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"We need to go into their court system and show them their own laws and that you need to be practicing and following them," said Beze Gray, one of seven young Ontarians who on Tuesday served legal notice on the Doug Ford government over its climate inaction.
The gang of seven are taking their climate protest from the street to the courthouse, arguing that Ford’s weakened climate targets breach their constitutional right to life, liberty and security.
24-year old Gray, of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, grew up hemmed in by Sarnia’s sprawling petrochemical industry and sees its negative effects on her community every day. She is worried that increasingly extreme weather and other effects of climate change will make a bad situation much worse.
“I’m impacted on so many levels, culturally, my home, even fears and anxieties...if climate change is affecting Chemical Valley, that is a very scary thought,” she said.
Those fears were shared by the six other young people from across the province who joined with environmental law charity Ecojustice and law firm Stockwoods LLP in seeking to force Ford’s government to set tougher climate targets.
Their move echoes a federal lawsuit filed last month.
The youngest of them is Sophia Mathur, a 12-year-old from Sudbury who started skipping school to attend Friday climate strikes a year ago, motivated by the actions of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.
"We are in a climate emergency and we need to do something," was the Sudbury resident’s simple message when asked why she had joined the legal fight.
Mathur was seven when she first joined her parents to lobby on climate issues on Parliament Hill in Ottawa’s and Washington D.C.’s Capitol Hill. They were forced to live in a hotel for more than five months after particularly heavy snow last winter.
She said arguments about the high cost of dealing with climate change now miss the point that its effects will ultimately create much higher costs.
"A lot of politicians are focused on the economy and about saving money, but during the climate crisis a lot of people won't be able to protect their houses using insurance and the cost of insurance will go up," she said.
The claim, filed in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, argues that the Ford government weakened the province’s emission reduction target when it introduced the bill that cancelled Ontario’s previous cap and trade program.
“We’re asking the Ontario Superior Court of Justice to declare the Ford government’s inaction on climate change is unconstitutional,” said Stockwoods’ Nader Hasan, who is leading the legal challenge.
“And we are asking the court to order Ontario to implement climate targets that are in line with the best science out there and put us back on track to saving this world rather than destroying it,” he added.
Hasan said the legal team filed an application rather than an action in order to speed its path through the courts, and he and the Ecojustice lawyers supporting him said they are optimistic it will get a hearing in 2020.
Long list of ways the Ford gov't is rolling back carbon cuts
The Ford government has canceled a string of green initiatives since coming to power last year, most noticeable cutting the cap and trade program that was raising $2 billion to help fund energy-efficient building retrofits and other efforts, and continues its own legal fight against the federal carbon pricing scheme.
It has also ended an electric and hydrogen vehicle incentive program, cut more than 700 green energy projects, proposed cuts to protections of species at-risk, removed electric vehicle chargers from GO station parking lots and slashed 50 per cent of the flood management funds given to conservation authorities.
Hasan said Ontario is on track to exceed the most generous calculation of its share of the remaining global carbon budget three times over by 2030.
“That’s just plain reckless,” he said. “It’s a total abdication of responsibility by this government.”
He said Section 7 of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects everyone’s life, liberty and security and that “as a corollary of this right, we also have a right to a stable and sustainable environment.”
Hasan also said the court challenge will draw on the Charter's Section 15 guarantee of equality, given that younger people will bear the brunt of climate change impacts.
A spokesperson for Ford's attorney general said Ontario had not yet been served with any challenge to Ontario’s climate change policies and declined to comment since the matter would be before the courts.
Andrew Buttigieg, a spokesman for Environment Minister Jeff Yurek, said the Ford government "is working hard to balance a healthy environment with a healthy economy."
He pointed to efforts being taken by the government, including a plan to improve the renewal content in gasoline to 15 per cent "as early as 2025" as well as a string of initiatives to crack down on litter and improve recycling efforts.
"There’s more than one way to fight climate change," he added. "That is why our plan respects the unique economic circumstances of our province and reduces emissions without additional taxes."
Building momentum, one legal case at a time
The NDP’s climate change critic, Peter Tabuns, said the court battle was an important part of the fight against Ford’s inaction. "Young people have decided to fight back,” he said. “They are defending the future for all of us.”
Ontario courts have already ruled against Ford’s climate agenda, deciding last month that his government broke the law by not holding public consultations before it scrapped the province's cap-and-trade program.
That case was also brought by Ecojustice, along with Greenpeace Canada.
Legal challenges to what is seen as inadequate government action to fight climate change are mounting up across Canada and elsewhere in the world, with varying levels of success.
A Quebec judge in July rejected a proposed class action against the federal government raised on behalf of all residents of that province under the age of 35, while 15 youth backed by the David Suzuki Foundation late last month filed a federal court lawsuit saying Canada had contributed to dangerous climate change and discriminated against youth.
That case is being supported by Our Children's Trust, which launched a similar case against the United States government in 2015.
The flurry of cases follows a groundbreaking decision in the Netherlands in 2015, which forced the Dutch government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25 per cent compared to 1990 levels.