Posted on June 16, 2020 (updated: June 15, 2020)

Ontario youth strike back against province’s attempt to toss climate lawsuit

Seven young people suing the Government of Ontario for weakening climate targets
Photo by Emily Chan

TORONTO – Seven young Ontarians are fighting to keep their landmark climate lawsuit alive in the face of the provincial government’s attempts to shut down the case before it can be heard.

Sophia Mathur (13), Zoe Keary-Matzner (13), Shaelyn Wabegijig (23), Shelby Gagnon (23), Alex Neufeldt (24), Madison Dyck (24) and Beze Grey (25) launched a lawsuit against the Ford government last year. The youth applicants say the province violated Ontarians’ Charter rights to life, liberty and security of the person when it weakened Ontario’s climate targets in 2018.

In April 2020, the government filed a motion to throw out the case before it could proceed to a full hearing, where both sides would have the ability to put forward evidence. Notably, the province argued the courts aren’t the right forum for addressing the climate crisis. It also went so far as to question whether the Ontario government could do anything to prevent the catastrophic impacts of climate change.

This week, lawyers for the seven young people responded to the government’s motion with a written factum. In it, the Ontario youths assert:

  • The courts have the power to address arguments around whether governments’ failure to act to fight climate change violates Canadians’ rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms
  • There is ample scientific evidence linking climate change with future harms, including sources from the Ontario government itself and the IPCC
  • The provincial government has the ability — and a legal duty — to address the climate crisis
  • This case can’t wait for future generations to bring it. The court should grant the applicants standing to represent the interests of other Ontarians and future generations because it would be unjust to burden future generations with an unwinnable fight against climate change.

The court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on the motion to strike on July 13, 2020.

The seven youth applicants, who range in age from 13 to 25 and hail from communities across Ontario, are represented by lawyers from Ecojustice and Stockwoods LLP in this public interest litigation.

Shelby Gagnon, 23-year-old applicant from Thunder Bay said:

“Over the last few months, I have coped with the uncertainty of living through a global pandemic by spending time on the land. As a young, Anishinaabe person, I am deeply concerned that future generations will not have this option and I worry about how the climate crisis will impact Indigenous food sovereignty, and my ability to harvest traditional medicines. That’s why I’m part of this climate lawsuit and why I am fighting the Ontario governments’ attempts to prevent us from having our day in court.”

Nader Hasan, partner with Stockwoods LLP, said:

“The Government asserts that no matter how dire the threat of climate change, the courts are powerless to act.  This emaciated view of the Charter and the courts must not stand.”

Fraser Thomson, Ecojustice lawyer said:

“While governments around the world are finally starting to take the climate crisis seriously, the Ford government has had the audacity to not only backtrack on Ontario’s commitments but to throw its hands up in the air in light of a global catastrophe.

“By suing the Ontario government for weakening its climate targets, Sophia, Beze, Zoe, Shaelyn, Shelby, Alex and Madison are fighting for every Ontarians’ Charter rights to life, liberty and security of the person. These seven remarkable young people are bringing this lawsuit because they are committed to protecting present and future generations from the climate crisis. They deserve the opportunity to have a court hear what they have to say.”

RESOURCES

Motion to strike responding factum

Motion record

Notice of Application

Case backgrounder

ABOUT

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.

For media inquiries

Please contact Sean O’Shea at soshea@ecojustice.ca or 1-800-926-7744 ext. 277

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