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Judge skeptical of hearing $19B Ecuador case

TORONTO - An Ontario court judge in Toronto is having a hard time understanding why he should be enforcing a $19-billion lawsuit award from Ecuador.

The Ontario Superior Court is where Ecuadorian Amazon villagers are trying to collect on the award from Chevron Canada.

The award to the villagers was made in Ecuador for contamination between 1972 and 1990 by Texaco, which Chevron Corp. bought in 2001.

The villagers are in Canada because Chevron Canada has billions of dollars worth of assets here.

Chevron Corp. is arguing Ontario has no jurisdiction because there is no connection between Chevron Canada and the villagers.

The judge says he's not even sure there's a final judgment in Ecuador, which would preclude his hearing the merits of the case.

"Is there a final order from the Ecuadorian courts that this court needs to consider. This is basic stuff, folks," Justice David Brown said.

"We don't look at stuff unless there's a final order."

Alan Mark, the lawyer for Chevron, conceded there was a level of appeal pending and had difficulty getting his case going.

Brown became increasingly frustrated that the basics weren't being properly dealt with before hearing arguments.

"You should all be down in New York. This is a New York fight, not an Ontario fight," he said.

"You seem to be putting the cart before the horse."

The suit arose over black sludge that seeped into an Ecuadorian rainforest.

Chevron Corp. maintains it won't pay the award because it contends Texaco dealt with the problem before it was bought.

After filing suit in Canada this past May, the Ecuadorians have launched similar legal actions in Argentina and Brazil.

Earlier this month a judge in Argentina froze Chevron's assets there until the $19 billion is collected.

The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld the principle that foreign court judgments are enforceable in Canada as long as there is a "real and substantive connection" between the foreign jurisdiction and the subject matter of the claim.

Mark argued there was no such connection.

"In this case, there is no other connection to Ontario but for the claim that the assets of Chevron Canada Ltd. are the assets of Chevron Corp," he said.

"Without that connection factor, the enforceability of this judgment would be an entirely moot and an academic exercise in Ontario."

Brown kept coming back to whether he should be hearing the arguments at all.

"You're trying to do an end run around the rules of civil procedure," he said at one point.

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