Record Environmental Judgement Moves to Ontario Superior Court in Toronto

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Long running dispute between petro-giant Chevron and Ecuadorian citizens has Canadian component


Toronto, Canada – This morning, Friends of the Earth Canada, the Steelworkers Humanity Fund of the United Steelworkers of Canada, and Amazon Watch filed an application to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice calling on the court to unseal documents in the historic legal effort to enforce one of the largest environmental judgments in history.


The Ecuadorian judgment was rendered in 2011 against Chevron Corporation, the U.S. oil giant, for deliberately polluting the Ecuadorian Amazon by dumping over 16 billion gallons of toxic oil waste waters and creating massive environmental destruction and a health crisis for tens of thousands of Amazonian inhabitants. In anticipation of a negative verdict, Chevron fled Ecuador, and shed its assets. Since the initial verdict and its affirmation by the Ecuadorian Supreme Court, the oil company is forcing the Ecuadorian communities to seek justice in Canada where the company holds more than enough assets to satisfy the now $12 billion debt to affected Ecuadorian indigenous and farmer communities who are in dire need of a clean-up, clean water, and health care. This is a legal delay strategy the likes of which has never before been seen. The Ecuadorian affected communities are attempting to seize Chevron's Canadian assets to cover its now US$12 billion debt to fund clean-up and health-care costs for affected peoples. Chevron operates 1,500 subsidiaries with $225-billion annual revenues, while Ecuadorian villagers have an average income of about $20 a day.


Later this month, a hearing will be held in Toronto before the Superior Court of Ontario where the Ecuadorians will appeal a lower court decision, essentially protecting Chevron Canada's assets from being seized to cover the debts of its parent company. Chevron has thus far been able to hide the documents in this case from public scrutiny and has argued that the assets of its subsidiary Chevron-Canada cannot be seized. These documents, also hidden from Chevron shareholders, may show that the Canadian company takes direction from Chevron management in the U.S. and operates as little more than a holding company.


The motion filed today asserts that preventing the public from accessing Chevron's filings violates the principle of open justice and is similar to one submitted to the court this same week by the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company). The Ontario Court of Appeal has also stated in a recent ruling that the case against Chevron is "public interest litigation" and that "there can be no doubt that the environmental devastation to the appellants' lands has severely hampered their ability to earn a livelihood." To date, Chevron has benefited from the fact that much of the proceedings are being conducted to a great degree behind a "shroud of secrecy."


Chevron's actions in this case, one which it famously promised to "fight until hell freezes over and then fight it out on the ice," have been repeatedly condemned by prominent international human rights and environmental organizations. Chevron legal intimidation tactics against its critics in the U.S. and abroad have helped to usher in a new era of corporate retaliation against the efforts of civil societies to hold them to account. In fact, many Canadian organizations have already publicly declared their support for the Ecuadorian communities seeking justice in this case and an end to Chevron intimidation tactics which have not only targeted environmental NGOs, but shareholders and journalists as well.


"Canada has a long-standing record of applying the polluter pays principle," says Beatrice Olivastri, CEO, Friends of the Earth Canada.  "The Ecuadorian court rendered its judgment against Chevron Corporation as a polluter in 2011. Now, in the interests of transparency and open justice, the Canadian public at large needs to have access to the full, unredacted court record as the Canadian court deliberates on the enforcement of the Ecuadorian judgement. Allowing Chevron Corporation to continue to hide their activities from the Canadian public sets a dangerous precedent for future cases."


"The Canadian public has a right to know what Chevron has done in Ecuador, and what the relationship is between Chevron Corporation and Chevron Canada. In Canada we have a commitment to transparency and aversion to impunity, and Chevron is abusing both in this case. We have an interest in justice being served and can't accept legal delay and avoidance tactics. Canadian courts have an important role to play to ensure Ecuadorian communities have access to justice and remedy," said Doug Olthuis, Executive Director, Steelworkers Humanity Fund.


"Chevron continues to try to hide everything it can from public scrutiny, but the truth is it can't hide the evidence of what it did in Ecuador. The oil company has lost every appeal in Canada and continues to try to delay while the affected communities in Ecuador continue to sicken and die from contamination. The oil company continues to waste shareholder funds on legal battles it ultimately can never win. The public needs to see the truth behind Chevron's justice aversion and efforts of impunity in what is the most important corporate accountability case in history. We hope the Canadian courts recognize this and approve our request to open these files up to the public," said Paul Paz y Miño, Associate Director of Amazon Watch.
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