A group of Canadian teenagers is fighting for the chance to take the federal government to court over the approval and purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline, after its application to the Federal Court of Appeal was opposed by the Canadian government earlier this month.
In early July, 12 challenges were launched against the pipeline by various groups, including several First Nations and environmental organizations. They questioned the pipeline on various grounds, including Indigenous land rights and ecological harm to the southern resident orcas.
Olivier Adkin-Kaya, 18, Nina Tran, 18, Lena Andres, 17, and Rebecca Wolf Gage, 13 — who collectively call themselves Youth Stop TMX — filed a challenge arguing that the pipeline’s construction was in violation of their right to life, liberty and security of person as young Canadians through its contribution to the ongoing climate crisis.
The teens are from four different cities across the country and they argue that the pipeline’s construction and subsequent carbon emissions would contribute to ongoing climate change in Canada and continue to negatively impact their physical and mental well-being. Group members cited negative impacts like increased wildfire smoke due to rising global temperatures and growing anxiety over the climate crisis.
Of the 12 challenges, only the teens’ was blocked from moving forward in the judicial process. Adkin-Kaya says he doesn’t understand why only their challenge would be blocked.
“It’s beyond me why, of all the parties filing judicial review applications, Trans Mountain Corporation and the Government of Canada singled out the youth, the party representing those who will be the first to experience the more severe effects of the climate crisis,” he told HuffPost Canada.
In their response, Trans-Mountain and the Government of Canada argued that the teens’ suggestion that their constitutional rights would be violated by the pipeline’s construction are “uncertain, speculative and hypothetic.”
The approved challenges will now move forward to be heard in court as part of the judicial review process in the Federal Court of Appeal. Adkin-Kaya said his group and its lawyers are fighting to convince the court to allow their case to go forward and filed a reply on July 29 in hopes of moving their challenge forward too.
Youth Stop TMX’s lawyers are currently working on a pro-bono basis with the help of funding from several environmental law grants. Adkin-Kaya says they’ve launched an online fundraising campaign that’s already raised over $1,600 in the past week to support further legal fees and expenses as the group moves to challenge the blocking.
Vancouver-based lawyer Erin Gray is part of the legal team working with the teens. She says the government’s rationale for blocking their challenge was “inconsistent.”
“Despite the defendant’s assertion that the issue here is speculative, the youth are experiencing current harm,” she told HuffPost.
In August 2018, 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who was recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, went on strike ito force politicians to act on the climate crisis.
“Adults keep saying: ’We owe it to the young people to give them hope. But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act,” Thunberg said in a January speech. ”I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”
WATCH: Greta Thunberg on igniting a global environmental movement. Story continues below.
She has since inspired hundreds of thousands to do the same, creating the #FridaysForFuture movement, which has enlisted thousands of young people to skip school on Fridays to march for policy action on environmental issues.
The teens involved in Youth Against TMX are all actively involved in climate organizing in their communities. Adkin-Kaya lives in Edmonton, Tran lives in Hamilton, Andres lives in Winnipeg and Wolf Gage lives in Victoria. They cite the work of Thunberg as inspiration for organizing in their local communities and the challenge to the Trans Mountain pipeline.
They also all say they’ve directly been negatively impacted by climate change.
“For me in Alberta, there is smoke in the air because of wildfires, which are increasing with climate change, and just generally bad air quality,” Adkin-Kaya said of why he got involved with the judicial challenge.
Wolf Gage, who founded the Victoria Youth Climate Strike, also cited wildfire smoke as having an impact on her health and life. She also says she’s already decided not to have children.
“I don’t want to have children because I don’t want to bring children into a messed up world,” she told HuffPost.
Members of the group say “climate grief” has a key impact on them. A recent report from the United Nations noted that we’ve got around 11 years to radically change course before climate change become irreversibly catastrophic.
Last year, the American Psychological Association issued a report on climate change’s effect on mental health. The report recognized that “gradual, long-term changes in climate can also surface a number of different emotions, including fear, anger, feelings of powerlessness, or exhaustion.”
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Gray says she took on the case because she fundamentally believes in what the youth are arguing.
“I am very inspired by young people who are active in the climate action movement,” she said. “And I think that the [Canadian government’s decision to purchase the Trans Mountain pipeline] didn’t consider their charter rights, and it should have.”
Gray said the group expects a further decision within the next few months.
Previously, challenges to the pipeline from the City of Vancouver and Squamish Nation were thrown out of court at the provincial level in B.C.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article referred to Erin Gray as being based in Vancouver, but she is actually based in Victoria. This story has also been updated to clarify some of the legal language around the case.