Landmark climate ruling a first for Canadian court
TORONTO – Seven young Ontarians have prevailed over the provincial government’s attempt to shut down a lawsuit asserting Charter rights life, liberty, and security of the person.
This landmark victory is a legal first in Canada. For the first time ever, a Canadian court has ruled that fundamental rights protected under the Charter can be threatened by climate change and citizens have the ability to challenge a Canadian government’s action on the climate crisis under the highest law in the land.
The ruling comes almost a year to the day Sophia Mathur, Zoe Keary-Matzner, Shaelyn Wabegijig, Shelby Gagnon, Alex Neufeldt, Madison Dyck and Beze Gray filed a lawsuit against the Ford government for weakening Ontario’s climate targets in 2018.
The youth applicants allege that the Government of Ontario’s weakening of those targets will lead to widespread illness and death, and violates Ontarians’ Charter-protected rights to life, liberty, and security of the person.
In a bid to deny this group of young people their day in court, the provincial government filed a motion to strike the case in April 2020. This procedural attack was an attempt to avoid a hearing that will undoubtedly highlight the science behind the climate emergency and the urgent need for swift, ambitious climate action.
The Ontario Superior Court of Justice heard the Government of Ontario’s motion in July 2020, and its momentous ruling in favour of the youth applicants confirms that this litigation can now proceed to a full hearing.
Alex Neufeldt, 24, applicant from Ottawa, said:
“I am thrilled we’ve overcome the Premier’s attempt to shut down our case and will get our day in court. I also hope this decision sets a precedent for other climate lawsuits being brought by young people like me.
“I look forward to seeing the Premier in court. My fellow applicants and I understand that our future is at stake and we’re not backing down from this fight.
“We know the climate crisis isn’t going away. The Government of Ontario’s failure to take necessary climate action is a violation of my Charter rights to life, liberty, and security of the person – and the rights of all Ontarians.”
Fraser Thomson, Ecojustice lawyer, said:
“This landmark decision ensures the seven courageous young people leading this litigation will get their day in court. For the first time in Canadian judicial history, government inaction on the climate crisis will be put on trial.
“Our clients say Ontario’s 2030 target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels is inadequate, unconstitutional, and must be struck down. Given the Ford government’s dismal environmental record, its attempt to shut down this case wasn’t a surprise. The youth applicants in this case however, are used to overcoming the odds. Today, they prevailed.”
Nader Hasan, partner with Stockwoods LLP, said:
“Today’s decision reinforces what we have said all along: we need to be able to hold Ontario accountable for its unconstitutional actions in a court of law, based on the evidence.
“The government tried to argue that the courts aren’t the right place to address climate change, and that the problem is so big and complicated that Ontario’s targets can’t impact Charter rights.
“This victory is a resounding rebuke of those claims. The court agrees with us that this case should move ahead and we look forward to that happening.”
Case summary and additional background material [HERE]
Ecojustice goes to court and uses the power of the law to defend nature, combat climate change, and fight for a healthy environment. Its strategic, innovative public interest lawsuits lead to legal precedents that deliver lasting solutions to Canada’s most urgent environmental problems. As Canada’s largest environmental law charity, Ecojustice operates offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, and Halifax.
Nader Hasan and Justin Safayeni, of Stockwoods LLP, are veteran constitutional lawyers with a track record of holding government to account before courts in Ontario and at the Supreme Court of Canada. In 2017, they led the successful legal challenge to seismic testing in the landmark Indigenous rights case, Clyde River v. Petroleum Geo Services Inc., 2017 SCC 40.