Youth-led challenge to Ontario’s climate plan goes before province’s highest court

Seven young people on Monday took the next step in their historic challenge to Ontario’s climate change plan, arguing before the province’s highest court that the government’s weakened emissions target was a violation of their rights.

A lawyer for the group told court Monday that the young men, aged between 16 and 28, come from different parts of the province and from various backgrounds.

“But what unites them is that they, like the young people of this province, this country and the planet, have come to recognize that government action on climate change is very wrong,” Nader Hasan told the three-judge panel of the Court of Appeal. for Ontario.

“Although some of our clients are still too young to achieve change at the ballot box, they are holders of constitutional rights in this country.”

The call is part of a series of recent youth-led cases in Canada and other parts of the world where young people argue that government climate inaction in the face of increasingly dire circumstances, from wildfires to floods, is a violation of their rights.

In April, an Ontario trial judge dismissed the group’s constitutional challenge, but his decision agreed that the gap between the amount of emissions that need to be reduced globally and what the provincial plan calls for is “large, inexplicable and without no apparent scientific basis.

The group is now asking the appeals court to intervene. They also want the court to order Ontario to develop a new “science-based target” consistent with its share of greenhouse gas emissions, a lawyer for the group told the appeal panel.

Government lawyers argued Monday that such an order was beyond the court’s jurisdiction and ability.

The case dates back to when the then-newly elected Progressive Conservative government in 2018 repealed the law underpinning Ontario’s cap-and-trade system to reduce emissions. The government scrapped the system and replaced that law’s emissions target (37 percent below 1990 levels by 2030) with a new target of 30 percent below 2005 levels.

The seven young people, backed by environmental law charity Ecojustice, gave expert evidence that the new target would allow an extra 200 million tonnes of emissions. They allege the target commits Ontario to dangerously high levels of greenhouse gas emissions, amounting to a violation of their Charter rights to life and equality as young people, who will have to bear the brunt of the impacts. climatic.

“Young people’s voices must matter in Canadian law, including our hopes and visions for the future,” said Beze Gray of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, one of seven people who brought the case.

“For young people, our future depends on today’s action,” Gray said in a written statement before Monday’s appeal hearing.

Government lawyers argue in written filings that there is no constitutional duty to take positive steps to repair the future harms of climate change. The government also says the trial judge was correct in determining that the adverse effects of climate change were not a violation of youth’s equal rights, as the impacts will be felt across all age groups in the future.

While the constitutional challenge was unsuccessful at trial, the group says the case remains historic. The decision was the first in Ontario to find that a court could hear a Charter-based challenge to a specific climate goal or plan.

That decision was later cited by a Federal Court of Appeal ruling last month that reopened the door for 15 young people to bring a constitutional challenge against the Canadian government over its response to climate change.

The cases are two prominent Canadian examples of youth-led climate cases appearing before judges around the world.

In August, a Montana judge said state agencies had violated the constitutional rights to a clean and healthy environment of the young people who sued. In September, six young people in Portugal brought a case accusing 32 European governments of violating their human rights for what they say is a failure to adequately address climate change.

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