Canada Says Kids Can't Sue Over Climate Crisis: Federal Government Moves to Dismiss Canadian Youth Climate Case
The Canadian federal government is asking a court to dismiss a constitutional climate lawsuit brought by 15 young people alleging the government is failing to protect their fundamental rights through actions and inaction that worsen the climate crisis. Such a lawsuit is about questions of policy that cannot be handled by courts, the government argues.
“Canada moves to strike the Statement of Claim (“Claim”) not because it disagrees with the importance of addressing global climate change, but because the legal claims advanced by the Plaintiffs are not justiciable,” the Attorney General of Canada wrote in a motion to strike (dismiss) filed July 10 in the case La Rose et. al. v. Her Majesty the Queen. “The Claim does not target any particular law or its application. Instead, it asks the Court to decide whether the executive is governing well,” the Attorney General argued in the motion, adding that the issues raised are “legislative and political in nature.”
The La Rose lawsuit, filed in October 2019 against the federal government of Canada, is modeled after the American constitutional youth climate lawsuit Juliana v. U.S. As in Juliana, the Canadian youth plaintiffs claim the federal government is violating their constitutional rights as well as violating the public trust doctrine through actions that exacerbate the climate crisis. Specifically the Canadian plaintiffs say the government is failing to protect their rights under sections 7 and 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, sections that outline rights to life, liberty, and security of the person as well as substantive equality under the law, respectively. The youth plaintiffs seek a court order declaring the government is harming young people in its inadequate response to climate change and requiring the government to develop a science-based climate recovery plan. Plaintiffs are Canadians ages 10 to 19 representing seven provinces and one territory and all have personally suffered harms from the climate crisis, which disproportionately impacts young people and future generations.
The Canadian government acknowledges this disproportionate impact on younger generations but argues this is not a basis for legal action. Climate change is a global issue requiring international action, the government says, arguing the remedy plaintiffs seek will not solve the problem. The government offers multiple other reasons why the case should be dismissed, such as claiming that the lawsuit is too broad in scope and does not challenge a specific policy or law, that the claims under sections 7 and 15 of the Charter are not valid, and that Canadian law does not recognize the public trust doctrine.
The government further notes that similar climate lawsuits brought against national governments have mostly been unsuccessful, including the Juliana case that was dismissed earlier this year. “Nonetheless, several cases of this nature brought in jurisdictions elsewhere in Canada or in similar jurisdictions have not succeeded in demonstrating that the courts are an appropriate venue for seeking changes to climate policy,” the Attorney General wrote in the motion to strike.
The Canadian government will present these arguments during a two-day hearing on the motion to strike scheduled for September 30 and October 1, 2020 in Vancouver. Lawyers for the youth plaintiffs will file a written response by August 31 and will present their arguments at the hearing as well.
Several of the youth plaintiffs said they were “disappointed” by the government’s move to try to dismiss their lawsuit.
“I am counting on my government to protect my rights as a young Canadian, and I am extremely disappointed that the federal government wishes to dismiss our claim and deny us our day in court,” Lauren Wright, 15-year-old plaintiff from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, said in a press release. “The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that rapid change to address an emergency is entirely possible. Our government needs to apply this same urgency to the climate crisis, which is causing health problems for millions of Canadians like me.”
“It is already a shame we have to seek protection from the courts so that they order our government to secure us a future,” added Albert Lalonde, 18-year-old plaintiff from Montreal, Quebec. “I am now even more disappointed that our government doesn’t at least have the courage to go to trial. I am confident that the Constitution will be upheld.”