By Karen Savage
A Canadian federal court dismissed a lawsuit on Tuesday by 15 young people attempting to force the Canadian government to tackle climate change, calling the issues “so political that the courts are incapable or unsuited to deal with them.”
In the suit, La Rose v. Her Majesty the Queen, which was filed last year, the young plaintiffs allege that the Canadian government is responsible for climate impacts that infringe on their rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the country’s Public Trust Doctrine. They had asked the court to order the government to implement a science-based climate recovery plan.
While ruling for the government, Justice Michael D. Manson of the Federal Court of Canada conceded that “the negative impact of climate change to the plaintiffs and all Canadians is significant, both now and looking forward into the future.”
Sophia, an 18-year-old plaintiff from Gatineau, Quebec, said the decision is a “slap in the face and a big wake-up call for all Canadian and Indigenous youth.”
“Canada has tried to silence our voice in court and block our calls for climate justice. We won’t be dissuaded,” Sophia said. “ I, along with my co-plaintiffs, will continue to fight for the charter rights of all Canadian and Indigenous youth to hold Canada accountable.”
The Canadian lawsuit is one of several supported by Our Children’s Trust and brought by young people against governments around the world, including Juliana v United States, which was the first case in which a U.S. court recognized the constitutional right to a safe climate. It was dismissed earlier this year by a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, but the young plaintiffs have requested an en banc—or full court—review of the decision.
Similar to the La Rose plaintiffs, the 21 Juliana plaintiffs, who filed suit in 2015, are seeking a court order requiring their government to implement a science-based climate plan to reduce carbon emissions and protect the climate for future generations.
The Ninth Circuit panel determined that the young plaintiffs had “made a compelling case that action is needed,” but determined that climate change cannot be addressed through the judicial branch of government.
In the Canadian decision, Manson said the country’s public trust doctrine is a justiciable issue and “clearly a legal question, which the courts can resolve.” Manson also emphasized that his “comments [in the ruling] are not to be taken as suggesting that the [Canadian government] should not be responsible or unaccountable in addressing climate change.”
Attorneys for the young Canadians have said they will appeal to the country’s supreme court.
Andrea Rodgers, an attorney with Our Children’s Trust, said the ruling is a “miscarriage of justice” and should be corrected.
“It is an affront to justice that when children are being harmed by specific legal actions their government has taken, they have no recourse,” Rodgers said. “It is a sad day for Canada and democracies around the world, and judicial restraint in the face of the climate crisis will one day be seen as one of the world’s great follies.”