Canadian teens to sue Ottawa over government's role in climate change

Teenage Canadian activists are planning to sue the federal government over climate change, claiming Ottawa’s role in perpetuating the crisis violates their fundamental rights.

The impending lawsuit from 15 teens across Canada will claim they have “suffered specific, individualized injuries” due to climate change, interfering with their constitutional rights to life, liberty and security of the person.

They are also claiming the government’s “contribution” to high levels of greenhouse gases and climate change infringes on their right to equality, since young people are disproportionately effected by long-term effects of a deteriorating climate.

In an unusual move, the intent to file the lawsuit was announced Wednesday by the David Suzuki Foundation, which is backing the teens as a co-plaintiff. The foundation said they plan to file in federal court on Friday ahead of a climate strike in Vancouver.

A statement from the foundation said the lawsuit will call on the federal government to “protect young Canadians, do its fair share to stabilize the climate system and avert the catastrophic consequences of climate change.” 

Students participate in a climate strike on the University of British Columbia campus in Vancouver on Sept. 27, 2019. Young people joined the demonstration across the city. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The Canadian youth, comprised of teens from eight provinces and the Northwest Territories, are being represented by high-profile constitutional lawyer Joseph Arvay. Sierra Robinson, a 16-year-old activist from B.C.’s Cowichan Valley, was the only teen plaintiff named in the statement Wednesday.

The lawsuit is the latest in a series of legal actions filed by youth around the world in recent years. A group of young Americans sued the U.S. federal government in 2015, accusing federal officials and oil industry executives of violating their due process rights by knowing for decades that carbon pollution poisons the environment, but doing nothing about it.

The rash of lawsuits, including the Canadian effort, are supported by Our Children’s Trust, a nonprofit organization that says it’s dedicated to protecting natural systems for present and future generations. 

Sustainibiliteens, the teenage rally organizers who have organized previous climate strikes in Vancouver, say they are set to speak about the lawsuit ahead of Friday’s rally. Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, 16, plans to go to the Vancouver protest.

Organizer Samathan Lin, 17, is not a plaintiff but said Sustainibiliteens supports the lawsuit.

“This is a really, really important next step,” Lin said Tuesday. “It’s one step closer to the goal that we have: making climate change more of a priority … and making government accountable.”

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