I am still pondering the logic of Judge Marie-Andrée Vermette in her decision one week ago in the lawsuit Mathur et. al. v. His Majesty the King in Right of Ontario. The Ontario Superior Court ruled, in effect, in favour of Doug Ford and against young people in Ontario.
Seven young people from across Ontario, with legal help from EcoJustice, began a lawsuit against the Ford government in 2019. The “Applicants” noted that the government in power had withdrawn from a climate treaty and agreements to build renewable energy projects at a cost of billions. They stated that the revised climate change plan was so inadequate that it breached the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantee of the right to life, liberty and security.
Justice Marie-Andrée Vermette wrote in her decision, “It is indisputable that, as a result of climate change, the Applicants and Ontarians in general are experiencing an increased risk of death and an increased risk to the security of the person.”
She was critical of the Ford government at several levels:
Justice Vermette did reject the Ford government arguments that its emissions were globally insignificant and noted that “every tonne of CO2 emissions adds to global warming” and contributes” to a quantifiable increase in global temperatures."
She praised the science in reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and was dismissive of the Ford government’s evidence. “I reject any suggestion to the contrary by Ontario’s experts whose credentials do not measure up to those of the IPCC.”
Justice Vermette dismissed the lawsuit for two main reasons.
- The inadequacies in Ontario's climate plan and targets did not rise to the level of violating Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees the right to life, liberty and security.
- Justice Vermette agreed that young people are disproportionately impacted by climate change but she added, "This disproportionate impact is caused by climate change" rather than by the government's climate-related legislation”.
- Surely we need to keep death and destruction related to climate change well below violation of Section 7.
- If the policies of the Ford government result in increased carbon and climate change does this not compound the disproportionate impacts on young people?
Increasingly youth have been filing lawsuits against governments and corporations due to their inadequate action on climate change. Some have been successful, like in Australia halting the opening of a coal mine.
This youth lawsuit in Ontario, in some ways, is successful. It made it to trial in spite of the extraordinary attempts by the Ford government to prevent this. This case may make it to the Supreme Court. Soon there will be a win — a precedent case in in Canada.
I muse how long some changes have taken. At least a couple of generations for women to have right to vote and almost a century for First Nations people. With carbon emissions and climate policies — the pace needs to quicken.
Graham Saunders is a climatologist and professor at Lakehead University. He has often predicted weather during forest fires and flood situations.