Lawyers from across Canada are raising concerns – and in some cases resigning their memberships – over the Canadian Bar Association's intervention on behalf of Chevron Corp. in a high-profile case involving Ecuadorean aboriginal people.
Despite objections from several of its member groups, the CBA board confirmed on Monday its decision to have Blake Cassels & Graydon LLP submit a brief to the Supreme Court of Canada over issues of corporate identity and the enforcement of foreign orders on Canadian companies. Critics raised a number of objections, including the involvement of Blakes, which does corporate work for Chevron in Calgary.
The CBA's original decision to intervene came after it referred the matter to its legislative and law reform committee, which recommended against proceeding. In addition to the environment and aboriginal committees, the civil litigation committee waded in, urging the CBA board in a letter last week to reverse its stand.
In an interview Tuesday, Victoria lawyer Kathryn Deo, managing partner at Arbutus law group LLP, said she and many of her colleagues from the aboriginal law practice were tendering their resignations in protest. "The CBA didn't follow its own processes at all for when and how it should intervene in a case like this," Ms. Deo said.
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.
Judith Rae of the Toronto firm Olthuis Kleer Townshend LLP said the Blakes' involvement raised a "red flag" for her and many of her colleagues due to the potential perception of conflict. Ms. Rae is on the executive of the Ontario Bar Association's aboriginal affairs committee, and said she and the Ontario executive will be pursuing options, including possible resignation from the CBA.
The national association acknowledged Tuesday that it faced a backlash from members and some resignations, though it offered no numbers. It said the resignations were "unfortunate but not surprising.
"Our decision to intervene in the upcoming Supreme Court proceedings was based on our desire to contribute to a debate where fundamental and foundational principles of business law will be argued," the association said in a statement. "This is an important issue for Canada."
The in-house counsel association supported the CBA's decision, as did the corporate law section.
Chevron Corp. spokesman Morgan Crinklaw said the company did not mount a campaign to win support from the CBA. The Supreme Court turned down an application by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to intervene.