Why one N.W.T. teen is suing the Canadian government over climate change inaction

Standing on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery, in front of over 8,000 people, Hiroki Masuzumi grabs the microphone.

“I’m Hiroki Masuzumi and I’m from Fort Good Hope, Northwest Territories and I’m suing the Canadian government.”

Nineteen-year-old Masuzumi is one of 15 youth from across the country suing the federal government over climate change, claiming Ottawa’s role in perpetuating the crisis violates their fundamental rights.

The 15 plaintiffs, along with youth climate activist Greta Thunberg, held a press conference Friday during Vancouver’s Climate March.

The lawsuit claims the plaintiffs have “suffered specific, individualized injuries” due to climate change, interfering with their constitutional rights to life, liberty and security of the person.

Thousands of people listen to a group of activists who are suing the federal government over climate change ahead of a climate strike in Vancouver on Friday, October 25, 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Masuzumi was approached by a friend in Fort Good Hope who knew of a law firm looking for youth concerned about climate change to be a part of its legal fight against the Canadian government. 

“It felt kind of moving that there are so many youth across Canada that are doing something like this,” said Masazumi. “I really wanted to be a part of this movement.” 

Masuzumi says, living on the banks of the Mackenzie River, it’s impossible not to see the effects of climate change.

“The weather patterns are changing drastically and the ecosystems are also changing. Warmer weather, warmer winters,” they told CBC. 

“It’s a little bit worrying. It’s kind of scary once you notice this stuff happening.”

The group is 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 affected by long-term effects of a deteriorating climate.

The lawsuit is the latest in a new legal strategy looking to hold governments across the planet accountable for the consequences of climate change. Similar legal action has been taken in India, the Netherlands and the United States.

The group is calling on the Canadian government to create a climate change plan that lowers the country’s greenhouse gas emissions “in a manner consistent with what best available science indicates is needed for the federal government to protect young Canadians, do its fair share to stabilize the climate system and avert the catastrophic consequences of climate change,” court documents read.

Meanwhile, as the case weaves its way through the court, Masuzumi will continue to speak about the effects of climate change in the North.

“We all share the one goal of stopping climate change. This is a very cool experience.”

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