Canadian youth sue federal government seeking stronger climate action

Larose plaintiffs 2019Just days after the federal election, on October 25, fifteen Canadians aged 10 to 19 launched a lawsuit in federal court, seeking a court-ordered plan for climate change based on the best available science.  The plaintiffs, from seven Canadian provinces and the Northwest Territories, announced their suit in Vancouver at the Fridays for Future climate strike alongside Greta Thunberg and recounted their personal experiences, including asthma, Lyme disease, mental health challenges, and injuries from wildfire smoke.

The Statement of Claim   in La Rose v. Her Majesty the Queen alleges that by failing to  protect essential public trust resources like air and water,  the Canadian government has violated the children’s right to life, liberty and security of the person under Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It also alleges that the government has violated Section 15 of the Charter, since youth are disproportionately affected by the effects of climate change.   A press release from the David Suzuki Foundation includes quotes from some of the individuals involved; the case was widely reported in the following sources:  the CBC , The Energy Mix ,  the National Observer, Toronto Starand the Vancouver Star  .

This is the second climate change case brought by Canadian youth: in 2019,   ENvironnement JEUnesse brought  a class action suit on behalf of Quebecers under the age of 35, which argued that the Canadian government was violating the class members’ fundamental rights by failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently to ensure a safe climate. In July 2019, the Quebec Superior Court dismissed the petitioners’ motion because it rejected the nature of the class , namely, the age limit of 35 years. The case is under appeal.

 

The children in La Rose v. Her Majesty the Queen  are represented by the B.C. law firms of Arvay Finlay LLP and Tollefson Law Corporation, and supported by the Pacific Centre for Environmental Law and Litigation (CELL) , the David Suzuki Foundation, and Our Children’s Trust in the U.S., which pioneered the pending landmark youth case of Juliana vs. United States.  Our Children’s Trust compiles information on climate change lawsuits around the world including Australia, Belgium, Columbia, France, India, the Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, the Philippines, Uganda, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom. The Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at New York’s Columbia Law School maintains a database of cases in the U.S., and a separate database from the rest of the world – approximately 1400 climate lawsuits against governments and fossil fuel corporations in more than 25 countries.

Climate change litigation in Canada: ENvironnement JEUnesse is under appeal

environnement jeunesse demonstrationA September blog published by legal firm Aird Berlis  summarizes the July 2019 decision of the Quebec Superior Court in Canada’s youth climate change litigation: ENvironnement JEUnesse v. Canada.  The environmental group  ENvironnement JEUnesse also summarizes the progress of the case, which sought to represent Quebecers under the age of 35 in a class action suit, arguing that the Canadian government was violating the class members’ fundamental rights by failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently to ensure a safe climate. In July 2019, the Quebec Superior Court dismissed the petitioners’ motion because it rejected the nature of the class proposed by the petitioners, namely, the age limit of 35 years. Lawyers for ENvironnement JEUnesse filed an appeal of the decision in August and await a hearing. The French-language decision is here ; an unofficial English-language translation posted by Columbia Law School is here .  ENvironnement JEUnesse  sees itself as part of the global movement of climate litigation begun with the Urgenda decision in The Netherlands, and summarizes other cases around the world on its English-language website. The French-language website is much more informative – in addition to updates on the case, it posts news on the Quebec climate youth movement and its  annual conference.

Ontario Court rules that government broke the law by failure to consult on repeal of Cap and Trade regulations

doug ford scrap the taxA suit against the Conservative Ford government of Ontario was dismissed by the Ontario Divisional Court on October 11, but in the decision, a majority of judges wrote that the government breached Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) by repealing the province’s Cap and Trade regulations without the required public consultation.  The CBC summarizes the decision and the National Observer writes,

“the judges found the Ford government was in “clear breach of the EBR” and that “its apparent efforts to avoid judicial review of this conduct raises serious concerns – not about whether the government had the lawful authority to repeal the Cap and Trade Act, but of its respect for the Rule of Law and the role of the courts, as a branch of government.”

The suit was brought by Greenpeace and Ecojustice in 2018.  The Greenpeace reaction on October 11 states:

“Scrapping cap-and-trade not only undercut a successful program that was helping Ontario reduce climate change-causing greenhouse gas emissions, it also cancelled 227 clean energy programs that would have benefit schools, hospitals, small businesses and public housing projects. It’s especially concerning that the Ford government did this in a way that silenced groups like Greenpeace and Ontario’s youth – who do not have a voice to vote, but stand to lose the most from climate inaction… Ontarians are marching in the streets demanding real action in response to the climate emergency and we call on the Ford government to listen to the people this time, starting with an abandonment of its challenge of the federal carbon tax.”

The Greenpeace statement also refers to Failure to Launch , a progress report on climate action in Ontario released on October 10 by Environmental Defence. A blog summarizes the findings; the full report is here , describing the destruction of climate change policies from the previous Liberal government, and making recommendations for improved future action.

Urgenda decision upheld: victory for citizens’ climate rights comes just ahead of Juliana v. United States

urgenda-logoOn October 9, the Hague Court of Appeal upheld the lower court ruling in the landmark case of  Urgenda Foundation v. The State of Netherlands , which in  2015 was the first case in the world to rule that governments have a “duty of care” to protect their citizens against climate change. The 2015 ruling ordered the Dutch government to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% by the end of 2020 (compared to 1990 levels).  The Urgenda Foundation press release is here ; a compilation of documents by the Foundation, including the text of the decisions, is here  and an English-language Explainer is here.  The article in Climate Liability News expands on the global importance of this decision, which has inspired other court challenges in U.S., NorwayPakistanIreland,  Belgium, Colombia, Switzerland and New Zealand.

see you in court tshirtThe Urgenda decision comes just as the highly- publicized Juliana v. United States case proceeds to its next court appearance on October 29.  Juliana vs. the United States was originally filed in Oregon in 2015 under the Obama administration, and argues that the 21 young plaintiffs have constitutional rights to life, liberty and property, which are currently jeopardized by federal climate change policies.   It is led by Our Children’s Trust and has been called “the trial of the century” and has received media attention throughout the ongoing challenges from the federal government.

Parliamentary committee recommends a legislated right to a healthy environment in its review of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act

On June 15, the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development tabled its report, Healthy Environment, Healthy Canadians, Healthy Economy: Strengthening the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999,   and the French version, Un Environnement Sain, des Canadiens et une Économie en Santé : Renforcer la Loi Canadienne sur la Protection de l’environnement (1999).

Called a “ground-breaking”  report by the David Suzuki Foundation, this review of  the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA)  makes 87 recommendations to modernize the law.  The Ecojustice blog ,  “Much to celebrate in committee report on Canadian Environmental Protection Act”  summarizes some of the recommendations, including  the  introduction of national drinking water and air quality standards; “stronger enforcement provisions to ensure polluters are held to account; improved transparency, public reporting and consultation requirements; and faster timelines to ensure regulatory action is taken swiftly once a toxic threat is identified”.  Most important, however, is the recommendation that the Act recognize and protect the right of every person in Canada to a healthy environment – a right recognized in 110 other countries.

The reaction  from  East Coast Environmental Law also notes this right to a healthy environment, and emphasizes the environmental justice implications:  “ The Report… suggests that the importance of environmental rights to Indigenous peoples and vulnerable populations should be emphasized.  … The Report acknowledges that environmental burdens aren’t shared equitably by communities across Canada, …… it also makes a number of recommendations that address environmental injustice. For example, it recommends that the Act be expanded to include an obligation to protect the environment in a non-discriminatory way; that it enhance the procedural rights that protect access to information, access to justice, and public participation in environmental decision-making; that it address the inequitable burden of toxic exposure in Canada; and that it recognize the principles enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

The response from the David Suzuki Foundation also summarizes the recommendations, and makes clear that these are not yet law.  The  Minister of Environment and Climate Change, and eventually Cabinet, will consider the report, with legislation expected in the fall.   Ecojustice calls it “ a once-in-a generation opportunity to dramatically improve our most important environmental law.”

Environment and Climate Change Canada has compiled links to a history of CEPA . The Standing Committee website is here, with links to witnesses and the 68 briefs received.