Parents take climate concerns to Ontario’s court of appeal

This past week, For Our Kids Toronto and I had the privilege of supporting 7 brave young people taking the Ontario government to court for climate inaction. We've been preparing for years for the opportunity to share our concerns as parents at the Ontario court of appeal.  

Photograph to the right: Youth appellants - Sophia, Zoe, Shaelyn, Alex, Shelby, Madi, and Beze. A contingent from For Our Kids Toronto - Vanessa, Brianne, Meghan, Baby M, Alison. Me and our lawyer Meaghan Daniel. 

The Mathur et. al. case began in 2019, when the group of young people launched a lawsuit in response to changes the Ford government made to weaken Ontario’s carbon emissions reductions targets. For Our Kids (FOK) has been involved since the beginning, accepted as intervenors in this historic case; a third party permitted to present unique perspectives for the court's consideration.

The parents in our network know that young people will experience disproportionate physical, social and psychological harms from the climate crisis, and we strongly believe that all governments - including Ontario - have a legal responsibility to protect them. We felt compelled to take this message to Ontario's courts, and at the same time, we're outraged that we need the courts to order governments to protect the constitutional rights of children.

We weren't allowed to take photos or videos inside the court, but here's an excerpt of what For Our Kids’ lawyer Meaghan Daniel presented to the three judges hearing this appeal case:  

“As all parents discover, including children in our lives, upends everything: all is changed: our sleep, diet, friendships, relationships. We see our own parents differently. We see risk differently. We have changed in relation to our kids…It is in this way that the Best Interest of the Child principle changes the analysis of the issues before you as it requires this Court to view each aspect of the appeal with the best interests of the child as a primary consideration…As many have mentioned, children can’t vote or run for office, there is no other forum for them.” 

It was also important to us to bring the well wishes, solidarity, support and care from our network to the youth appellants. Since December we've been gathering your personal messages from across the country, which we presented to them in a Good Luck card. You can read the entries here in this gallery:

Good Luck Card - Mathur - 2024 - Cover

For many of the parents participating from FOK Toronto, it was their first experience with the judicial system. Here are some reflections from Vanessa and Meghan:

This was my first experience being in a courtroom so I really wasn't sure what to expect--would it be a long, tedious session filled with legalese that would go over my head? While there was definitely some of that throughout the day, what struck me was how much of the discourse moved me emotionally. It was a demonstration that no matter how "rational" the judicial system tries to be, at root of it all, the judicial process, especially as it relates to human rights, is underpinned by the emotion of moral imperatives. The youth appellants have this in abundance. What an amazing and courageous group of young people--this effort must be so hard on them. I left the day hopeful and inspired that, no matter the outcome of this appeal, that this case is just one of many to come in the march towards holding governments around the world accountable to undertaking substantive climate policy. - - Vanessa

Listening to the arguments of the plaintiffs lawyer made me hopeful for our future. Despite the challenges of climate change, we all have the capacity to hold our elected officials accountable to take action immediately on climate change. We should not stop fighting until our message is heard. The 7 plaintiffs are inspiring in their perseverance and courage, and it was an honour to support them in court. -- Meghan

We were also able to share the concerns of parents to media outlets, resulting in some great coverage about our motivations. We feel strongly that we can’t let children face the climate crisis alone, and that the courts are just one of the ways parents can stand up to support the youth climate movement.

We are anxiously awaiting a verdict but it could be a year or more until we hear from the judges. To stay tuned with the news, make sure you’re signed up for our network newsletter:

Natalie Caine is a national organizer with the For Our Kids network support team.

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