By Renee Lewis / Al Jazeera America / Sept. 4, 2015
Canada’s Supreme Court ruled Friday that Ecuadorian villagers and indigenous communities could sue Chevron Corporation in the Canadian province of Ontario over a decades-long contamination that environmentalists have dubbed the “Amazon Chernobyl.”
The plaintiffs, who include about 30,000 villagers and indigenous people, decided to go after the energy giant’s assets in Canada, Brazil and Argentina after the company contested a ruling by Ecuador’s highest court to pay $9.5 billion to clean up the contamination site.
Communities in the Lago Agrio region of Ecuador allege that Texaco, which was acquired by Chevron in 2001, dumped some 16 billion tons of oil and toxic waste in the Amazon rainforest as a cost-saving measure between 1964 and 1992, Telesur reported. That’s 80 times the amount of oil spilled in the 2010 British Petroleum Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, the Latin American news website added.
Ecuadorian villagers and indigenous communities affected by the contamination allege that it has resulted in illness and death, Telesur reported in June, and that they are still suffering the consequences of Texaco’s actions.
Plaintiffs claim that Texaco attempted to hide the dumping by covering nearly 1,000 oil pits with vegetation. People eventually built homes over some of the pits, and began coming down with mysterious illnesses, it is claimed.
“It has been 33 years … and I never knew that this was a covered pit,” local resident Serbio Curipoma told Telesur.
“And my water well is only 4 or 5 meters away. My children and myself are always sick, we get skin rashes, high temperatures from fevers, everything,” he added. “It is unfortunate, and I am worried about my family living in these conditions, my wife has had problems with her uterus.”
Friday’s ruling upheld a 2013 decision by the Ontario court of appeal, confirming that Canada was an appropriate jurisdiction for the case. Because Chevron has no assets in Ecuador, plaintiffs pursued its subsidiary Chevron Canada. The case will now proceed to a lower court in Ontario.
“Canadian courts, like many others, have adopted a generous and liberal approach to the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments,” the Canadian Supreme Court said in its ruling.
The plaintiffs, who have been fighting for compensation for more than 20 years, initially sued Texaco – which later merged with Chevron – over the mass contamination.
The Canadian court clarified that it was not taking a position on the merits of the case, only providing an opportunity for it to proceed.
“A finding of jurisdiction does nothing more than afford the plaintiffs the opportunity to seek recognition and enforcement of the Ecuadorian judgment,” Justice Clement Gascon wrote for the court, according to Global News.
Chevron said in a statement that it would continue to fight the Ecuadorian judgment, which it characterized as “the product of fraud and other misconduct, and is therefore illegitimate and unenforceable.”
In 2014, a U.S. judge ruled that an American lawyer working on behalf of plaintiffs to secure the $9.5 billion settlement in Ecuadorian court used corrupt means. That ruling was appealed.
“It is clearer than ever that Chevron’s long run from justice is coming to an end,” Aaron Marr Page, a U.S. lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a statement.
The villagers and indigenous communities affected have vowed to see the case against Chevron through until the corporation cleans up the contamination and adequately compensates them for their losses.