Canadian kids staged a climate strike in Montreal in March, but their youth climate suit hit a snagA lawsuit filed on behalf of young people in Quebec has been sidetracked by a judge. Photo credit: Martin Ouelett-Diotte/Getty Images

By Dana Drugmand

A Canadian judge halted a climate lawsuit filed by a group of young people in Quebec against the Canadian government, rejecting its class action status in a ruling last week.

The lawsuit was brought by the organization ENvironnement JEUnesse (ENJEU) on behalf of people age 35 and under in Quebec. The group said it plans to appeal the narrow procedural ruling, in which the judge questioned the age definition of the class of young Canadians. 

In his ruling, Justice Gary Morrison of the Superior Court of Quebec wrote, “the choice of age 35 by [ENvironnement JEUnesse] to the maximum age of members, leaves the Tribunal perplexed…But why choose 35 years? Why not 20, 30 or 40? Why not 60?” 

Advocates representing the young plaintiffs said they did not expect the judge to take issue with the case’s age limit, chosen to emphasize that the climate crisis will disproportionately impact young people.   

“I was really surprised with the judge asking what about people 60 years old,” said Catherine Gauthier, executive director of ENJEU.

“It goes without saying that a 60-year-old could not qualify as a young person,” added Bruce Johnston, a lawyer and partner at Trudel Johnston & Lespérance, which is representing ENJEU pro bono. 

Morrison also questioned the “35 and under” classification with no defined minimum age. Class members, he said, should be at least 18 years old. 

ENJEU officials said they relied on the expertise of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which declares, “Due to their particular metabolism, physiology and development needs, children are disproportionately affected by changes in their environment. Young children […] are more adversely affected by climate change.” 

Aside from the age issue, Morrison did accept ENJEU’s core claims against the government as justiciable.

“The important issues have been decided in our favor: the judge recognizes that the impact of climate change on human rights is a justiciable issue and that the actions of the government in this area are subject to the Canadian Charters and Quebec rights and freedoms,” Johnston said

The next step, according to Gauthier, is to appeal Morrison’s ruling. “We need to make sure we have a clear definition of the members of our class action,” she said. “We will continue to fight for actions that live up to the climate crisis.”

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