Climate litigation in Canada – first youth, now Victoria B.C. may take to the courts

Two new articles describe the first examples of climate change litigation in Canada.  In “Climate change litigation arrives in Canada”, lawyers from Osler’s, a Toronto-based law firm,  summarize two example of climate change litigation to arise in Canada:  the claim by Quebec youth against the government of Canada, and the January 16 decision by the council of Victoria, B.C. to endorse a class action lawsuit against fossil fuel companies.  The second article appeared in Climate Liability News , and provides more detail about the municipal movement for climate accountability.

environment jeunesseAs the WCR blog reported when the case was launched in November 2018, the first Canadian lawsuit was filed by  ENVironnement JEUnesse (ENJEU)  in the Quebec Superior Court  on behalf of  people  under the age of 35 and resident in Quebec. They are claiming that the federal government has infringed on the rights protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Québec Charter of Rights and Freedoms, by failing to take adequate action to prevent climate change. The  ENJEU website places their action in the context of the global litigation movement begun by the Urgenda case in the Netherlands, and the Juliana case in the U.S., and like them, faces a long road of legal procedures.

victoria harbourVictoria endorses a class action lawsuit for climate change damages: The more recent example of Canadian climate litigation comes from Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia, which on January 17 endorsed a class action lawsuit against oil and gas producers for climate-related harms. This is described briefly in the Osler article (Feb. 5),  in  “Next Climate Liability Suits vs. Big Oil Could Come from Western Canada”  in Climate Liability News on January 22, and in greater detail in a Globe and Mail article (Jan. 17).  Also in January, Vancouver city council voted to declare a climate emergency , and according to the Globe and Mail article, is considering  whether to join with Victoria in the class action lawsuit.  Also in January, the city of  Halifax in Nova Scotia became the third major city to declare a climate emergency  – with city staff tasked with figuring out how the city can set up a climate change directorate, with a goal of net zero carbon before 2050.

As both the Osler and the Climate Liability articles state, Vancouver and Victoria have been encouraged by the Climate Law in Our Hands campaign organized by West Coast Environmental Law – a campaign which began in 2017,  and has enlisted 16 municipalities to send “Climate Accountability Letters” to the world’s largest fossil fuel companies, asking that these companies pay a fair share of local costs related to climate change adaptation.  In September 2018, the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities  (of which Victoria is a member) sent a climate accountability letter on behalf of its 53 local government members.

Perhaps other Canadian municipalities should consider such actions.  “Evaluating the quality of municipal climate change plans in Canada”, first published online in November 2018  in Climatic Change,  catalogues and evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of climate change plans in eight dimensions, in sixty-three Canadian municipalities.  The conclusions: Canadian municipal climate change plans currently prioritize mitigation over adaptation; implementation, monitoring, and evaluation are relatively weak aspects ; and municipalities have given insufficient consideration to the element of stakeholder engagement in the climate change plan-making process.  Highest ranked cities were in Ontario:  Kingston, followed by the Waterloo Region, and Hamilton. New Westminster, British Columbia was identified as most needing improvement.

 

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