(CN) - Residents of the Ecuadorean Amazon can fight in Toronto to make Chevron's subsidiary pay a more than $9 billion judgment for massive oil devastation to their rainforest homes, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled Friday.
The ruling puts indigenous and farmer Ecuadoreans within striking distance of Chevron's assets, in a country where the oil giant heavily invested in offshore oil fields, a refinery and the Alberta tar sands.
Chevron's assets there are large enough, the Ecuadoreans believe, to satisfy the entire award they won in Lago Agrio back in 2011.
Aaron Marr Page, an attorney for the Ecuadoreans, called the decision a "vindication of the rule of law."
"It is far past time for that the system of recognition of judgments between friendly nations, a system that commercial interests have relied on for over a century, be put to use to give impoverished human rights victims the same chance to collect on a judgment even against a powerful multinational corporation," Page said in a statement.
Though the indigenous and farmer Ecuadoreans won their environmental lawsuit after more than two decades of litigation, the fight to collect the judgment has been equally grueling, and Marr noted that "some legal hurdles" remain.
Chevron launched a legal counteroffensive on three continents, labeling the award the product of a fraudulent "shakedown."
In the New York courtroom of U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan, Chevron scored a verdict finding that lawyers for the Ecuadoreans had obtained the Lago Agrio award by "corrupt means."
While Kaplan said that cleaning up the Amazon would be "desireable" and "overdue," he did not permit or decide on the scientific evidence of pollution at trial. Rather, the judge focused on Chevron's allegations of fraud upon the Ecuadorean court.
He ultimately found that lawyers for the rainforest residents ghostwrote the verdict in exchange for bribes.
An appeal of these findings by the Ecuadoreans is pending before the Second Circuit. They say forensic evidence that came to light after the Manhattan trial vindicates the legitimacy of their award.
That evidence is also before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands, where a tribunal is considering whether Chevron received a fair trial in Ecuador's courts.
Friday's decision in Canada could pave the way for a collections trial in Toronto, where a judge will decide whether to honor the judgment of the Ecuadorean court.
A Toronto trial would include evidence about contamination of the Ecuadorean Amazon that the New York trial barred.
Although the Ecuadoreans tried to collect the award in Canada, Brazil and Argentina, none of these courts so far have heard the merits of the environmental case.
In each of these courts, Chevron fought to dismiss the collections actions on the technicality that their subsidiaries should be immune from the liabilities of the parent company.
The Supreme Court of Canada on Friday said that called that argument outdated for "today's globalized world and electronic age."
"Legitimate judicial acts should be respected and enforced, not sidetracked or ignored," the ruling says. "The goal of modern conflicts systems rests on the principle of comity, which calls for the promotion of order and fairness, an attitude of respect and deference to other states, and a degree of stability and predictability in order to facilitate reciprocity."
Chevron spokesman Morgan Crinklaw said that the decision had "no bearing on the legitimacy or enforceability" of what he called the "fraudulent Ecuadorean judgment."
The court invited Chevron to make use of the "available procedural tools to try to dispose" of the action before it gets to a trial.
Humberto Piaguaje meanwhile saw a greater significance to the decision.
Speaking on behalf of the Union of Persons Affected by Texaco, a group named for Chevron predecessor that drilled in his region between 1972 and 1992, Piaguaje called the Canadian court's ruling the "beginning of the end of Chevron's abusive and obstructionist litigation strategy to avoid paying for the clean-up of the company's extensive toxic contamination of our ancestral lands in Ecuador."
"Chevron will now be forced to take the Ecuadorian judgment like any other, something it has desperately tried to avoid since our enforcement action was filed in Canada three years ago," Piaguaje added. "We are confident that once Canadian courts review the fundamental fairness and strength of the judgment, it will be respected and Chevron will be forced to turn over any and all assets necessary to pay the amount ordered by the Ecuadorian court."