TORONTO — Seven young people are suing the Government of Ontario for weakening its climate targets because it will lead to widespread illness and death, violating Ontarians’ Charter-protected rights to life, liberty, and security of the person.
Their case argues that Ontario’s 2030 target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels is inadequate, unconstitutional, and must be struck down.
Under Ontario’s 2030 target — made weaker by the 2018 Cap and Trade Cancellation Act — the Government of Ontario will allow significantly more greenhouse gas emissions to be emitted. This will worsen the climate emergency and contribute to dangerous climate change-related impacts such as heatwaves, floods, fires, and poor air quality that will harm the health of people throughout Ontario.
Ontario’s backsliding comes at a time when there is a clear scientific consensus and moral imperative for governments to limit warming to 1.5°C. Meeting this temperature goal, set out in the Paris Agreement, will require global greenhouse gas emissions to halve by 2030 and reach net-zero emissions by no later than 2050.
The applicants, who range in age from 12 to 24 and hail from communities across Ontario, are represented by lawyers from Ecojustice and Stockwoods LLP in this public interest litigation.
Sophia Mathur, 12-year-old applicant from Sudbury, said:
“My generation deserves a future. When I grow up, I want to be a lawyer. I also have lots of other hopes and dreams and I want the chance to make them come true. That’s why it was important for me to start striking for the climate in November 2018, and why I’m working with other young people to take the government to court today.”
Shaelyn Wabegijig, 22-year-old applicant from Peterborough, said:
“Climate change is hurting Indigenous and coastal communities that rely on the land and ocean for cultural and physical survival. I do not feel like I am secure or safe in my future, which is why I am committed to fighting for climate action. I do not want to bring children into a world that is dying, or where they’re at risk of illness or harm imposed by climate change.”
Alex Neufeldt, 23-year-old applicant from Ottawa, said:
“Open for business is Doug Ford’s favourite catchphrase. But if he really cared about protecting the economy for young entrepreneurs like me, he wouldn’t have rolled back the province’s climate targets. We can help stop climate change and also create jobs. But we need the political will to do it.”
Alan Andrews, climate director with Ecojustice, said:
“Ecojustice is proud to support this courageous group of young Ontarians in their legal fight to force the Ontario government to strengthen its climate targets. Any government that is failing to address the climate emergency in a meaningful way can expect to face litigation of this nature. Ecojustice expects every government in Canada to do its part to respond to the climate emergency, including by setting and legislating targets to limit warming to 1.5 degrees.”
Nader Hasan, partner with Stockwoods LLP, said:
“Ontario’s climate rollbacks pose an unacceptable risk to the life, liberty and security of all Ontarians. These rollbacks are unconstitutional and will condemn entire generations to shouldering the frightening health impacts the climate crisis. Because government won’t act on its own, we’re asking the courts to order this government to wake up and take action.”
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 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.