Young Ontarians launch lawsuit against province after Ford government scales back emissions targets

A group of young Ontarians is suing the province over what they say is climate change inaction, arguing that the Ford government has violated their charter rights by softening emissions reduction targets.

The group claims that recent policy changes "will lead to widespread illness and death," an alleged violation of Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which promises protection for life, liberty and security of the person.

They are calling on the Ontario government to commit to more ambitious emission reductions with the aim of limiting global warming to 1.5 C, a key target set out in the United Nations' Paris Agreement on climate change.

"Doug Ford is not doing enough to protect our future and it's just unacceptable," said Sophia Mathur, a 12-year-old from Sudbury and one of seven applicants taking part.

"I just want to live a normal life in the future; I shouldn't have to be doing this, but adults aren't doing a good job," she told CBC News.

The claims in the lawsuit have not been proven in court.

"I'm afraid that so many species that I love will go extinct," added Zoe Keary-Matzner, 13, from Toronto. "And that children in the future won't be able to enjoy nature the same way I do."

The applicants, ranging from age 12 to 24, are represented by Stockwoods LLP and Ecojustice, a group that specializes in public interest lawsuits in the name of environmental protection.

Their challenge is part of a growing trend in which young people across the globe are suing governments over perceived inaction on climate change.

Evan Mitsui/CBC

Earlier this year, more than a dozen young Canadians launched a similar lawsuit against the federal government. Similar legal challenges have gone to courts in the U.S. and the Netherlands, with varying degrees of success.

This is the first lawsuit filed against a Canadian province over climate inaction.

"Any government that is failing to address the climate emergency in a meaningful way can expect to face litigation of this nature," said Alan Andrews, climate director at Ecojustice.

CBC

PCs roll back greenhouse gas targets

The group is focusing its lawsuit on the Ford government's decision to scale back emission targets set by the Liberals in 2015.

The previous plan called for a 37-per-cent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. The reduction target climbed to 80 per cent by 2050.

Under the Progressive Conservatives, Ontario now plans to reduce emissions by 30 per cent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. There is no longer a 2050 target.

The PCs have also repealed a cap-and-trade agreement that gave companies incentives to reduce carbon emissions. They are also in the process of challenging a carbon tax imposed by Ottawa to take its place.

Rod Phillips, who served as Ontario's environment minister when the changes were made, said the previous targets and restrictions were ineffective and "killing jobs" in the province.

The Ford government says it plans to leverage Ontario's private sector to develop green technology, and that its new "made in Ontario" climate strategy will keep the province on track to meet Paris Agreement warming targets 

A precedent for success?

The young people behind the lawsuit say the new approach ignores the increasing urgency of climate change.

"People are very focused on other things; on making money, focusing on the economy, that they don't think about their connection to mother earth," said applicant Shaelyn Wabegijig, 22.

Tijana Martin/Canadian Press

Wabegijig, who grew up at Rama First Nation near Orillia, said she's concerned about having children if the effects of climate change continue to worsen.

While the result of the challenge is not yet decided, Ecojustice recently scored a mild victory against the province over the cancellation of the cap-and-trade program.

In a split decision, a three judge panel determined the Ford government broke the law by scrapping the program without public consultations, although the ruling does not compel the province to revive the program.

Mathur said Ford would be wise to take their challenge seriously.

"I hope he's scared," she said.