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press release

Statement: Ontario youth undeterred in legal fight to hold Ontario government accountable for climate action   

April 18, 2023

Toronto, Ont./ Traditional territories of several First Nations including the Williams Treaties First Nations, Huron-Wendat, the Anishnaabeg, Haudenosaunee, Chippewas, and the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation — A historic climate case led by seven young people in Ontario has faced a setback after the Ontario Superior Court dismissed the case. However, the decision provides reason for optimism as this legal challenge continues through the courts. The decision includes a damning indictment of the Ontario government’s inadequate and dangerous climate target which puts people in the province on a collision course with the harmful and deadly impacts of climate change. 

The court found that Ontario’s target falls well short of the scientific consensus of what is needed to tackle climate change, which will lead to increased heatwaves, infectious diseases, floods, and fires that will kill and harm people throughout the province. This deprives Ontarians of their Charter protected rights to life and security of the person. The judge affirmed that young people and Indigenous peoples are disproportionately impacted by the harms of climate change. 

The court also found that this kind of case — which challenges the constitutionality of climate targets and plans — is justiciable, which means it is an appropriate legal question for courts to weigh in on. This has been a significant obstacle for previous Charter-based climate cases in Canada. The case was dismissed on other legal grounds. More details on key legal and factual takeaways from the decision are available in a media backgrounder.

Backed by Ecojustice and lawyers from Stockwoods LLP, the youth applicants in Mathur et. al. challenged the Ontario government’s decision to significantly weaken the province’s 2030 climate target, arguing that it violates the fundamental rights of youth and future generations.  

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 will be appealing this decision to Ontario’s Court of Appeal. 

Danielle Gallant, lawyer, Ecojustice, said: 

“The climate emergency is a threat unlike any humanity has ever known. After Ontario gutted its 2030 climate target enabling dangerous levels of emissions over the next decade, Sophia, Zoe, Shaelyn, Alex, Shelby, Madi, and Beze stepped up to demand recognition that their government violated youth and future generations’ constitutional rights. Together, they have already made Canadian legal history. 
“Around the world, legal challenges are becoming a powerful tool for young people to hold their governments accountable for climate action. While this decision is disappointing, we remain inspired by the courage and determination of these young applicants to advocate for a better, safer future for us all. We remain behind them to support their fight, to the Court of Appeal and beyond.” 

Nader Hasan, partner, Stockwoods LLP, said: 

“We are disappointed with this outcome. But we knew this struggle was not going to be easy. Our clients are ready to keep fighting.  

“We are also encouraged by the findings of fact made by the application judge. The application judge accepted virtually all of our expert evidence on the impacts of climate change. She 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 not taking serious steps to reduce GHG — is contributing to that risk of harm. Based on these findings, we continue to believe that Ontario’s actions are violating the constitutional rights of youth and future generations.  

“We look forward to the next stage in this fight at the Ontario Court of Appeal. The stakes are too high not to keep going.” 

Zoe Keary-Matzner, applicant, Toronto, Ont., said:   

“The Judge’s decision, though unfortunate, acknowledged the truth that climate change is an existential threat which will cause severe harm to young and Indigenous people in Ontario. Now that these facts have been acknowledged, we will do whatever it takes until they have been properly addressed.” 

Alex Neufeldt, applicant, Ottawa, Ont., said:  

“In her decision, Justice Vermette found it indisputable that Ontarians have and will experience an increased risk of death and harms to their health because of climate change, and agreed that those harms will be disproportionately felt by young Ontarians. She also found that Ontario’s scientifically inadequate 2030 climate target is contributing to those harms.  

“This proves what we’ve been saying since the beginning of this case: The Ford government is actively causing climate harms that will disproportionately impact my generation and generations to come. We are the ones who will have to suffer through the tomorrow the Ford government’s policies are creating today. That’s why, despite this setback, we’re continuing our fight to hold the Ford government accountable for climate action.”