Canada

Government of Canada files Statement of Defence acknowledging significant harm of climate change but denying that Canadian youth have right to seek remedy in court​

February 13, 2020

These young Canadians and their lawyers are taking the Canadian government to court over its role in climate change.
Photo credit: Robin Loznak, 2019.

VANCOUVER, B.C. — On Friday, February 7, 2020, the federal government of Canada (“Canada”) filed its Statement of Defence in the youth-led climate change lawsuit, La Rose et. al. v. Her Majesty the Queen (“La Rose”). In this defence, Canada acknowledges that climate change is real, that it has significant negative impact on Canadians, and that addressing climate change is “of central importance to the Canadian government.” However, Canada claims that the 15 young Canadians should not be given public interest standing and that the courts are not the appropriate branch of government to provide the youth plaintiffs with their requested relief.

In its Statement of Defence, Canada’s admits:

Climate change is real, measurable, and documented. It is not a distant problem, but one that is happening now and that is having very real consequences on people’s lives. Its impacts will get more significant over time… Notwithstanding its global nature, climate change is having a particularly significant impact in Canada… Changes in climate are increasingly affecting Canada’s natural environment, economic sectors and the health of Canadians, and climate change is increasingly exacerbating the impacts of other stressors on natural systems in Canada and on the well-being of Canadians… While climate change is a global phenomenon, it has significant and particular impacts on Canada and Canadians.

Canada also does not dispute that the plaintiffs have suffered harm as a result of climate change. However, Canada intends to defend the case by claiming that the courts cannot review the government’s  decisions about climate change:

Addressing climate change is the shared responsibility of a multitude of different actors… Only the executive and legislative branches of government may make policy, pass laws and authorize the allocation of public funds.

Although Canada has tabled a climate plan, the federal government has not yet fully implemented it – including passing the policies and laws the scientific evidence suggests are required to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to safe levels; nor has it ceased pursuing counterproductive policies that in fact increase these emissions (i.e., consistent policy action in line with the current climate emergency).

The La Rose case was filed by 15 young Canadians from across the country on October 25, 2019. In the lawsuit, the youth claim that the federal government of Canada is contributing to dangerous climate change. The case also argues that the youth are already being harmed by climate change and the federal government is violating their rights to life, liberty and security of the person under section 7 of the Charter and for failing to protect essential public trust resources. The youth plaintiffs also allege that Canada’s conduct violates their right to equality under section 15 of the Charter, since youth are disproportionately affected by the effects of climate change.

The youth, from seven Canadian provinces and the Northwest Territories, are represented by the law firms of Arvay Finlay LLP and Tollefson Law Corporation, and are supported by the Pacific Centre for Environmental Law and Litigation (CELL)David Suzuki Foundation, and Our Children’s Trust.

The lawsuit calls on Canada to cease violating the youth’s Charter and public trust rights and prepare and implement a plan that reduces Canada’s GHG emissions in a manner consistent with what the best available science indicates is needed for the federal government to protect young Canadians, do its fair share to stabilize the climate system, and avert the catastrophic consequences of climate change.

Katrina Darychuk

Law Student

Katrina (she/her) is a J.D. candidate at the University of Victoria, Faculty of Law with interests in criminal law, disability justice, and environmental litigation. Most recently, Katrina worked in Whitehorse, YK with the Public Prosecution Service and will clerk with the Supreme Court of British Columbia in 2025.  

She holds a BA from University of Toronto in Critical Equity Studies and Ethics and a diploma in Theatre Arts from Langara College. Prior to law, Katrina worked as theatre director and creator across Canada. Her passions include gardening, thrifting, and walking her beloved dog Joe.

Patrick McDermott

Law Student

  • Santa Cruz Superior Court
  • California Attorney General’s Office, Land Use and Conservation Section

Patrick is a J.D. candidate at the University of Victoria, Faculty of Law. He is passionate about public interest environmental law as well as criminal justice reform. Patrick has a B.A. from University of California, Davis, and has legal experience in both Canada and the United States. Upon graduation, he will be clerking at the BC Supreme Court in Vancouver. In his spare time, he can be found backpacking, woodworking, baking, or running with his dog.

Lydia Young

Articled Student

  • 2022 Student mentor in the Pacific Centre for Environmental Law and Litigation | educational program
  • Associate Fellow, Centre for International Sustainable Development Law
 
Lydia received her J.D. from the University of Victoria in 2023 with a concentration in environmental law and sustainability and will be called to the British Columbia Bar in 2024. Lydia is pursuing an 2024-25 LL.M. in Global Environment and Climate Change Law at the University of Edinburgh.
 
As an articling student at Tollefson Law, Lydia has gained experience working on environmental, constitutional and natural resource litigation and has sat at counsel table before the BC Supreme Court and BC Court of Appeal. Lydia is pursuing a career that focuses on biodiversity conservation, natural resource law, green economies and sustainable development.

Anthony Ho

Associate

  • Program Coordinator at the Pacific Centre for Environmental Law and Litigation 
 
Anthony received his J.D. from the University of Victoria in 2014, and was called to the British Columbia bar in May 2015. His areas of practice in public interest environmental law have included environmental assessments, regulatory hearings, judicial reviews, and trials. 
 
He has appeared before the Federal Court and Federal Court of Appeal, the BC Supreme Court, and various tribunals including the National Energy Board and BC Environmental Appeal Board. 
 
In his capacity as Program Coordinator at the Pacific Centre for Environmental Law and Litigation (CELL), he helps deliver CELL’s educational program, which trains law students in litigation practice skills through exposure to real-life pieces of public interest environmental litigation.
 
He also holds a Master of Public Administration (UVic ’14), a B.Sc. in environmental sciences (UBC ’10), and a B.A. in political science (UBC ’10). He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Law and Society at UVic.

Chris Tollefson

Principal

  • Professor of Law, Faculty of Law, University of Victoria
  • Founding Executive Director of CELL – Pacific Centre for Environmental Law and Litigation
  • Past President of Ecojustice
 
Chris is the founding principal of Tollefson Law and a Professor of Law at the University of Victoria. He has degrees from Queen’s, University of Victoria and Osgoode Hall Law School, and clerked at the BC Court of Appeal.
 
Chris has appeared at all levels of trial and appeal court, and before various environmental regulatory boards and tribunals. He was counsel to BC Nature and Nature Canada during the Northern Gateway and Trans Mountain pipeline hearing processes.


 
He has published on a diverse range of environmental and natural resource topics including forestry, contaminated sites, environmental governance and assessment, eco-certification, and access to justice. The fourth edition of his national environmental textbook (co-authored with Prof. Meinhard Doelle) was published by Thomson Reuters in 2023.
 
He loves the outdoors, late night pool games, early morning reno projects, and dog sitting.