strategy of delay. The part of the decision to limit Chevron’s liability is a temporary setback that will be corrected quickly on appeal and it will not stop our forward momentum. The villagers expect to proceed later this year with their seizure of Chevron’s assets to force the company to respect multiple court judgments that found it guilty of dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste into the waterways of Ecuador, causing an outbreak of cancer and other harms afflicting thousands of people. Ultimately, we are confident that Canada’s courts will hold Chevron fully accountable for its outrageous and criminal conduct in Ecuador.
Guaman, the community leader in Ecuador and head of the grass roots coalition that brought the action to enforce the judgment, issued the following statement in the name of the Amazon Defense Coalition:
We want to thank Canada’s courts for sending a strong message to Chevron that its outrageous strategy of blocking justice will soon end. We want the world to know that thousands of people in Ecuador’s rainforest are suffering cancers, birth defects, and other health ailments due to Chevron’s criminal practice of dumping toxic waste for decades and poisoning our water sources and air. We want to reiterate that we expect Canada’s courts to uphold the rule of law and force Chevron to pay the environmental judgment which already has been confirmed in whole or in part by 15 separate appellate judges in Ecuador and Canada. This must be done quickly to save lives. Chevron is making a mockery of justice and its delay tactics must be stopped.
Credit: CRS Wire, www.csrwire.com