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ENVironnement JEUnesse v. Canada

Jurisdiction: Canada


Side A: ENvironnement JEUnesse (Ngo)


Side B: Canada (Government)


Core objectives: Whether the Canadian government violated fundamental rights of citizens aged 35 and under by failing to set a greenhouse gas emission reduction target and plan to avoid dangerous climate change impacts.


Summary
ENvironnement JEUnesse, an environmental nonprofit, has applied in the Superior Court of Québec to bring a climate change-related class action against the Canadian government on behalf of Québec citizens aged 35 and under. ENvironnement JEUnesse reports that it has asked the Court, inter alia, to declare that the Government of Canada has failed in its obligations to protect the fundamental rights of young people under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Québec Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The organization alleges that the government violated plaintiffs’ rights by setting a greenhouse gas reduction target insufficient to avoid dangerous climate change impacts and by lacking an adequate plan to reach its greenhouse gas emission target. 

More specifically, plaintiffs allege that 1) the “Canadian government's adoption of GHG emission targets that it knows are harmful to human life and health violates the right of class members to life, inviolability and security protected by section 7 of the Canadian Charter and section 1 of the Québec Charter,” and 2) “by adopting inadequate targets and failing to put in place the necessary measures to achieve these targets, the government is violating the class members' right to live in a healthful environment in which biodiversity is preserved, protected by the Québec Charter.” 

The class action seeks a declaratory judgment and punitive damages. They have also asked the court to order a cessation of interference with plaintiffs’ rights.

On July 11, 2019, the court dismissed the motion for authorization to institute a class action. The judge concluded that the impact of climate change on human rights is a justiciable issue and that the Canadian Charters and Quebec rights and freedoms can apply to government actions in this area. However, the judge declined to authorize the proposed class, determining that the 35-year age cut-off was arbitrary and not objective. Environment JEUnesse appealed the decision on August 16.

On December 13th, 2021, the Quebec Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal on justiciability and denied the certification of the proposed climate change class action suit. The Court found that “all the alleged facts” accuse the Canadian government of a “fault of omission” resulting from its inaction in the face of global warming. Conclusions sought by the Appellants are tantamount to asking the courts to tell the legislature what to do, which is not their role. It held that deference to the legislative power is “necessary” as it is better placed to weigh the countless challenges of global warming. The Court did not weigh in on the allegation that government actions were contributing to climate change and therefore violated the Charter rights. The Court also objected to the lack of specificity of the remedy requested and agreed with the trial judge that the proposed class was arbitrary since the theory of the case on age discrimination was not acceptable. The Appellants have expressed an intention to appeal to the Supreme Court (and will have done so by February 11th).

Case documents

from the Grantham Research Institute
from the Grantham Research Institute
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