Ecuadorean Indigenous leaders have won the right to take Chevron to court in Canada for US$12 billion in company assets over environmental damages.
Justice Glenn Hainey of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled Friday that natives of the country’s Lago Agrio region “may proceed to trial” against the multinational oil giant, according to the Amazon Defense Coalition, ADC. The ruling allows Chevron to present only a limited number of defenses for its allegation that the lawsuit is fraudulent.
“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,” Lago Agrio native and ADC leader Carlos Guaman said in a statement.
Indigenous residents of Lago Agrio have led a decades-long struggle against the oil corporation.
Texaco, now a subsidiary of Chevron, began drilling for crude oil in the region in 1964. Three years later, the corporation discovered mass reservoirs of oil, raking in millions of dollars from full-scale extraction.
After decades of profit-reaping, Texaco pulled out of Lago Agrio in 1993, leaving behind billions of gallons of oil-laced toxic waste. The result: thousands of Indigenous residents have since died or become critically ill from cancers, birth defects, and other pollution-related ailments.
In 2001, Texaco’s refining operations merged and were acquired by Chevron. Ten years later, with help from Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, the corporation was ordered to pay US$8 billion in compensation to the residents of Lago Agrio. Chevron has since denied responsibility for polluting the region and has regarded their case as “illegitimate.”
In 2014 and 2016, U.S. courts dismissed Ecuador’s ruling and sided with Chevron, leaving the plaintiffs with no other option but to go after their assets in Canada.
Although Hainey ruled that Chevron’s assets in Canada are off-limits because they are owned by Chevron Canada, a subsidy of the multinational corporation, Lago Agrio’s Indigenous leaders are confident that they can still go after Chevron itself. The villagers are now going after a US$12 billion settlement, $3 billion more than when they launched the case, given that interest on the judgment has accrued.
“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,” Karen Hinton, a U.S.-based spokesperson for the plaintiffs, wrote in a statement.
“Ultimately, we are confident that Canada’s courts will hold Chevron fully accountable for its outrageous and criminal conduct in Ecuador.”