Montreal

Judge rejects class action from young Quebecers concerned about climate change

The judge rejected the group's request for a class action, but was sympathetic to many of their arguments. Based on that, the group says it will appeal.

Group was seeking $100 from federal government for every Quebecer under 35

The group Environnement Jeunesse argued young people were bearing most of the burden for governments' failure to address climate change. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

A Quebec Superior Court justice has rejected a request for a class-action lawsuit by an environmental group alleging the federal government has failed to do enough to adequately address climate change.

The group, Environnement Jeunesse, argued young people would primarily bear the burden of that failure.

The group's lawyers argued inaction on climate change was violating young people's charter rights to to life, security and equality.

It was seeking $100 in compensation for every Quebecer aged 35 and under, which would be pooled to create a $340-million fund to fight climate change.

"The court emphasizes the undoubted importance of the subject raised, namely the protection of the environment," Justice Gary Morrison said in his decision dated last Thursday.

"While the court may fully share the statements cited, its role at this stage is limited to determining whether the class action as proposed should be permitted in accordance with the applicable legal principles," he continued.

Judge agrees on most points, except age limits

Morrison agreed with Environnement Jeunesse on many points, calling the group's objectives "admirable."

He ruled that valid legal arguments could be made that the government had failed in its efforts to adequately address climate change.

But he did not agree with the age limits set by Environnement Jeunesse in its request.

"[Choosing] 35 as the maximum age of members leaves the court puzzled. The application for leave does not provide a factual or rational explanation for this choice," Morrison said.

He said capping the age at 35 would exclude millions of Quebecers who would also be affected by climate change.

"Why choose 35 years? Why not 20, 30 or 40? Why not 60? Legally, it is an arbitrary and therefore inappropriate choice," he said.

Morrison also ruled that people under 18 couldn't be members of a class action.

"In Quebec, the age of majority is set at 18. It is only at this age that a person becomes able to fully exercise all his civil rights," Morrison said.

"Environnement Jeunesse can give a 'voice' to young people, but it does not have the authority to change the legal status and powers of minors."

He called the mission of the group "admirable on a socio-political level," but that their objectives were "too subjective and limiting, by their nature, to constitute in this case the basis of an appropriate group for the purpose of exercising a class action."

Environmental group intends to appeal

Catherine Gauthier, executive director of Environnement Jeunesse, told CBC News on Tuesday that the group intends to appeal the decision.

Catherine Gauthier, executive director of Environnement Jeunesse, seen here speaking at the launch of the lawsuit, told CBC the group intends to appeal the decision. (Environnement Jeunesse)

Gauthier said she believes her group can make a valid argument that Morrison's concerns about the age limits set by the group are unfounded.

But she said the group was happy to see the judge recognizing the impact of climate change on human rights.

"We believe all young people, including children, do have rights. This is also an international trend we have seen," she said.

About the Author

Steve Rukavina is a journalist with CBC Montreal.

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