Young Ontarians launch lawsuit against province after Ford government scales back emissions targets

Ontario cancelled cap-and-trade program, challenging carbon tax imposed by Ottawa


Shaelyn Wabegijig, right, is among the seven young people who are applicants in the lawsuit. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

A group of young Ontarians is suing the province over what they say is climate change inaction, arguing that the Ford government has violated their charter rights by softening emissions reduction targets.

The group claims that recent policy changes “will lead to widespread illness and death,” an alleged violation of Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which promises protection for life, liberty and security of the person.

They are calling on the Ontario government to commit to more ambitious emission reductions with the aim of limiting global warming to 1.5 C, a key target set out in the United Nations’ Paris Agreement on climate change.

“Doug Ford is not doing enough to protect our future and it’s just unacceptable,” said Sophia Mathur, a 12-year-old from Sudbury and one of seven applicants taking part.

The claims in the lawsuit have not been proven in court.

“I just want to live a normal life in the future; I shouldn’t have to be doing this, but adults aren’t doing a good job,” she told CBC News.

“I’m afraid that so many species that I love will go extinct,” added Zoe Keary-Matzner, 13, from Toronto. “And that children in the future won’t be able to enjoy nature the same way I do.”

The applicants, ranging from age 12 to 24, are represented by Stockwoods LLP and Ecojustice, a group that specializes in public interest lawsuits in the name of environmental protection.

Their challenge is part of a growing trend in which young people across the globe are suing governments over perceived inaction on climate change.

Sophia Mathur, left, and Zoe Keary-Matzner are among seven young Ontarians who say the Ford government’s climate strategy is jeopardizing their future. (CBC)

Earlier this year, more than a dozen young Canadians launched a similar lawsuit against the federal government. Similar legal challenges have gone to courts in the U.S. and the Netherlands, with varying degrees of success.

This is the first lawsuit filed against a Canadian province over climate inaction.

“Any government that is failing to address the climate emergency in a meaningful way can expect to face litigation of this nature,” said Alan Andrews, climate director at Ecojustice.


Former Environment Minister Rod Phillips oversaw the cancellation of Ontario’s cap-and-trade program and the introduction of lower emissions targets. (Tijana Martin/Canadian Press)

PCs roll back greenhouse gas targets

The group is focusing its lawsuit on the Ford government’s decision to scale back emission targets set by the Liberals in 2015.

The previous plan called for a 37-per-cent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. The reduction target climbed to 80 per cent by 2050.

Under the Progressive Conservatives, Ontario now plans to reduce emissions by 30 per cent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. There is no longer a 2050 target.

The PCs have also repealed a cap-and-trade agreement that gave companies incentives to reduce carbon emissions. They are also in the process of challenging a carbon tax imposed by Ottawa to take its place.

Rod Phillips, who served as Ontario’s environment minister when the changes were made, said the previous targets and restrictions were ineffective and “killing jobs” in the province.

The Ford government says it plans to leverage Ontario’s private sector to develop green technology, and that its new “made in Ontario” climate strategy will keep the province on track to meet Paris Agreement warming targets

A precedent for success?

The young people behind the lawsuit say the new approach ignores the increasing urgency of climate change.

“People are very focused on other things; on making money, focusing on the economy, that they don’t think about their connection to mother earth,” said applicant Shaelyn Wabegijig, 22.

Wabegijig, 22, says she’s concerned about the preservation of clean air and water if she has children in the future. (CBC)

Wabegijig, who grew up at Rama First Nation near Orillia, said she’s concerned about having children if the effects of climate change continue to worsen.

While the result of the challenge is not yet decided, Ecojustice recently scored a mild victory against the province over the cancellation of the cap-and-trade program.

In a split decision, a three judge panel determined the Ford government broke the law by scrapping the program without public consultations, although the ruling does not compel the province to revive the program.

Mathur said Ford would be wise to take their challenge seriously.

“I hope he’s scared,” she said. SOURCE

 

Activists Need To Talk Climate Change Without Getting Sued, Top Court Hears

Supreme Court heard arguments this week about strengthening legislation designed to stop strategic lawsuits.

Members of the Tsilhqot'in First Nation hold a rally outside the federal court in downtown Vancouver,...
Members of the Tsilhqot’in First Nation hold a rally outside the federal court in downtown Vancouver, Jan. 30, 2017. The rally was to bring attention ahead of a federal court case involving Taseko Mines. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

When the Wilderness Committee learned that a large Canadian mining company had proposed an open-pit copper and gold mine and tailings pond in the middle of B.C.’s wilderness, it opposed the project with all its might.

For the grassroots, non-profit environmental group that meant getting people fired up.

“We don’t have many tools. We don’t have a lot of money. All we have really is our ideas and words and we are used to fighting it out that way,” Joe Foy, national campaign director, told HuffPost Canada.

The Wilderness Committee published a series of articles in early 2012 about Taseko Mines’ proposed project, and its threat to wild salmon, rainbow trout and grizzly bears, how it would pollute the region’s water and the strong opposition of the nearby Tsilhqot’in Nation.

In response, the multimillion-dollar company slammed the group with a defamation suit, triggering a five-year court battle that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees. Taseko claimed in court documents that the online publications portrayed it as having a “callous disregard” to the environment, which damaged its reputation.

The Wilderness Committee was aware of the “chilling effect” the lawsuit could have on it and other groups, so it fought it, said Foy. It argued Taseko had launched a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, also called a SLAPP suit, and eventually a judge dismissed the case.

SLAPP suits are used by powerful entities, including corporations and individuals, to stop critics, often social and environmental activists, from speaking out, according to the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre. Quebec, Ontario and most recently B.C. have passed legislation to deter SLAPP suits from being filed in the first place, and to allow judges to dismiss cases early in the court process.

Environmental groups say anti-SLAPP laws that protect speech are critical to the fight for climate action. That’s why two prominent organizations, Greenpeace Canada and Ecojustice, went to the Supreme Court Tuesday to argue for more protection.

If climate activists have the threat of being sued over their heads, then our prospects of addressing climate change go way down. —Josh Ginsberg, Ecojustice

Canada’s highest court is currently considering two unrelated defamation cases, which the defendants argue are SLAPP suits. For the first time it is fine-tuning the law and weighing in on how it should be interpreted. Ecojustice and Greenpeace are interveners, alongside civil rights groups, media organizations and a clinic for women experiencing violence.

“Climate change is subject to a huge amount of activism including a lot of speech that is often controversial but essential for us to have a robust debate,” Ecojustice lawyer Josh Ginsberg told HuffPost.

“If climate activists have the threat of being sued over their heads, then our prospects of addressing climate change go way down. It drains their resources and takes the focus off of the real issues.”

Greenpeace is currently fighting what it calls a SLAPP suit by a forestry company, and Ecojustice has represented environmental groups in similar cases.

Under Ontario’s anti-SLAPP legislation, a defendant in a lawsuit can request it be dismissed at any time, if what they said could be considered in the public interest. Then it’s up to the plaintiff to prove how the defence’s argument could fail, and if the damages outweigh the public interest.

During this process, both environmental groups want judges to consider the context in which a disputed statement was made.

“We want the court to think about what the biggest societal implication is here,” said Greenpeace lawyer Priyanka Vittal. “Is this going to create a chilling effect where no other grassroots organizations are going to speak out because they’re too scared?”

The court could look at a company’s history filing lawsuits, the power imbalance, and where the defendant made the claim, such as during a public consultation process, according to Ecojustice’s factum. It wants judges to recognize that statements related to environmental decisions and policymaking are presumptively in the public interest.

The Wilderness Committee, for example, posted its articles when the federal government was considering and requesting comments about Taseko’s proposal, and that should’ve helped their case, Foy said.

“I really worry about the individual who says something at a local meeting about a development next to an elementary school, and then the developer is dragging them through the courts,” Foy said. “It’s terrifying.”

The federal government eventually rejected Taseko’s mine because of the environmental harm it would case, but it’s now permitted to do exploratory drilling.

Even today, however, the Wilderness Committee is still impacted by the lawsuit. Its liability insurance covered close to $200,000 in legal fees, which Taseko doesn’t have to pay back, but it is now saddled with insurance fees nearly $7,000 more than before the lawsuit, Foy said.

But he’s glad they fought it all the way to the end.

“We are really proud of what we did, and how we did it,” said Foy. “It’s our responsibility to speak out clearly and strongly about these industrial projects.” SOURCE

 

Ecojustice takes Kenney government to court over ‘anti-Alberta’ inquiry


Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks to the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources on May 2, 2019 about Bill C-69. (Andrew Meade)

The Alberta government’s public inquiry into “anti-Alberta energy campaigns” is facing a legal challenge by B.C.-based not-for-profit Ecojustice.

This summer the government tasked the inquiry with digging into the role of foreign organizations and funds in creating roadblocks for the energy industry and “disseminating misleading or false information” to that end.

Ecojustice responded to the inquiry by filing court documents in Calgary on Nov. 15. The documents outline allegations that the inquiry “has been called not to address a matter of pressing public interest, but to justify a predetermined intent to harm the reputations, economic viability and freedom of expression of certain organizations who have opposed the Government of Alberta’s position with respect to oil and gas development.”

The application for judicial review argues the inquiry should be stopped because it is improper use of the Public Inquiries Act, it impinges on federal jurisdiction, and because the commissioner of the inquiry is biased towards support for the United Conservative Government. MORE

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For environmentalists and Lower Mainland First Nations, 76 reasons to oppose Trans Mountain

One researcher says biggest risk to whales may not be oil tankers


A female southern resident killer whale breaches in the calm blue waters of the Salish Sea between Washington State and British Columbia, Canada. (Monika Wieland/Shutterstock)

There are no new protections for endangered southern resident killer whales in Tuesday’s latest approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, say advocates, many of whom fear for the survival of the species.

“If the project goes forward as currently planned, it will further push the southern residents toward extinction,” said Margot Venton, a lawyer with environmental law firm Ecojustice.

“That’s what’s on the table.”

Last summer, the federal court of appeal struck down the proposed pipeline expansion project in part because the National Energy Board did not consider the impact that increased shipping from the project could have on the whales, which now number just 76 individuals in the wild, according to Orca Network.

The whales are protected by the federal Species At Risk Act, but their population has been in decline for years.

There are no new protections for endangered southern resident killer whales in Tuesday’s latest approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, say advocates, many of whom fear for the survival of the species.

“If the project goes forward as currently planned, it will further push the southern residents toward extinction,” said Margot Venton, a lawyer with environmental law firm Ecojustice.

“That’s what’s on the table.”

Last summer, the federal court of appeal struck down the proposed pipeline expansion project in part because the National Energy Board did not consider the impact that increased shipping from the project could have on the whales, which now number just 76 individuals in the wild, according to Orca Network.

The whales are protected by the federal Species At Risk Act, but their population has been in decline for years.Those groups accuse the federal government of using half-measures to keep the species from disappearing forever.


Vessel noise can interfere with killer whales’ ability to hunt, navigate and communicate with each other, so researchers are looking into what impact it will have on them. (Elaine Thompson/AP)

Vessel noise has been found to interfere with their ability to hunt, and ship strikes can seriously injure or kill them. Environmentalists fear increased oil tanker traffic from an expanded Trans Mountain project could make these problems worse.

Canada’s fisheries minister says the federal government has acted to protect the whales, with a number of measures, including rules to reduce noise and traffic, but environmentalists and some First Nations are not convinced.

Those groups accuse the federal government of using half-measures to keep the species from disappearing forever. MORE

The power of community: How a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens felled a coal facility

Image result for ecojustice: The power of community: How a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens felled a coal facility
Photo by by Jim Maurer, via Flickr

There is a famous quotation often attributed to Margaret Mead that goes, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

The grassroots group Communities and Coal is proof of this.

When the Fraser Surrey Docks project threatened the health and safety of communities in B.C.’s Lower Mainland — and the climate —Communities and Coal stood up to the proposed coal transfer facility.

Members of the organization coordinated town hallsattended protests, and encouraged thousands of people to share their concerns about the project during a public comment period. With Ecojustice’s help, Communities and Coal and local residents Paula Williams and Christine Dujmovich also took their fight to court.

Against many odds, Communities and Coal brought people from across the Lower Mainland together and generated an impressive, sustained community opposition to this project, both on the ground and in the courts.

The project’s downfall is a testament to what can be achieved when community members come together to protect the places where they live, work, and play.

In February 2019, after a gritty, years-long fight, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority decided to pull the permit for the Fraser-Surrey Docks coal project.

Only a couple months later, the Federal Court of Appeal ruled Ecojustice’s ongoing legal case moot. Here’s a look at what these outcomes mean, both in a legal sense and for the community: MORE