A court has dismissed Ontario’s attempt to overturn a key decision in a youth-led climate lawsuit, solidifying a historic legal victory and paving the way for seven young people to have their day in court.
This case is a Canadian first — the first of its kind to clear key procedural hurdles and move full steam ahead toward a full hearing on its merits.
On Thursday, the Ontario Divisional Court dismissed the province’s request for leave to appeal a November decision, in which a judge rejected the government’s motion to strike down the Mathur et. al. climate lawsuit before it reached a full hearing.
That landmark ruling marked the first time in history a Canadian court has ruled climate change can threaten Canadians’ fundamental rights. It further affirmed that citizens have the ability to challenge a government’s climate actions under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The seven youth applicants leading the case – Sophia Mathur, Zoe Keary-Matzner, Shaelyn Wabegijig, Shelby Gagnon, Alex Neufeldt, Madison Dyck and Beze Gray – will now turn their attention toward preparing to argue their case, which asserts that Ontario’s 2030 greenhouse gas emissions target is inadequate, unconstitutional, and must be struck down.
A date for the full hearing has yet to be set.
Applicants in this youth-led case are represented by lawyers from Ecojustice and Stockwoods LLP.
Danielle Gallant, an Ecojustice lawyer, issued the following statement in response to the court’s decision to dismiss the province’s application for leave to appeal:
“Ecojustice is thrilled the seven young applicants in this case will have the chance to appear before a court and fight for their rights to life, liberty and security of the person.
“Yesterday’s dismissal is significant. It means this important youth-led climate lawsuit will be heard on its merits by a Canadian court — the first case of its kind in Canada to make it this far. Yesterday’s dismissal also puts an end to Ontario’s attempts to overturn November’s landmark ruling, solidifying it in Canadian law.
“Alex, Beze, Madison, Shaelyn, Shelby, Sophia, and Zoe are already making history as climate leaders. Now, they will get their day in court to plead their case, which could lead to even stronger legal precedents that hold governments to account for taking climate action and protecting our fundamental rights.”
Shaelyn Wabegijig, one of the seven youth applicants, said:
“I am relieved the courts recognize the significance of our climate case and that we will be allowed to move ahead with this lawsuit.
“As a young person, I worry about how the climate crisis will affect us every day. I see the way the world around me is rapidly changing. I hear from Elders about how things used to be, and it makes me sad to think about all we’ve lost. But it also makes me determined to take action for all our relations and future generations.
“I am proud to be part of this case and look forward to our day in court.”
Ecojustice uses the power of the law to defend nature, combat climate change, and fight for a healthy environment. Its strategic, public interest lawsuits and advocacy lead to precedent-setting court decisions and law and policy that deliver lasting solutions to Canada’s most urgent environmental problems. As Canada’s largest environmental law charity, Ecojustice operates offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, and Halifax.
Shaelyn Wabegijig, 24, is one of seven young people taking the Ontario government to court for weakening Ontario’s 2030 climate target. Shaelyn is of Algonquin, German and Irish descent. She grew up in Rama First Nation and is currently based in Nogojiwanong/Peterborough, the traditional territory of the Michi Saagiig First Nations. She is a Trent University alumni and a coordinator for the Kawartha World Issues Centre.
Nader Hasan and Justin Safayeni, of Stockwoods LLP, are veteran constitutional lawyers with a track record of holding government to account before courts in Ontario and at the Supreme Court of Canada. In 2017, they led the successful legal challenge to seismic testing in the landmark Indigenous rights case, Clyde River v. Petroleum Geo Services Inc., 2017 SCC 40.