Young activists win right to sue Ontario’s Ford government over climate policy

·2 min read

An Ontario court handed seven young climate activists a victory on Friday, with a ruling that their lawsuit against the Ford government can proceed to trial.

The decision, dated Nov. 12, is the first of its kind in Canada and comes just weeks after a similar legal action against the federal government was rejected.

“I look forward to seeing the premier in court,” 24-year-old plaintiff Alex Neufeldt said in a statement. “My fellow applicants and I understand that our future is at stake and we’re not backing down from this fight.”

The decision sets up a legal reckoning over whether governments must actively avoid conduct that can be expected to result in future harm, in this case the section 7 constitutional right to life, liberty and security of the person. Ecojustice, an environmental group that backed the young people’s court challenge, said the decision means citizens can challenge a Canadian government’s action on the climate crisis under the highest law in the land, its constitution.

“For the first time in Canadian judicial history, government inaction on the climate crisis will be put on trial,” said Fraser Thomson, one of Ecojustice’s lawyers backing the case.

Lawyers Nader Hasan and Justin Safayeni from Stockwoods LLP also represented the youth.

The seven young people filed their lawsuit almost exactly a year ago, and the Ford government responded in April with a motion to dismiss. “This procedural attack was an attempt to avoid a hearing that will undoubtedly highlight the science behind the climate emergency and the urgent need for swift, ambitious climate action,” Ecojustice said.

The applicants — Sophia Mathur, Zoe Keary-Matzner, Shaelyn Wabegijig, Shelby Gagnon, Neufeldt, Madison Dyck and Beze Grey — claim the Ford government’s weakening of Ontario’s climate targets in 2018 will lead to widespread illness and death, and violates Charter-protected rights to life, liberty, and security of the person.

The Ford government has canceled a string of green initiatives since coming to power last year, most noticeably cutting the cap and trade program that was raising $2 billion to help fund energy-efficient building retrofits and other efforts, and continues its own legal fight against the federal carbon pricing scheme.

It has also ended an electric and hydrogen vehicle incentive program, cut more than 700 green energy projects, proposed cuts to protections of species at-risk, removed electric vehicle chargers from GO station parking lots and slashed 50 per cent of the flood management funds given to conservation authorities.

A spokesperson for Ontario's ministry of the attorney general said they are reviewing the decision and that it would be inappropriate to comment while the matter is in the appeal period.

Alastair Sharp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, National Observer