By Shawn McCarthy, The Globe and Mail
16 October 2014
The Canadian Bar Association has done an 11th-hour reversal and dropped plans to intervene at the Supreme Court of Canada on behalf of Chevron Corp. in a high-profile battle involving Ecuadorean aboriginal people.
With the filing deadline Friday, CBA president Michele Hollins sent a letter to members from across the country, saying a review committee determined the case did not meet the association's standards for intervention.
"The committee concluded that while the factum was well-drafted and of a high standard of quality, it did not meet the specific requirements of the intervention policy," she wrote.
Lawyers working in aboriginal affairs, environmental law and civil law had all objected to the association's decision, taken last July, to support Chevron's arguments in an upcoming hearing on whether Canadian courts can enforce a foreign judgment.
The original decision sparked protests from across the country, with some lawyers resigning their CBA membership. Critics complained the action was being driven by Blake Cassels & Graydon LLP, which prepared the factum for free and also does corporate work for Chevron in Calgary.
Despite objections from several of its member groups, the CBA board confirmed its decision last month but reversed course after hearing from its legislation and law reform committee, which must sanction the factum before it is submitted.
That committee had originally recommended against proceeding.
A group of villagers from Ecuador's Lago Agrio region want Canadian courts to enforce that Ecuadorean judgment by seizing assets from Chevron and its Canadian subsidiary. The Ontario Court of Appeal reversed a lower court decision, which refused to order a hearing on the substance of the case; Chevron has appealed the jurisdictional question to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Victoria lawyer Kathryn Deo – who had resigned from the CBA and its aboriginal law committee as a result of the intervention – welcomed the reversal.
"I am delighted with the news that the CBA will not be intervening in the case," she said in an email. "I commend President Hollins, the board of directors and the [legislation and law reform committee] for following the intervention policy.
"I'm sure it was a difficult decision but it was clearly the right decision and we are appreciative of their courage in reversing course."