Connecting Lake Simcoe's Community

Why it is so difficult to sue the government on environmental policies? Tia Harish takes a look.

Have you noticed that every year, winter seems to come earlier than usual and stay longer, almost like an unwanted guest? Canada is warming at twice the global average, so it should be no surprise that our climate is changing incredibly quickly.

While those initially responsible for global warming may not live to see it become irreversible, the younger generations will, if the government does not take enough action.

This is why seven young climate activists from all over Ontario (along with a team of environmental lawyers) have challenged the Ford government on the weakening of their climate targets, which will allow for less progress to be made within a larger span of time. In the case entitled Mathur v. et. al. Her Majesty in Right of Ontario, the activists have won the right to present their case in Federal Court.

This is a historic victory for climate change, but it begs the question - why is this the first of its kind? When climate activists have been attempting to sue the government for years, why is success such a challenge?

Environmental law cases are plagued with hurdles. The Crown Liability and Proceedings Act, 2019, states that the government cannot be held accountable for any decisions on both policies and budget management (what they choose to spend money on).

Since environmental policies fall under this Act, any case that aims to sue the government on its environmental decisions must be able to prove that the decision is harmful to people’s rights or has been created in bad faith.

Mathur et. al v The Queen is the first case since the introduction of this Act that has been able to prove the government’s failure to set stricter limits and rules on greenhouse gases will lead to widespread illness and death, violating Ontarians’ Charter-protected rights to life, liberty, and security of the person.

The team behind the case consists of seven climate activists ranging from age 13 to 24, and their Ecojustice & Stockwoods LLP lawyers. The young activists hail from all over Ontario, including Rama First Nation in the Lake Simcoe region.

All of these varying perspectives likely have helped the plaintiffs build a powerful case; one that will be fought in Federal Court in 2021.

Photo courtesy of Ecojustice



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