When the Ford government stepped into office in 2018, it unlawfully passed the Cap and Trade Cancellation Act — a move Ecojustice swiftly (and successfully) challenged on the basis that the Ford government ignored public consultation requirements under Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights.
While our case vindicated Ontarians’ right to be consulted on changes to environmental law, it did not reverse the Cap and Trade Cancellation Act, which rolled back the province’s relatively progressive climate targets, and allowed the government to replace them with a significantly weaker 2030 target.
This weaker target will allow more greenhouse gas emissions to be emitted, further contribute to dangerous climate change-related impacts such as heatwaves, infectious diseases, floods, and fires, that will harm the health of young Ontarians and future generations, and violate their Charter rights to life, equality, and security of the person.
Young people are especially at risk when it comes to climate threats because these risks will increase in the coming years if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced. It’s their lives and lives of everyone who comes after them that will be forced to bear the costs of climate inaction more than previous generations. Children and youth, and particularly Indigenous young people, are also more vulnerable to the physical and mental health impacts of climate change.
That’s why seven young climate leaders, backed by Ecojustice, courageously stepped up to the plate in November 2019, launching a legal fight for a safe and healthy future — starting with a safe climate.
On April 15, 2020, the government filed a motion to strike the case, arguing it should not proceed to a full hearing. The youth applicants countered this motion in July 2020, arguing that they deserved their day in Court.
This led to a historic win. For the first time in Canadian history, a court recognized that climate change has the potential to violate Charter rights and gave the youth the greenlight to move ahead to a full hearing.
The Ontario government then tried to overturn this ruling, but in March 2021 the Ontario Divisional Court dismissed the province’s request to appeal. This made Mathur et. al. the first case of its kind to clear key procedural hurdles and proceed to a full hearing before the Ontario Superior Court on September 12-14, 2022.
On April 14, 2023, the court dismissed the case. While the decision was a setback, it still broke new ground in charter climate litigation in Canada — and included a damning indictment of Ontario’s weak and dangerous climate target.
The court found that the case is justiciable, which means it is an appropriate question for courts to weigh in on. This has been a significant obstacle for other Charter-based climate cases in Canada.
The court also found that it was “indisputable” that because of climate change, Ontarians are experiencing increased risk of death and serious bodily harm and that the Government of Ontario — by enacting a target to reduce GHG emissions that falls well below what the global scientific consensus says is required — is contributing to that risk of harm. The court therefore found that Ontario’s target engages Charter rights to life and security of the person. It also recognized that climate change disproportionately impacts young people and Indigenous peoples. The case was dismissed on other legal grounds.
The fight to hold the Ontario government accountable for its climate action is not over. The group of seven courageous young people are undeterred in their fight to protect youth and future generations from climate change, and have now served Ontario with a Notice of Appeal.