Ford government files motion to strike down youth-led climate lawsuit

The Ford government is hoping to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a group of young people alleging that Ontario’s lack of action on climate change has violated their charter rights.

Ontario lawyers argue it is 'plain and obvious' lawsuit would fail in court

A group of seven young Ontarians, supported by law firm Stockwoods LLP and Ecojustice, is suing the province of Ontario over what they say is climate change inaction. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The Ford government is hoping to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a group of young people alleging that Ontario's lack of action on climate change has violated their charter rights.

The lawsuit claims the government's softened emission targets contravene Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which promises protection for life, liberty and security of the person.

The suit proposes that Ontario revise its climate change policy and adopt a new "science-based" target for greenhouse gas reductions. Failing to do so, the lawsuit argues, "will lead to widespread illness and death" affecting young people and future generations.

In a document filed on April 15, Ontario's Ministry of the Attorney General says the allegations in the lawsuit are incapable of being proven, and that Canada's charter does not guarantee a right to particular greenhouse gas targets.

"Ontario's position is that it is plain and obvious that the application will fail, as the issues raised are not matters that should be dealt with in court," said ministry spokesperson Brian Gray in an email.

If successful, the motion to strike the case means it would not proceed to a full hearing.

The seven applicants suing the government range in age from 13 to 24. They say they remain committed to fighting the case in court.

"I was disappointed but I wasn't surprised, because I know the Ontario government isn't very good with climate action and so it seems like a typical thing they would do," said applicant Zoe Keary-Matzner of the government's attempt to dismiss the case.

The lawsuit centres on the Progressive Conservatives' move to scale back emission targets set by the previous Liberal government.

The previous plan called for a 37-per-cent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, with the reduction target climbing to 80 per cent by 2050. Ontario now plans to reduce emissions by 30 per cent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. There is no longer a 2050 target.

The motion to strike the lawsuit is scheduled to be heard by Ontario Superior Court on July 13.

Ontario says allegations not fit for court

The environmental law firm Ecojustice, which is representing the seven applicants, say the government's attempt to dismiss the lawsuit reveals its unwillingness to defend its climate record in court.

"It's unfortunate that rather than arguing the merits of the case, the government is reverting to a procedural motion,"  said lawyer Fraser Thomson.

"They seem to be saying the courts have no jurisdiction to evaluate whether governments are doing enough to fight climate change."

In its motion, Ontario lawyers say allegations that the province's climate plan will cause harm "are manifestly incapable of being proven."

The province also argues that the seven applicants behind the lawsuit have "no standing" to launch a legal challenge on behalf of future generations.

Keary-Matzner also pointed to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic as evidence that bolsters their demands for science-based policy.

"It proves that when you don't listen to science, many bad things can happen. Countries didn't act in time and now we've got hundreds of people dead," she said.