Amazonians take Chevron to Ontario court | The Star

 thestar.com  4/16/2018 11:31:12 PM 

The weather was perfect for a court case that multinational oil company Chevron has said it would fight “until hell freezes over” and then “out on the ice.”

With the city outside awash in snow and slush, their opponents — four Indigenous leaders from Ecuador — gathered at a press conference bare-chested and barefoot, wearing ceremonial necklaces and feather headdresses to explain why they believe an Ontario court can help redress what they call the Amazon’s Chernobyl.

They have come on behalf of their people to seek compensation for decades of toxic oil contamination allegedly left in the Amazon by the oil company Texaco, which is now owned by Chevron.

Chevron long ago liquidated all of its assets in Ecuador, and now the indigenous people are pursuing the company in court around the world attempting to get it to pay up after a court in Ecuador ruled against the company. Chevron has refused to pay, saying the decision was “fraudulent.”

“I issue a call to action for Canadian courts to bring us justice and enforce the judgement that’s been made,” said Domingo Peas, a member of the Achuar nation and a representative of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon.

On Tuesday, the indigenous leaders will make their case in the Ontario Court of Appeal that Chevron Canada should be held liable for the damages.

In 1993, the Amazon Defense Coalition of Ecuador sued Chevron on behalf of the more than 30,000 indigenous people and farmers affected by the pollution. In 2011, they won a $9.5 billion (U.S.) ruling, which was later upheld by Ecuador’s Supreme Court.

Chevron says the Ecuador decision is invalid. “The judgement against Chevron Corporation in Ecuador was the product of corruption and fraud,” said Chevron spokesperson Sean Comey in a statement. “The fraudulent Ecuadorian judgement should be unenforceable in any court that respects the rule of law.”

At the press conference in downtown Toronto Monday, Hugo Camacho, a founder of the Amazon Defense Coalition, said, “To live in our area is like living in hell.”

“Many people have died in our communities due to cancer and other diseases caused by the contamination,” he added. “We are still being poisoned by the oil and toxic pits that Chevron has left behind. It’s in the water, the ground, the air and the animals.”

The Ecuadorians have found support from indigenous people in Canada, who have also been forced to deal with the legacy of pollution from resource extraction. The Assembly of First Nations passed a resolution last December calling on Canada to enforce foreign court rulings made in favour of indigenous people affected by companies operating in Canada.

Former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Phil Fontaine, who visited the Amazon to see the pollution first hand, said the Amazonian people were some of the most courageous people he had met.

“We’ve come to the realization that it gives us far greater strength to work together. Together, it’s much easier to demonstrate the seriousness of the environmental challenges that both of us face from destructive and ill-considered resource development projects,” Fontaine said.

Rafael Pandam, a member of the Achuar nation and president of the Indigenous Amazonian Parliament of Ecuador added: “We are not here as foreigners, we are here as brothers because there are no borders. Just as transnational corporations are united among themselves, so to here in Canada we are unified among indigenous communities.”

“No one has denounced or brought Chevron to justice,” Pandam added. “If we win this case here in Canada, it will set a historical precedent across the world. We will do this all together — indigenous people, lawyers and scientists — and it will be a historical moment.”

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