A judge has warned that Ontario’s weak climate plans will “increase the risk of death” for Canada’s young people – but dismissed a lawsuit brought by a group worried that government inaction on global heating threatens their futures. Canadian youth activists’ case nevertheless dismissed as judge rules province’s policies do not violate Charter rights. This is but one legal challenge that we have seen by youth globally. Leyland Cecco discusses the Ontario decision in an article on the Guardian website.
Judge says Ontario’s weak climate plans increase risk of death for the young
A judge has warned that Ontario’s weak climate plans will “increase the risk of death” for Canada’s young people – but dismissed a lawsuit brought by a group worried that government inaction on global heating threatens their futures.
Justice Marie-Andrée Vermette of Ontario superior court issued a decision on Tuesday that found that while both young people and Indigenous peoples bear the brunt of climate change, government failures to react were not a breach of their rights.
In recent years, young people across the globe have turned to the courts to challenge government policies, which they fear are inadequate to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing climate.
The landmark Ontario case, brought by the seven youth activists, focused on the climate legislation passed by premier Doug Ford’s conservative government nearly five years ago. The lawsuit alleges the province’s climate plan is incompatible with Canada’s Paris agreement commitments, which Ontario has pledged to uphold.
By failing to uphold its climate pledges, the lawsuit claims, the province has violated the charter rights of young people. The lawsuit also called on the courts to require the province to draw up a new climate plan.
In her judgment, Vermette found the youth “make a compelling case that climate change and the existential threat that it poses to human life” are clear and that the province’s climate plan “falls severely short” of what’s needed to address climate change.
But she was skeptical that weaknesses in Ontario’s climate plan violated section 7 of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees the right to life, liberty and security.
Vermette also dismissed the idea that Ontario’s plan violated section 15 of the charter, which recognizes the right to equality under the law without discrimination.
While she agreed climate change disproportionately affects certain groups, the province was not obliged to fix this inequality through its climate targets.
The dismissal is a blow to attempts by young people to hold governments to account, and is the latest lawsuit of its kind to fail. In 2020, the federal court dismissed a separate lawsuit by another group of young people against Ottawa over its climate plan.
Despite the loss, Ecojustice, which represented the youth, said there was “reason for optimism” after the court found the case “justiciable”, meaning it is an appropriate legal question for courts to weigh in on. Previous climate cases in Canada that alleged charter breaches have been rejected because they were not justiciable.
“The decision includes a damning indictment of the Ontario government’s inadequate and dangerous climate target which puts people in the province on a collision course with the harmful and deadly impacts of climate change,” the group said in a statement, adding it would appeal the ruling to the province’s higher court.
“The fight to hold the Ontario government accountable for its climate action is not over.”