Canadian youth plaintiffs take the federal government to court

Published: November 4, 2019

stack-of-law-papers Photo by Billion Photos/Shutterstock

Cecilia La Rose, a Monck Lake cottager near Peterborough, Ontario, might be only 15 years old but she’s witnessed a lot of change. For instance, her lake, “deep for such a small lake,” she notes, was always quite cold but has been growing warmer. There are fewer fish, she says. And the shoreline is receding.

La Rose has also noticed that her asthma has grown worse over the years, and excessive heat exacerbates her breathing difficulties.

Not coincidentally, a report from Environment and Climate Change Canada, released last spring, noted that Canada is warming at twice the global average. Three of the past five years have been the warmest on record.

But La Rose isn’t content to just document the changes she’s noticing from climate change. Together with 14 other youths across the country, she’s launched a legal fight to stop the impacts, and demand that the government shape policy to develop a “science-based climate recovery plan,” says La Rose. “We are going for the entirety of the federal government because we don’t see this as a specific politician’s issue. It’s nonpartisan. It’s about a systematic failure.”

La Rose and others are clear that they aren’t suing for money. And they know this could be a long road.

“We could be doing this for the next seven years quite possibly,” says La Rose. “All I can say is that we’re in this for the long haul and we’re not going anywhere.”

Stephen Cornish, CEO at the David Suzuki Foundation, which, along with Pacific Centre for Environmental Law and Litigation, and Our Children’s Trust, is supporting the young plaintiffs, notes that Canada is uniquely poised to set the precedent of “listening to the voices of young people and making policy in accordance with the things that affect them,” he says.

In the meantime, La Rose says that the youth plaintiffs would be grateful for support, noting that, in particular, the online backlash can be harsh. “It feels really good to have positive comments,” she says.

Which is a reminder that she’s 15 and facing down an existential threat to her — and everyone’s — future. And that it takes courage to stand up and demand better.

“We have 10 years to turn things around,” says Cornish, referring to the recently released report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which noted that governments globally need to work to keep temperatures below an average 1.5°C degree warming to avoid catastrophic change. “This is a human rights issue for our children.”

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