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15 Climate Youth Plan Appeal After Court Rejects Lawsuit for Federal Recovery Plan

Six of the 15/Our Children's Trust

An appeal is in the offing after a Federal Court judge rejected a lawsuit by 15 Canadian youth [1] calling for the Trudeau government to develop a science-based climate recovery plan.

The youth are receiving legal support from the David Suzuki Foundation, U.S.-based Our Children’s Trust, and the Pacific Centre for Environmental Law and Litigation, The Canadian Press reports [2], with some of the attorneys on the case donating their time.

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One of the lawyers, Joe Arvay, argued during a hearing in September that the federal government “is violating the youths’ right to life, liberty, and security of the person under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as their right to equality, because they are disproportionately affected by climate change,” CP writes. “The youth [from] across Canada claimed greenhouse gas emissions, in particular, have led to changes in the environment through the federal government’s support of fossil fuel exploration and extraction. They also said subsidies to the fossil fuel industry and the purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline highlight Canada’s failure to fulfil its own commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

But in a written decision Tuesday, Federal Court Justice Michael Manson said the youth didn’t have a “reasonable cause of action or prospect of success,” CP says, adding “that while he understands children and youth are disproportionately affected by the effects of climate change, the issue involves a broad network of provincial and federal policies related to greenhouse gas emissions, for example.”

“The diffuse nature of the claim that targets all conduct leading to GHG emissions cannot be characterized in a way other than to suggest the plaintiffs are seeking judicial involvement in Canada’s overall policy response to climate change,” Manson wrote.

He also rejected the argument that the youths’ charter rights are being violated, despite agreement on the serious impacts of the climate crisis.

“I was really hopeful that the court would be able to really listen to our case and really look at our claims because they are very, very important,” said 18-year-old plaintiff Sierra Robinson. “The government and the courts are saying they don’t have a responsibility to do anything. That brings up the question: What is an adequate way to deal with these issues if you think this isn’t a place for the courts, or this isn’t a place for youth to step up and try to create change? Where are they expecting change to come from?”

Arvay said he disagreed with Manson’s conclusion that the youth were asking him to rule on a complex political manner. “This is the opinion of a single judge of the Federal Court, and obviously we respect his role and his right to say what he said. But we don’t accept that it’s correct, and we hope that the highest court will disagree with him.”

Our Children’s Trust lawyer Andrea Rodgers told CP this was the first Canadian case her organization had taken part in. “Canadian youth, for years, have been really trying to get an action started after just seeing their government continue to miss whatever GHG targets it sets and continuing to make the climate change problem worse,” she said. “Hopefully these kids will ultimately get their day in court.”