This Tuesday, April 17, a court in Toronto will hear the latest round of arguments in the epic legal battle between Chevron and the Ecuadorian villages that the oil company systematically contaminated for decades.
This latest chapter opens with the country’s second-biggest oil company performing the legal equivalent of the comedy trope known as “Behind a Stick,” when one or more characters attempt to hide using a much-too-thin object. In the case pending before the Ontario Appeals Court, the fat man is Chevron, and the stick is its subsidiary, Chevron Canada, which Chevron believes it can stand behind without being seen — or at least without being held liable for its crimes.
The company is claiming that, in terms of liability, neither it, nor its estimated $15 to $25 billion in Canadian assets, exists. Only Chevron Canadaexists, and any appearance of a relationship between the California-based Chevron and Chevron Canada, its wholly owned subsidiary in the Great White North, is purely coincidental.
One court in Canada has agreed with Chevron that it can’t be seen standing behind Chevron Canada. On Tuesday, the Ecuadorians will begin arguing their appeal.
The story of how Chevron came to be hiding behind a legal coat rack in a Toronto courtroom famously begins a half-century ago in northern Ecuador, where the company devastated an area of rainforest the size of Rhode Island, leaving behind an estimated 1,000 toxic waste pits and a health emergency known as the “Amazon Chernobyl.”
Less known are the many turns the story has taken since the Ecuadorian Supreme Court in 2013 upheld a $9.5 billion damages award. The biggest class action judgment in history seemed to herald the arrival of a new paradigm for communities around the world seeking redress for pollution caused by strip-dump-and-split oil and mining companies.
But Chevron and the industry understood the power of this precedent, and announced that it could not stand. As a Chevron lobbyist told Newsweek, “We can’t let little countries screw around with big companies like this.”
After losing in Ecuador, where Chevron had insisted the trial be held, it counter-sued in New York, arguing that the Ecuadorian award was based on fraud. The company’s central witness was a corrupt Ecuadorian judge named Alberto Guerra, whom the company paid $2 million dollars and coached for nearly two months prior to his taking the …read more