Kids tried to sue Canada over climate inaction. They lost

Story by CBC Kids News • 2020-10-27 16:30
UPDATE: This story was updated on Oct. 28, to include a statement from the Canadian government.

Not for the courts to decide, judge says

Haana Edenshaw was sitting in math class when she heard the news.

On Tuesday, a federal court rejected a lawsuit filed by Haana and 14 other teens against the Canadian government for what they call inaction on climate change.

The 17-year-old from Haida Gwaii, B.C., said she jumped out of her seat when she got the message.

It wasn’t the news she was hoping for. “I was just, like, a bit shaken up, a bit disappointed.”

That feeling didn’t last long. Haana said she and the others are planning to appeal the judge’s decision to reject their lawsuit.

We’re “nowhere near the end of our fight,” she said. “We're just going to keep going.”

Haana stands before a crashing wave.

Haana Edenshaw, who’s Indigenous from the Haida Nation, said climate change threatens her ability to hunt and gather food and to learn from the land. (Image credit: Kwiadda McEvoy)

What was the lawsuit about?

In a media release from lawyers representing the group, the kids said the Government of Canada is responsible for greenhouse gas emissions that have resulted in changes to the climate.

They said those changes are causing harmful situations such as wildfire smoke and extreme temperatures.

The lawsuit asked the federal court to rule that Canada is, “interfering with the youth’s Charter rights to life, liberty, security of the person and equality.”

They had hoped that the lawsuit would force the government to come up with a new plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Why was the lawsuit rejected?

The judge in this case, Justice Michael D. Manson, ruled that the Canadian government would not go to trial under his watch.

There are a few reasons why.

One of the big ones is that the questions raised in the case “are so political that the courts are incapable or unsuited to deal with them,” he wrote in his decision.

Kids stand in a group.

The 15 kids involved in the lawsuit range in age from 10 to 19. They represent seven provinces and one territory. (Image credit: @youthvgov/Twitter)

Kids respond

Problem is, kids can’t vote, said Haana, so they have no say when it comes to choosing political leaders.

What’s more, Haana said, climate change hurts kids more than any other age group.

“It's affecting youth the most, and we have the least say at the moment,” she said.

“Like, the more and more we have inaction for climate change, the worse the world is going to be when we grow up.”

Next steps

Lawyers representing the kids confirmed that they will be appealing the judge’s decision.

That means they will be applying to have the decision reversed.

Hanna said she’s motivated “to work even harder” as the case progresses.

CBC Kids News reached out to the Canadian government for their thoughts on the decision.

On Oct. 28, a spokesperson for the Minister of Environment and Climate Change sent a statement by email.

“We agree that climate change is a crisis that must be addressed,” Moira Kelly said.

She said the government has spent the past five years putting an “ambitious” climate plan in place.

Still, “we know we need to do more, which is why we will soon bring forward an updated climate plan,” Kelly said.

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