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 – Seven courageous young people are before the Ontario Superior Court virtually today to challenge the provincial government’s decision to significantly weaken Ontario’s 2030 climate target. In 2018, the government gutted the province’s climate targets, enabling dangerous levels of emissions over the next decade.
Backed by Ecojustice and lawyers from Stockwoods LLP, these young applicants involved in Mathur et. al. claim that the Ontario government has infringed on their rights to life, security, and equality under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
This case is historic because it is the first climate lawsuit based on rights protected under the Charter to be heard on its merits in a Canadian court. Sophia, Zoe, Shaelyn, Alex, Shelby, Madi, and Beze argue that at a time when the science says that all governments must do more on climate action, the Ontario government has moved backwards.
These young people in court today are part of an international movement challenging governments’ irresponsible climate actions through the legal system. In Germany, Colombia, Pakistan, the United States, and many other countries, young people have gone to court to demand that governments step up to the plate and do more to secure a safe and sustainable future for them and future generations.
A victory for these young people could set a precedent under the Constitution that no government in Canada can take action that contributes to the climate crisis without potentially violating Charter rights.
Our clients are following a long tradition of turning to the Charter at pivotal moments in the fight for justice. In the past, the Charter has been instrumental in making Canadian society more just and equitable by securing rights to same sex marriage, abortion, and numerous other rights.
A victory in this case would mean real progress in the fight for a safe climate future and could set a historic precedent affecting how governments across Canada address the climate crisis.
Danielle Gallant, Ecojustice lawyer, said:
“This case is historic because it is the first climate lawsuit based on Charter-protected rights to reach a full hearing in any Canadian court.
Throughout the world, legal challenges of government climate action have become a powerful tool for young people to demand change.”
Nader Hasan, Stockwoods LLP, said:
“We are in court today to argue that the climate emergency is a threat unlike the world has ever known. It will lead to a range of disasters that puts the very lives of young people at risk through increased risk of disease, extreme weather and the breakdown of food systems, cultural practices and political security across the globe.
“The Ontario government is aware of this threat, and yet it passed a law that gutted the climate target for the province.”
Sophia Mathur, Sudbury, Ont., said:
“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.”
Zoe Keary-Matzner, Toronto, Ont., said:
“Being involved in this case is a chance to educate people in Ontario and across Canada about why we need strong climate targets to make sure we have a safe and sustainable future.”
Shaelyn Wabegijig, Peterborough, Ont., said:
“As an Indigenous person, not only do I have the right to address the impact of climate change in court, I have a responsibility to protect the sacred land, water and air that nourishes us and should nourish future generations.”
Shelby Gagnon, Thunder Bay, Ont., said:
“I’m concerned about the impact that climate change will have on people and the land that we depend on for our survival. As an Indigenous person from northern Ontario, I am already witnessing the impact of climate change on my community.”
Alex Neufeldt, Ottawa, Ont., said:
“I’m worried about the impact that climate change and extreme weather events will have on our future and the challenges that young people like me will face in building homes, businesses and communities.”
Madison Dyck, Thunder Bay, Ont., said:
“I love everything about Lake Superior- it is home to me. But the changes in the winter ice, and rising temperature of the water have me worried. Lake Superior is one of the fastest warming lakes in the world. As a lake that is known for how cold it is, this is a serious threat to the delicate ecosystem.”
Beze Gray, Aamjiwnaang First Nation, Ont., said:
“My home of Aamjiwnaang First Nation is beside Ontario’s Chemical Valley where Canada’s largest concentration of petrochemical refineries have impacted the health and well-being of my community. I’ve experienced firsthand the devastation caused by Canada’s oil industry.”
- Mathur et. al. was launched in November 2019 to challenge the Ontario government scrapping its relatively progressive climate targets and replacing them with a significantly weaker 2030 target, enabling dangerous levels of emissions over the next decade.
- 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 on November 12, 2020. 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 green light 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 makes Mathur et. al. the first case of its kind to clear key preliminary hurdles and move to a full hearing.
Ecojustice uses the power of the law to defend nature, combat climate change, and fight for a healthy environment. Its strategic, public interest lawsuits and advocacy lead to precedent-setting court decisions and law and policy 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 at every level court in Canada, including 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.