The youth plaintiffs suing Canada's government over climate change appeared at a rally in Vancouver on Friday.The group of young people suing Canada's government over climate change appeared at a rally in Vancouver on Friday with teen activist Greta Thunberg. Photo credit: Mike Hudema via Twitter

By Dana Drugmand

A group of young Canadians is suing the federal government over climate change, an action that is part of a burgeoning global youth movement demanding climate justice through the courts. 

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of 15 young people aged 10-19, mirrors the claims and demands of the landmark American youth climate case Juliana v. United States. The Canadian plaintiffs say their government, through its policies promoting fossil fuels, is infringing on their rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and is violating the public trust doctrine. Like the Juliana plaintiffs, they demand a court order compelling the government to implement a science-based climate recovery plan. 

The suit, La Rose et. al. v. Her Majesty the Queen, was filed Friday in the Federal Court of Canada. Plaintiffs are represented by Arvay Finlay and Tollefson Law Corporation, with additional support from Pacific Centre for Environmental Law and Litigation (CELL), David Suzuki Foundation and Our Children’s Trust, which is leading Juliana

The complaint details specific harms the young Canadians, who hail from seven provinces and the Northwest Territories, are experiencing due to climate change. It alleges they constitute violations of the right to life, liberty, and security of the person under section 7 of the Charter. Another claim alleges violation of the right to equality under section 15 of the Charter, based on the fact that younger generations are disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis.  

“Because of the climate crisis, and because of the government actions that makes this crisis worse, today we are not free to pursue our dreams,” 17-year-old plaintiff Albert Lalonde said at a press conference held in Vancouver on Friday. Lalonde and the other plaintiffs appeared before a youth climate strike with Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, who has traveled to Western Canada to support the climate strike movement. The young people spoke about the climate-related dangers they already face such as extreme heat and wildfires and loss of cultural activities and heritage. 

“The Canadian government cannot say they did not know about the danger we face,” Lalonde said. “We will hold our government accountable.” 

The Canadian government, is facing increasing legal pressure to change course on climate action. Since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took office, Canada has made little progress in reducing emissions and even purchased the troubled Trans Mountain Pipeline from Kinder Morgan.

In June, attorneys representing a group of young Canadians sent a legal demand letter to the government claiming that failure to consider the TMX pipeline’s contribution to climate change violates their constitutional rights. And last year, the Quebec environmental organization ENvironnement JEUnesse brought a class action climate lawsuit on behalf of all Quebec citizens under age 35 against the Canadian federal government. A court rejected the class-action in July but did recognize that the plaintiffs’ core claims, including violation of the Canadian Charter, were justiciable. 

Other youth-led cases have been brought against governments around the world, including Colombia, Norway, New Zealand, Pakistan, and the U.S

“Canada is one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions and it’s time they are 

held accountable for contributing to dangerous climate change,” said Andrea Rogers, staff attorney at Our Children’s Trust. “These brave youth join others, like the 21 plaintiffs in the ​Juliana v. United States ​case, who recognize that when governments take actions that harm and discriminate against them, they can vindicate their fundamental rights in a court of law.”  

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