POLITICS
11/27/2019 14:21 EST | Updated 11/27/2019 14:59 EST

Ford Government Now Faces Lawsuit From Young Climate Activists

This is the first lawsuit of its kind filed against Ontario.

Ecojustice/Supplied
The group behind the lawsuit demanding more action from Premier Doug Ford's government are pictured in Toronto, Nov. 28, 2019. From left to right: Ecojustice lawyer Fraser Thompson, applicants Sophia Mathur, Madison Dyck, Alex Neufeldt, Shelby Gagnon, Zoe Keary-Matzner, Shaelyn Wabegijig, Beze Gray, and Ecojustice lawyer Danielle Gallant.

TORONTO — If 13-year-old Zoe Keary-Matzner could tell Ontario Premier Doug Ford anything, it would be that he and his government are failing to act on climate change. 

“I would ask him, ‘Do you know how much of an effect you’re having on my life and the world that I love?’” the Toronto climate activist told HuffPost Canada.

“I’ve always known about climate change. I’m concerned about the species that will be lost because I really love nature. I like all animals — orcas and birds,” Keary-Matzner said. “And I want generations in the future to enjoy nature. I would talk to him about that.” 

She and six other activists between the ages of 12 and 24 launched a lawsuit Wednesday to challenge the Ford government’s cancelling of the cap and trade agreement and setting a “dangerously inadequate” target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, according to their application. 

Ecojustice/Supplied
Zoe Keary-Matzner, 13, is the second youngest applicant in the lawsuit and said she wants nature to be protected for future generations.

The allegations have not been proven in court. The province did not respond to requests for comment.

Another applicant, Shaelyn Wabegijig, 22, of the Algonquin Peoples from Timiskaming First Nation, said it’s her responsibility to care for Canadians and her community, and that means demanding more government action. 

“I have the right to live a long life and not fear having children because I don’t know if we will have a world that will sustain them,” she said. “I have the right to the liberty of protecting the lands and waters from corporate greed. I have the right to the security of knowing my government is doing all it can to solve the climate crisis so I can have a future on this planet.”

This is the first such lawsuit filed against Ontario, and follows 15 youth with similar arguments suing the federal government in October. 

Ecojustice/Supplied
Shaelyn Wabegijig, 22, is one of seven applicants suing province over its lack of climate change action.

“Doug Ford’s government is failing in its responsibilities to fight climate change. That’s why I’m taking the government to court,” Keary-Matzner said. She wants to study animal behaviour as an ethologist one day, and has written a 200-page story about nature and climate change with her friends. Her mother is also an activist who helped with the recent Toronto youth climate strikes

The seven applicants are asking the court to order the province to “immediately take bold and decisive action. That means, at a bare minimum, that Ontario cuts its emissions by 45 per cent of 2010 levels by 2030, with the aim of curbing global warming to 1.5 C above pre-Industrial levels, as set out in the United Nations’ Paris Agreement on climate change, according to the court document.

Watch: Emissions must be cut in half to meet climate goals. Story continues below.

 

The applicants are represented by lawyers from Stockwoods LLP and the environmental charity Ecojustice. They argue that the government’s weakening of emission targets violates Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which promises life, liberty and security. That includes a stable and sustainable environment, the lawyers said. 

“Climate change is an existential threat unlike humanity has ever known,” said constitutional lawyer Nader Hasan on behalf of his clients at a news conference Wednesday. He listed some of the threats Canadians will face: increased forest fires and extreme weather, more diseases, food insecurity and the loss of entire ecosystems. 

“When this government … took us off the path of fixing and put us back on the path of climate destruction, they violated all of our Section 7 rights.” 

Young people face an additional charter violation, Hasan said. That is, Section 15, the right to equality. 

“The politicians calling the shots today may not be around tomorrow but young people, who have done the least to cause climate change are going to be bearing the brunt of the consequences,” he said, arguing that’s a form of discrimination. 

Ecojustice/Supplied
Beze Gray, 24, grew up beside petrochemical refineries and saw how pollution impacts people and the environment.

Beze Gray, 24, from Aamjiwnaang First Nation near Sarnia, Ont., said they’re part of the lawsuit because, “climate change will drastically impact the way Indigenous people reclaim and practice our culture and traditions.” 

The other applicants are climate striker Sophia Mathur, 12, from Subdury, Ont., entrepreneur Alex Neufeldt, 23, from Ottawa, Anishinaabe artist and community support worker Shelby Gagnon, 23, and student Madison Dyck, 23, from Thunder Bay, Ont. 

Dyck said she’s seen rapid changes around Lake Superior, near where she lives in northwestern Ontario that “frighten” her to her core. 

“My dream is to be a grandmother one day and knowing that I have an environment to raise my children and grandchildren in is critical to my wellbeing and the wellbeing of all youth across Ontario.”