TORONTO, Sep. 21 /CSRwire/ – In a blow to Chevron’s prospects in the historic Ecuador pollution litigation, three major Canadian indigenous leaders and a co-founder of Greenpeace have announced they are joining with rainforest communities to force the oil major to comply with an Ecuador court order that it remediate damage caused by the deliberate dumping of billions of gallons of toxic waste in the Amazon region.
The move is significant largely because Chevron is potentially on the hook in Canadian courts for 100% of a $9.5 billion Ecuador judgment, which was won by the communities in 2011. The amount since has risen to $12 billion due to interest that has accrued since an enforcement action was filed in Canada in 2012. Chevron has vowed not to pay the judgment and has promised the indigenous groups “a lifetime of litigation” if they persist.
Chevron has assets in Canada estimated to be worth $15 billion to $25 billion. The company also is building new pipelines in Canada through indigenous territory without permission of the local communities in an apparent violation of the law, the leaders say.
The three Canadian indigenous leaders joining the battle against Chevron include Phil Fontaine, former National Chief of Canada’s Assembly of First Nations (AFN), comprised of Canada’s 633 indigenous nationalities; Grand Chief Wilton Littlechild, a Cree chief, lawyer, and former member of Canadian Parliament, who helped draft the original UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; and Grand Chief Ed John, a hereditary Chief of Tl’azt’en Nation in British Columbia, a lawyer, member of BC’s First Nations Summit Task Group on Aboriginal Title and Rights, and a Representative to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
Also joining forces with the Ecuadorians is Canadian resident Rex Weyler, a co-founder of Greenpeace in the 1970s. Weyler, a successful author and longtime environmental activist, now writes the “Deep Green” blog that has attracted a global following on the Greenpeace International website.
The three indigenous leaders and Weyler were invited to join the campaign against Chevron by the Amazon Defense Coalition (FDA), a non-profit organization based in Ecuador that brought the original lawsuit in 1993. The FDA represents the 80 indigenous and farmer communities in an impacted area of 1,500 sq. miles that locals call the “Amazon Cherobyl”; one its leaders, Luis Yanza, won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, considered the “Nobel” of the environment.
The Canadian indigenous leaders said that Chevron’s “irresponsible” refusal to remediate the damage it caused to indigenous communities in the Amazon “raises deep concerns about how Chevron is dealing with our own indigenous communities in Canada as it plans to develop major pipelines through aboriginal territories in Western Canada without the consent of the aboriginal peoples, just as happened years ago in Ecuador,” said Fontaine, who in 2008 helped to negotiate a settlement with the Canadian government for $6 billion on behalf of 36,000 indigenous victims of residential school abuse.
Fontaine added that much of Chevron’s development in Canada, as it was in Ecuador’s Amazon region, is through untouched and inaccessible territories except to the aboriginal titleholders.
“I am pleased to join forces with our indigenous brothers and sisters in Ecuador in their fight for justice,” said Fontaine. “Clearly Chevron has caused significant harm to the environment and to the health of the indigenous peoples in this area and must be held accountable. It is unconscionable that they have been allowed to shirk their responsibility for as long as they have. Times have changed and the rights of Indigenous people across the world must be recognized and respected.”
Grand Chief Ed John added: “No legal case involving indigenous rights and environmental justice should take almost 25 years to see justice done. We plan to work with the indigenous groups in Ecuador to demand that Canadian courts resolve this case once and for all so the impacted communities can obtain justice, and Chevron’s policy of forum shopping and tying courts in procedural knots ends.”
Weyler, after extensively studying summaries of the evidentiary record in the case, blasted Chevron’s “corporate irresponsibility” and “arrogance” in an article published last week.
“This tragic story reveals almost unthinkable corporate irresponsibility, intimidation, and arrogance, not just by Chevron executives, but by their 60 law firms, 2,000 lawyers and paralegals, six public relations firms, squads of private investigators, thugs and bribed witnesses, and at least one severely compromised U.S. judge,” he wrote. “Chevron has probably spent more money trying to weasel out of this case than any corporation in world history.”
The FDA plans to bring the Canadian leaders to Ecuador to bear witness to the impacts of toxic dumping into rivers and streams used for drinking water, fishing, and bathing. Billions of gallons of cancer-causing waste have resulted in birth defects, a cancer epidemic, and shattered communities. An Ecuador court in 2011 found Chevron guilty of the toxic dumping following an eight-year trial that produced 220,000 pages of evidence and 105 technical evidentiary reports.
The Canadian leaders have sterling resumes in the battle for human and ecological rights.
Fontaine, along with a group of lawyers and human rights law professor Kathleen Mahoney, led negotiations with the Canadian government that resulted in the settlement for indigenous victims in the infamous Indian Residential Schools scandal. Mr. Fontaine is the recipient of 18 honorary doctorates from various universities and colleges across Canada and the United States.
Chief Ed John and Chief Wilton Littlejohn are both seasoned lawyers, who have fought for indigenous rights in Canada, helped draft the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and have served with the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
Weyler, an award-winning author, with a 45-year history of ecological work at Greenpeace, is also the founder and former Executive Director of Hollyhock, a noted Canadian intellectual and learning center on Cortes Island, off the coast of British Columbia, that counts the current mayor of Vancouver as one its members.
The next key date in the legal effort to seize Chevron’s assets in Canada is a hearing scheduled for October 10 and 11 in Toronto. Before a three-judge panel, Chevron will be forced to defend its position that its wholly-owned subsidiary in Canada (Chevron Canada) should be removed as a defendant in the enforcement action. The Ecuadorian communities are being represented by Alan Lenczner, considered one of the leading litigators in Canada.
Also haunting Chevron is the refusal of the oil major to set aside reserves to pay the Ecuador judgment, prompting formal shareholder complaints to the Securities and Exchange Commission and a near-rebellion at the company’s last annual meeting. Worldwide, Chevron has used at least 60 law firms and 2,000 lawyers to attack the indigenous groups of Ecuador.
The three Canadian indigenous leaders and Weyler follow numerous prominent political luminaries, entertainers, media figures, law scholars and activists who have criticized Chevron’s scorched-earth tactics against the Ecuadorian communities and their lawyers.
Among those who have supported the campaign of the affected communities against Chevron are actor-producer Trudie Styler, who started a clean water program for the region; her husband Sting; Rogers Waters, formerly of Pink Floyd; Rep. James McGovern, a U.S Congressman who has written eloquently about the humanitarian crisis caused by Chevron’s dumping; the actor Daryl Hannah; human rights activist Bianca Jagger; acclaimed documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger, who directed the documentary film Crude; Amazon Watch Founder Atossa Soltani; Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune; and Marco Simons, the chief lawyer at Earth Rights International.
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