La Rose v. Her Majesty the Queen
Fifteen children and youths brought suit against the Queen and Attorney General of Canada in October 2019, alleging that Canada emits and contributes to emitting greenhouse gases that are incompatible with a stable climate. The plaintiffs argue that Canada's actions have violated their rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom, as well as the rights of present and future Canadian children under the public trust doctrine. They seek declaratory relief and an order requiring the government to adopt a Climate Recovery Plan.
Plaintiffs are children and youth in Canada who allege that they have been and will continue to be exposed to climate change impacts that interfere with their physical and psychological well being, as well as their ability to make fundamental life choices. The plaintiffs assert that because of their vulnerability and age, they will bear a disproportionate share of the burden imposed by climate change. They claim that Canada has caused, contributed to, and allowed a level of greenhouse gas emissions that is incompatible with a stable climate system; adopted greenhouse gas emissions targets that are inconsistent with the best available science regarding what action is necessary to avoid dangerous climate change; failed to meet its own national greenhouse gas emission targets; and actively participated in and supported the development, expansion, and operation of industries and activities involving fossil fuels that emit a level of greenhouse gases that is incompatible with a stable climate.
Plaintiffs seek declarations that defendants have unjustifiably infringed their rights -- and the rights of all present and future children and youth in Canada -- under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Specifically, plaintiffs allege that defendants have violated Section 7 of the Charter, which protects the rights to life, liberty and security; and Section 15 of the Charter, which provides that every individual is equal under the law. Plaintiffs also argue that Canada has a common law and constitutional obligation to protect the integrity of common natural resources that are fundamental to sustaining human life and liberties, and seek a declaration that defendants have failed to discharge their public trust obligations with respect to those resources. Finally, they seek an order requiring defendants to develop and implement an enforceable Climate Recovery Plan that is consistent with Canada's fair share of the global carbon budget necessary to achieve greenhouse gas emissions, and ask the court to retain jurisdiction to ensure the plan is implemented.
On February 7, 2020 the government filed a statement of defense acknowledging that climate change is real and has a significant effect on Canada, but arguing that the plaintiffs lack public interest standing and that their claims are not justiciable. Plaintiffs responded on August 31.
Relevant Laws and Principles
- Public Trust Doctrine
- Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom (Sections 7 and 15)
On October 27, 2020, a Federal Court judge dismissed the lawsuit by Canadian youth against the Canadian government on a pretrial motion to strike for failing to state a reasonable cause of action. The plaintiffs plan to appeal.
In dismissing the case, the judge ruled that the plaintiffs' claims that Canada's conduct violated their rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms are not justiciable and state no reasonable cause of action. According to the judge, the claims are not justiciable because they allege "an overly broad and unquantifiable number of actions and inactions on the part of the Defendants." Similarly, these claims do not state a reasonable cause of action because they point to broad and diffused conduct by the government and do not identify a particular law that burdens youth.
The judge found that the plaintiffs' claims that the government's conduct violated the public trust doctrine was justiciable, but similarly found that it stated no reasonable cause of action because the claim was extensive, had no definable limits, and was not consistent with incremental evolutions in the law.
Although the case was dismissed, the judge found that plaintiffs' claims regarding the public trust doctrine were justiciable, possibly opening the door for future public trust doctrine cases related to climate change in Canada.