Fifteen young people filed a lawsuit against the federal government on Friday demanding that Ottawa do more to address the climate crisis.
The group, ranging in ages from seven to 19, announced the legal action at a Vancouver rally attended by teen climate activist Greta Thunberg. Each plaintiff says they suffer from the harms of climate change.
“I think we need to hold our government accountable because right now our politicians and the people in power are not representing our voices,” Sierra Robinson, a B.C. teenager and one of the 15 complainants, told CTV’s Power Play.
For Robinson,17, the lawsuit is personal. She has Lyme disease, an infectious condition spread by tickets. She temporarily relied on a wheelchair and still struggles with chronic pain and other symptoms caused by the disease.
“Black-legged ticks are increasing in the range that they are across Canada and also in population … So more and more people are being affected by this illness that’s affecting me, so that’s really personal,” she said.
The lawsuit accuses Ottawa of continuing to contribute to greenhouse gas emissions “despite knowing for decades that (greenhouse gas) emissions cause climate change and disproportionately harm children.” It also points to figures that suggest Canada is one of the 10 biggest emitters based on totally national emissions.
In a statement to the Canadian Press, the Department of Environment and Climate Change said the federal government has a plan to combat climate change. Those initiatives include putting a price on pollution and investments in public transit and green technology.
“The government of Canada is ambitiously tackling climate action, and will remain steadfast in its commitment in fighting it,” the department said.
Robinson said she joined the lawsuit because, despite getting involved in her community and making changes in her day-to-day life, she realized that taking political action was necessary.
“Every time that they promote fossil fuels or buy another pipeline or projects like that, it is adding and contributing to the climate crisis and they’re not doing anything about climate change,” she said.
“It’s this huge issue that’s affecting us and we’re being told that in 11 years, we’re going to be facing complete and total climate catastrophe, but we’re already feeling the harms today.”
Ira Reinhart Smith from Nova Scotia is also part of the lawsuit. For him, the effects of climate change can already be seen in severe weather events.
“With this increase ocean temperature and rising sea levels, the storms that are coming are way are much more powerful,” he told Power Play. “Just last month Hurricane Dorian swept through the province and it was not like anything people had seen in a long time.”
Plaintiffs for the case were sought out by the David Suzuki Foundation, which is a partner in the case.
CEO Stephen Cornish told The Canadian Press that the goal of the lawsuit is a court-ordered climate plan. However, he thinks the young voices could persuade Ottawa to take stronger action on its own accord.
“We believe politicians, business leaders, municipal leaders will start taking responsibility when they hear from these young people,” he said.
None of the allegations in the lawsuit have been tested in court.
With files from The Canadian Press