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Teens to Sue Federal Government Over Climate Crisis

Madeline Laurendeau says effects of warming and extreme weather have already violated her Charter rights.

Meghan Mast 23 Oct 2019 |

Meghan Mast is a Winnipeg-based multimedia journalist who has covered agriculture, politics, hydro, health and the climate crisis. Her work has appeared on the CBC and in the Winnipeg Free Press, the Globe and Mail and Megaphone magazine.

Madeline Laurendeau has a simple explanation for her decision to join 14 other teens from across Canada suing the federal government over its failure to address the climate crisis.

“There’s nothing more important to me than our planet,” Laurendeau said today. “It is the basis for everything. There is no school on a dead planet. There is no life on a dead planet. There is no nothing on a dead planet.”

The lawsuit will be filed in Federal Court Friday in Vancouver, the same day Greta Thunberg joins a climate protest in the city. Teens from eight provinces will be plaintiffs. They're being supported by the David Suzuki Foundation.*

The suit will claim the federal government violated the teens’ Charter rights by contributing to high levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and dangerous climate change.**

“We feel like we have no place in democracy,” said Laurendeau, a 17-year-old from Winnipeg. “Decisions are being made against our interest and we cannot even vote.”

She heard about the lawsuit through Manitoba Youth for Climate Action, which meets regularly to plan weekly strikes and other direct action. It’s connected to Climate Strike Canada and the global climate strike movement.

Laurendeau said she decided to join the lawsuit because governments won’t take meaningful action unless they’re pushed. “A lawsuit seems like the best way to get them to act,” she said.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees Canadians the right to life, liberty, the security of the person and to equal protection and benefit under the law.

The lawsuit says the federal government continues to expand fossil fuel extraction projects and is failing to take meaningful action on carbon emissions despite the threat to Canadians. It aims to force the government to pursue bold climate action.

Laurendeau said her Charter rights are already being violated.

She has severe asthma and a couple of summers ago the forest fire smog was so thick in Winnipeg she had to stay inside, only going outside for short periods of time. Whenever she left her house, she had to bring her emergency puffer. She said she also struggles with generalized anxiety disorder and depression, both exacerbated by the mounting eco-anxiety she feels.

“Personally, that’s what the case is all about,” she says. “The ways it’s already affected me.”

Laurendeau said she’s tired of being called “inspiring” by adults. This sort of language makes her feel like the youth aren’t being taken seriously and that adults are using it to absolve themselves of responsibility to take action and join the youth in the streets.

“We are having to force this change,” she said. “Calling us inspiring is not the action that we’re asking for. That’s just words.”

*Story updated at 10:15 a.m. on Nov. 1 to update information about the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the federal government.

**Story updated at 9:10 a.m. on Oct. 24 to include more details about the teen’s lawsuit against the federal government.  [Tyee]

Read more: Environment

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