Date of text
Sabin Center
Court name
Superior Court of Justice
Seat of court
Reference number
Climate Change

Seven youth brought suit alleging that Ontario violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom ("the Charter") by abdicating its responsibility to address climate change.

Plaintiffs argue that Ontario has failed to meet the challenge of avoiding catastrophic climate change, which must be done within eleven years according to the scientific community. They further claim that Canada is not on track to meet the goals laid out in the Paris Agreement, in large part due to Ontario's 2030 greenhouse gas reduction target of 30% below 2005 levels, set under the Cap and Trade Cancellation Act, 2018. In plaintiffs' view, this target -- which is less ambitious than previously adopted targets -- is inadequate. Plaintiffs assert a genuine interest in preventing catastrophic climate change that poses pervasive and serious risks to the health and wellbeing of their generation and future generations of Ontarians. Their claims arise under sections 7 and 15 of the Charter, which provide the right to life, liberty and security of the person; and equal protection under the law, respectively.

Plaintiffs seek, among other things, a declaration that Ontario's target violates the rights of Ontario youth and future generations under sections 7 and 15 of the Charter; a declaration that Ontario's target violates an unwritten constitutional principle that governments may not engage in conduct that will, or unreasonably could be expected to, result in the future harm, suffering or death of a significant number of its own citizens; a declaration that section 7 of the Charter includes the right to a stable climate system, capable of providing youth and future generations with a sustainable future; a declaration that sections 3(1) and/or 16 of the Cap and Trade Cancellation Act, which repealed the Climate Change Mitigation and Low-carbon Economy Act, 2016, and allowed for the imposition of more lenient targets without mandating that they be set according to the Paris Agreement's goals or any sort of science-based process, violates sections 7 and 15 of the Charter; an order that Ontario set a science-based greenhouse gas reduction target that is consistent with Ontario's share of the minimum level of greenhouse gas reductions necessary to limit global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius or well below 2 degrees Celsius; and an order directing Ontario to revise is climate change plan once it has set such a target.

The defendants filed a motion to dismiss on April 15, arguing that the Charter does not guarantee a right to a stable climate, the plaintiffs lack standing to represent future generations, the plaintiffs have shown no reasonable cause of action, and the plaintiffs cannot prove their allegations.

On November 12, 2020, the Superior Court Justice rejected the motion to dismiss on the grounds that it not plain and obvious that the plaintiffs present no reasonable cause of action. The justice reasoned that both the GHG reduction target and the repeal of the Climate Change Act are reviewable by the court for their compliance with the Charter. According to the plaintiffs, this is the first time a Canadian court has ruled that climate change may threaten fundamental rights under the Charter.

Key environmental legal questions

Youth brought suit to challenge Ontario's 2030 greenhouse gas reduction target.