TORONTO -- A $19-billion environmental lawsuit over black sludge that seeped into an Ecuadorian rainforest a generation ago makes its Canadian courtroom debut today.

The Ontario Superior Court in Toronto will be the latest venue in the bitter 19-year legal fight between Chevron Corp. and dozens of Ecuadorian Amazon villagers.

Ecuador's highest court upheld an award to the villagers for damages for contamination between 1972 and 1990 by Texaco, which Chevron bought in 2001.

Since the ruling in January, Chevron has said it won't pay a cent because it contends Texaco dealt with the problem before it bought the company.

The villagers are taking the case to a Canadian court because Chevron has billions of dollars worth of assets here, including a 20 per cent stake in the Athabasca oilsands.

Chevron spokesman Kent Robertson says the company believes bribery was involved in the Ecuador judgment, and its lawyers argue that the Ontario court does not have jurisdiction to consider the case.