Sudbury youth-led climate action against Ontario government allowed to proceed

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SUDBURY – Sofia Mathur of Sudbury was 12 years old when she joined six other Ontario youth in November 2019 in a lawsuit against Premier Doug Ford and his government for tearing up the province’s climate laws and violating their Charter rights to life, liberty and security of person. “We want our future to be a safe place,” she said. “We’re taking a stand and it’s making a difference.”

On November 12, for the first time ever, a Canadian court has ruled that fundamental rights protected under the Charter can be threatened by climate change and citizens have the ability to challenge a Canadian government’s action on the climate crisis under the highest law in the land.

The youth, all between the ages of 12 and 24 years, felt they had no choice but to take legal action against a government whose actions would force the children and youth of today, as well as future generations, to shoulder the weight of the climate crisis. The case, argued by lawyers from Ecojustice and constitutional law experts from Stockwoods LLP, argues that Ontario’s 2030 climate target, weakened by the Ford government’s Cap and Trade Cancellation Act, 2018, is “inadequate, unconstitutional and must be struck down.”

Significantly more greenhouse gas emissions will be emitted under Ontario’s 2030 target and 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,” said Ecojustice.

The Ford government had filed to have the case dismissed on grounds that: the courts aren’t the right forum for addressing the climate crisis; that climate impacts will play out so far in the future there’s no way to understand them now; that the climate crisis is so big and complicated that Ontario’s targets don’t make a difference; and that the young people bringing the case can’t represent the interests of future generations.

In the ruling, Justice Carole J. Brown wrote, “This case is of public interest in that it transcends the interest of all Ontario residents, not just the applicants’ generation or the ones that follow.” 

Mathur et.al. v. Her Majesty in Right of Ontario is the only time a Canadian court has recognized that the harms caused by climate change can engage our Charter protected rights to life, liberty and security of the person.

“Certainly this is exciting news,” said Ms. Mathur, who was the first Fridays for Future climate striker in Canada and who continues her Friday strikes at Sudbury’s City Hall. The legal action has been a lot of work over the past year, she said. After the case was launched there was a lot of waiting, giving speeches and talking to the media to raise awareness. “We’re in a climate emergency and the Ford government is not doing enough to address the climate crisis.”

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice delivered a rebuke of the Ford government’s attempt to shut down the youth’s lawsuit in its ruling and affirmed that the case will be heard in full, said Ecojustice.