Parents Join Landmark Youth Lawsuit Suing Government for Climate Change

Fifteen young people are going to court later this month to fight the Canadian government’s attempt to have their lawsuit thrown out.
September 9, 2020, 2:31pm
A group of young people announce it is suing the federal government over climate change during a climate strike in Vancouver last October. Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, right, looks on
A group of young people announce it is suing the federal government over climate change during a climate strike in Vancouver last October. Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, right, looks on. Photo courtesy of Robin Loznak/Our Children's Trust

A group of parents and grandparents from across Canada has filed a motion in support of a landmark youth lawsuit that accuses the Canadian government of putting the lives of young people at risk by failing to act on climate change.

For Our Kids, a national advocacy group that pushes for environmental action, put forth a motion to intervene last week in support of the young people’s legal case, filed in federal court in Vancouver last year.

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Alayne Moody, a mother of two and member of the For Our Kids Montreal chapter, said she hoped the group’s submission to the court would help the lawsuit get the go-ahead it needs to proceed—especially in the face of opposition from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government.

“What the federal government is trying to argue right now is that this case should be stricken,” Moody told VICE News. “We’re saying no, in the best interests of our children, we feel that this case should be considered.”

She said she felt compelled to support the case because she is worried about how climate change will affect the lives of her own children, 13 and 11.

“I’m not seeing the steps needed to ensure that their future is safe, healthy, and secure from a climate perspective,” Moody said. “I feel with every ounce of my being that something needs to be done.”

Last October, 15 Canadian youth filed the lawsuit, which accuses the federal government of failing to enact meaningful policies to prevent a climate crisis—and violating their constitutional rights in the process.

The plaintiffs say their Charter-protected right to life, liberty, and security as outlined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is being infringed upon, as is their right to equality, because youth “will bear a disproportionate burden” of the effects of climate change.

“We’re basically asking for judicial protection from our government, which is an unimaginable shame. In a democracy, how are we finding ourselves … in this situation?” said Albert Lalonde, an 18-year-old college student in Montreal and one of the plaintiffs in the case.

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Lalonde told VICE News that not only has Canada failed to act on climate change, but it has refused to do so and even worsened the crisis by putting economic development and business interests above policies that would curb fossil fuel emissions and other harms.

Brendan Glauser, associate communications director at the David Suzuki Foundation, which is providing financial support for the federal lawsuit, said the federal government announced in May that it would file a motion to get the case thrown out.

Hearings will be held in Vancouver on September 30 and October 1 to determine whether the case can proceed to trial, Glauser told VICE News.

In an email on Tuesday, Moira Kelly, a spokeswoman for Canada’s Department of Environment and Climate Change, said the government had committed to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050—and putting that target into law.

Trudeau’s Liberal Party won a parliamentary majority in 2015 on a promise to tackle climate change. Among other things, his government promised in 2016 to reduce methane emissions by 40-45 percent by 2025 compared to their 2012 level, and it brought in regulations in 2018 to meet that goal.

The Canadian Press reported that the full rollout of those regulations won’t be in place until 2023, however, and the Pembina Institute, an environmental nonprofit, said this month that the federal methane regulations would only achieve a 29 percent reduction by 2025.

Kelly said Canada was also pursuing measures to cut pollution, such as planting 2 billion trees, supporting clean tech companies, and eliminating inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.

“Young people are pushing their governments for accelerated action on climate change. We hear them, and all of the Canadians who sent a clear message that continued climate action is a priority that they want us to work on,” Kelly said.

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But in its court filing, the federal government said the young people’s claims “fall well outside” the court’s jurisdiction and therefore should not be heard.

The young plaintiffs are not asking for any financial compensation, Glauser said, but they want Canada to enact “a science-based climate recovery plan.” In other words, “something that’s in line with what the best science says is needed to get us back on track,” he said.

“The message they’re trying to send is, ‘We can’t afford to leave this up to chance. We can’t afford to leave this up to the political system.’ One way of making sure something happens is making it law, and that’s what they’re trying to do here.”

The case is one of several youth legal challenges filed around the world. Young people from the United States, Mexico, and the Netherlands have demanded that their countries enact strong climate policies.

In December last year, the Supreme Court of the Netherlands upheld a lower court’s decision that found the Dutch government had a duty to protect its citizens against climate change and needed to do much more to cut its emissions.

The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said the decision “provides a clear path forward for concerned individuals in Europe—and around the world—to undertake climate litigation in order to protect human rights.”

Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg and 15 other children filed a complaint with the United Nations last September, accusing Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, and Turkey of violating their rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child through their inaction on climate change. That case is ongoing.

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Last week, six Portuguese young people also filed a lawsuit at the European Court of Human Rights against 33 countries demanding they do more to address climate change.

For Lalonde, the lawsuit is a “last shot” at getting meaningful environmental policies in place.

“I’ve felt as though I was betrayed by the system. I felt like no one really cared about what my future would be… No government was really willing to do anything about it or try to make it better,” he said.

“We want to have concrete solutions for what we are having to deal with in the present, but solutions that will also ensure us a safe future.”

Follow Jillian Kestler D’Amours on Twitter.