This September, seven young Ontarians will be heading to Ontario’s Superior Court in what could be a crucial moment in the fight against the climate emergency in Canada.
Backed by Ecojustice, Sophia, Zoe, Shaelyn, Alex, Shelby, Madi and Beze will be fighting for a safe, healthy and sustainable future for people across Canada.
In November 2019, these young people launched Mathur et. al. v. Her Majesty in Right of Ontario, a legal challenge of the Ontario government’s decision to significantly weaken the province’s 2030 climate targets.
In 2018, the Ontario government repealed strong greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets for 2020, 2030 and 2050, and replaced these with a significantly weaker 2030 target. That political decision has allowed dangerous levels of GHG emissions to continue unabated, contributing the climate crisis and the increasing occurrence of scorching wildfires, disastrous flooding, and deadly heatwaves.
The science is clear – if we want to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we must limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. This means that every government has an important role to play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
These young people were not willing to let the Ontario government become a climate laggard without a fight, and working with Ecojustice, they launched a legal challenge of the provincial government’s decision.
They are arguing that when the provincial government scrapped its climate law, it violated their Charter rights to life, liberty, and security of the person. By weakening the province’s climate targets, the government is increasing the risk of catastrophic climate change, jeopardizing their futures and those of all subsequent generations.
The road to a historic hearing
But it has not been smooth sailing for this court case. Within weeks of these young people standing up for a safe climate future, the Government of Ontario attempted to shut it down. But the case prevailed when the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled that it could proceed.
The provincial government tried once again to have the case thrown out by appealing this decision but once again the courts ruled in favour of these courageous young activists.
Sophia, Zoe, Shaelyn, Alex, Shelby, Madi, and Beze have already made history. This case marks the first time a court will consider whether the Charter of Rights and Freedoms can be interpreted as upholding the right to a stable climate. This could set an important legal precedent.
Over the next few months, these young people will be preparing to stand up to the Ontario government in the courts.
We asked them why they are stepping up and fighting back against the climate emergency and what this case can achieve:
Sophia Mathur, aged 15, Sudbury, Ontario:
The climate crisis is going to impact everyone, both now and into the future. It is important for me to be part of this case because we need to stand up for the generations to come and make sure they have a safe and liveable planet.
I have seen with my own eyes the dangers of extreme weather, the kind we can expect more of with climate change. In the winter of 2019, my home city of Sudbury was walloped by record snowfalls and rapid thawing and freezing cycles. We had to evacuate our home and rebuild our roof and walls after they buckled under a metre of ice and snow. For six months, we had to live in a hotel.
I was originally inspired to do Fridays for Future by Greta Thunberg in August 2018 after I saw her Twitter video. This helped me feel like I could make a real difference on the climate crisis. Since then, I’ve been campaigning for more action on climate change, including attending COP26 in Glasgow last year. I was honoured to receive Action for Nature’s International Youth Eco-Hero Award for Climate Change Activist in 2021 and the YMCA PEACE award.
I believe that our case can make a real difference for young people in Canada and put Ontario back on track to take real climate action and start working for a safer future.
Madison Dyck, 25, Thunder Bay, Ontario:
I’ve witnessed erratic weather in northern Ontario, from heat waves to torrential rain. I’ve seen firsthand the impact that this has had on local food – the dramatic lack of blueberries last summer was a result of the intense heat and the lack of rain.
I love everything about Lake Superior but the changes in the spring melt of snow and ice have changed how my community can enjoy this place that is so important to us. The changing climate is also impacting fish spawning and their habitats.
Forest fires are threatening and destroying huge swathes of the boreal forests, where I work and live. One of the realities of the climate emergency is needing to have a fire evacuation plan while working and feeling the impacts of breathing in heavy smoke.
I’m really honoured to be part of this case and to be supported by so many amazing people creating visions for the future that are hopeful and inspiring.
Every day is a chance to love the earth deeply and be grateful. It helps remind me of the bigger picture and live from that place in my heart!
How can you help?
Over the next few months, we’ll be supporting these young people as they prepare for their fight in court for a safe and sustainable future.
Already, thousands of people across Canada have expressed their support for these seven youth who are standing up for a safer climate for all.
You can help too! Take this action today to show your support for this case and tell the courts you believe Sophia and Madi’s case is in the public interest.