The Supreme Court of Canada yesterday gave the go-ahead to a group of Ecuadorian villagers to ask an Ontario court to assist them in collecting a $9.5-billion judgment against oil giant Chevron Corp which they obtained in Ecuador.
The villagers claimed that Texaco Inc., a company that was bought by Chevron in 1993, polluted 1,500 square kilometres of Ecuadorian Amazon water and land between 1972 and 1990.
The unanimous ruling, upholds a similar finding reached by the Ontario Court of Appeal in 2013 over the 20 year long legal battle.
The court found the original lawsuit was legally and properly brought in Ecuador and that the Ecuadorian plaintiffs had the right to bring the judgement claim against Chevron as it had been able to serve the claim at Chevron's office in Mississauga, Ontario.
“Traditional, presence-based jurisdiction is satisfied,” Justice Clement Gascon wrote in the seven-judge ruling.
The court threw out Chevron’s arguments that because the company did not have many assets in Ontario it would not be right to hear the case there.
“In today’s globalized world and electronic age, to require that a judgment creditor wait until the foreign debtor is present or has assets in the province before a court can find that it has jurisdiction in recognition and enforcement proceedings would be to turn a blind eye to current economic reality,” Justice Gascon wrote.
A spokesman for the Ecuadorian villagers, Humberto Piaguaje, said the Supreme Court decision meant the “beginning of the end of Chevron’s abusive and obstructionist litigation strategy” to avoid paying the judgment, although the decision does not mean the villagers yet have money in the bank.
Justice Gascon wrote “A finding of jurisdiction does nothing more than afford the plaintiffs the opportunity to seek recognition and enforcement of the Ecuadorian judgment."
Legal experts say the case will now return to an Ontario judge, who will decide if the Ecuadorian judgment will be legally recognized and enforced in Canada.