Volunteer legal clinic has TRU link

Corporate accountability the focus of group that involves members of TRU

A recent Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) decision will allow an Ecuadorian court decision demanding damages against the Chevron corporation to be enforced on Canadian soil. The case has a connection right here at TRU. Charis Kamphuis, TRU Law professor and active member of The Justice and Corporate Accountability Project (JCAP), was a part of the legal team that drafted arguments for the case.

The judgement, which was passed down on Sept. 4, is the Canadian phase of a decades-long legal battle in the United States and Ecuador. The SCC ruling will allow the Ecuadorian plaintiffs to bring legal action in Canada against Chevron in an effort to collect a portion of the approximate $9 billion in damages awarded by the Ecuadorian courts.

According to Kamphuis, because Chevron has no assets in Ecuador, the plaintiffs are forced to seek enforcement of the judgement in another jurisdiction, such as Canada, in order to collect their compensation. Chevron has alleged that the Ecuadorian verdict was obtained through corruption and fraud and Kamphuis said that it is “not inclined towards settling.”

A lengthy legal process in the Canadian courts seems likely before any damages are paid.

JCAP is a transnational, volunteer-driven legal clinic that focuses on holding corporations and states to account by offering legal knowledge to communities that are negatively affected by extraction of natural resources. JCAP works with Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto through Professor Shin Imai, as well as TRU.  

While no TRU law students were involved with the Ecuadorian case, Kamphuis has started to involve them in other JCAP cases of similar scale.

“A number of TRU students have done work related to JCAP in the last twelve months,” Kamphuis said. Kamphuis went on to describe a number of JCAP projects which share the theme of holding Canadian corporations responsible for their conduct in other countries.

“Last year, a couple of TRU students contributed to a research project studying instances of violence in conflicts between Canadian mining companies and local communities in Latin America,” she said.

According to Kamphuis, TRU Law students are also working on access to information requests with the goal of identifying how Canada is responding to instances of conflict with Canadian mining companies.

“Those two projects relate to Guatemala,” Kamphuis said.

Allegations of violence surrounding Canadian mining operations in Guatemala are well documented. A shooting, several rapes and the murder of a community leader at the hands of police, military and private security from the Fenix nickel mine are all alleged to have taken place, as documented by three lawsuits filed with the Ontario Superior Court in 2013. In June 2014, a separate set of plaintiffs filed suit in a Vancouver court related to an alleged shooting at Tahoe Resources Escobal Mine. None of the allegations have been proven in court.

Other TRU law students have worked on JCAP initiatives ranging from supporting a Peruvian community’s legal action against an American mining company to research on behalf of communities concerned by a Canadian company’s oil exploration in Kenya.

   

“This summer we were very busy, so I don’t think we’ll really expand. I definitely see it becoming more and more established.

“It’s definitely something that I’m going to continue with. I’ve been doing it for many years, and continue to involve TRU students as volunteers or as research assistants,” Kamphuis said when asked about the future of JCAP collaboration with TRU.