young people suing the Ontario government over climate urge court not to toss their case, hearing set for July 13
A Canadian youth climate lawsuit challenging the government of Ontario’s climate policy will have its day in court next month, when the Ontario Superior Court will hold a hearing on the government’s motion to strike (dismiss) the case.
On Monday, June 15 lawyers representing the youth plaintiffs – seven young Ontarians between the ages of 13 and 25 – filed a response to the Ontario government’s motion to strike, which was filed on April 15. Ontario argued that courts couldn’t address the issue of climate change, an argument that the youth plaintiffs are disputing. They say that the government’s inadequate actions to mitigate climate change violate young people’s fundamental constitutional rights, and that courts have a duty to adjudicate claims of constitutional violations. A full hearing on the motion to strike will be held on July 13.
The case (Mathur et al. v. Her Majesty in Right of Ontario) was filed in November 2019 and seeks a court order declaring that Ontario’s 2030 greenhouse gas emissions reduction target is invalid and unconstitutional under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The 2030 target, established by Premier Doug Ford’s government with the passage of the 2018 Cap and Trade Cancellation Act, rolls back a prior 2030 climate target set by the province in 2016 legislation. That prior target required GHG emissions reductions of 37 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, while the new target aims to reduce emissions by only 30 percent below 2005 levels in that same time period. The lawsuit says the weaker climate policy will allow Ontario to emit an additional 190 megatons of climate pollution by 2030, further contributing to the climate crisis that disproportionately impacts younger and future generations. According to the lawsuit, this violates Ontarians rights under sections 7 and 15 of the Canadian Charter, including rights to life, liberty, and security of the person. The case is part of a growing number of lawsuits, brought mostly by young people, against governments around the world alleging constitutional and human rights violations in the context of climate change.
The most common defense against these lawsuits is that climate change is a “political question” that cannot be addressed in court. That argument was put forth by the Ontario government in its motion to strike. Ontario additionally argued that the youth plaintiffs’ allegations could not be proven and that the plaintiffs could not bring a case representing future generations.
Counsel for the young Ontarian plaintiffs pushed back against these arguments in its response filed with the court this week. According to the response, the lawsuit, while dealing with the issue of climate change, is fundamentally a constitutional challenge that courts have a duty to address. “To hold that the [2030 climate] target is non-justiciable in this case is to provide Ontario with a blueprint for shielding itself from constitutional scrutiny. Ontario could violate the Charter with impunity,” the response argues. Furthermore, the plaintiffs’ lawyers say that there is extensive scientific evidence supporting their allegations, and that the case can’t wait for future generations to bring it. The plaintiffs’ response references other climate cases such as the landmark Urgenda lawsuit in arguing that courts around the world have allowed climate litigation to proceed.
Lawyers for the Ontarian plaintiffs commented in a press release on the importance of the Ontario court allowing their case to advance.
“The [Ford] Government asserts that no matter how dire the threat of climate change, the courts are powerless to act. This emaciated view of the Charter and the courts must not stand,” said Nader Hasan, partner with Stockwoods LLP.
“By suing the Ontario government for weakening its climate targets, Sophia, Beze, Zoe, Shaelyn, Shelby, Alex and Madison are fighting for every Ontarians’ Charter rights to life, liberty and security of the person,” added Fraser Thomson, lawyer with the environmental law organization Ecojustice. “These seven remarkable young people are bringing this lawsuit because they are committed to protecting present and future generations from the climate crisis. They deserve the opportunity to have a court hear what they have to say.”