By Zoë Keary-Matzner
Summer is usually a time for forgetting about schoolwork, seeing friends and family, and having fun.
But this summer I will also be preparing for something different. I’m one of seven young people taking the Government of Ontario to court over the climate crisis.
In all my 15 years of existing, I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t concerned for the fate of the world. I only wish my government felt the same.
I want my provincial government to do everything in its power to address the climate emergency.
But the Government of Ontario under Doug Ford has been doing the exact opposite.
Back in 2018, the Ontario government tore up ambitious climate targets and replaced them with a single, inadequate target for 2030. They did this despite all the top scientific experts warning that governments need to do more to reduce emissions if we are to avoid truly catastrophic climate breakdown.
This decision put my future and the future of my generation under serious threat. The next eight years will determine whether we tackle the climate crisis or whether it gets far worse. By allowing greenhouse gas pollution to continue unchecked for the next decade, my government is throwing in the towel and telling people to fend for themselves against the inevitable killer heatwaves, destructive floods, and choking wildfires.
My generation will be the last generation to know what a partially stable climate looks like. However, even now, millions of people around the world and in Canada are facing the brunt of this crisis, especially those who are already oppressed and disadvantaged in our society. Climate change is the issue of all issues, in that every injustice we face today will only be worsened by it.
In the face of this, we must stand up for climate justice. I am determined to live in a world where people don’t have to worry every summer about prolonged and fatal heatwaves, or about breathing smoke from burning forests, or about whether their homes will be destroyed by flooding.
If our governments won’t fight for our future, we will.
That’s why I’m going to court with six other young people from all across Ontario. We’re fighting for a safe and healthy future for our generation.
In November 2019, we launched a legal case against Doug Ford’s government under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
With the help of lawyers from Ecojustice, we are arguing that the Government of Ontario infringed on our Charter right to life, liberty, and security of the person when they reversed the province’s climate targets.
The Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects fundamental rights for everyone in Canada, including the right to life, liberty, and security.
No court has ever considered whether the threats posed by climate change trigger Charter protections. So this will be a first. We know that climate change is a massive threat to our future, including to our most fundamental rights. It’s already impacting so many people and communities and has the potential to put our entire future at risk. When we go to court, we will be arguing that Charter rights should include protections from the government contributing to this existential threat.
Climate change is clearly worsening. The news is full of stories about wildfires, floods, and storms hitting homes, schools, and workplaces across Canada. Many people have already been displaced from their homes or are suffering now because of increased food insecurity. Black people, Indigenous people, people of color, both here in Canada and around the world are too often most affected.
Scientists have shown that these impacts will worsen so long as greenhouse gas pollution, primarily from burning fossil fuels, continues to enter our atmosphere every year.
And scientists also project that if those in power don’t do everything they can over the next eight years to reduce emissions, we could lose the battle to stop a climate catastrophe.
Yet the Ontario government under Doug Ford has tried repeatedly to keep us out of court.
Within weeks of launching our case, the government filed a motion to strike to try and stop this challenge before we get our day in court. But the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled that our case could go ahead.
The provincial government tried to get our case thrown out again by appealing this decision, but the courts once again sided with us.
It pains me to realize that our government is not only failing in its duty to protect my life and the lives of all young people, but actively fighting against us.
Our case is already historic. This is the furthest a Charter challenge against a government on climate change has gotten in Canada.
If we win this case, it will set an important precedent for how the Charter can protect us from the climate crisis.
I am part of a chorus of young people around the world who are holding their governments accountable, and in many cases taking them to court, for real action on climate change.
It really shouldn’t be up to young people to have to force governments to wake up and take the warnings about climate change seriously.
We shouldn’t have to go to court to fight for a safe and sustainable future where we can prosper and enjoy full and healthy lives. Yet here we are. We are willing to go to every court in the land to make sure everyone has the opportunity to live a peaceful life, for generations to come. We must fight for our own future because who else will?