Climate change class actions come to Canada

As climate change litigation gains momentum, two recent developments show Canadian litigants turning to class actions to address climate-related harms.

Environmental youth group commences rights-based climate class action

First, on November 26, 2018, ENvironnement JEUnesse (“ENJEU”), a Quebec non-profit dedicated to environmental education, filed a motion for authorization to institute a class action at the Quebec Superior Court against the federal government on behalf of Quebec residents aged 35 and under (ENvironnement JEUnesse c. Attorney General Of Canada).

ENJEU seeks a declaration that the federal government has infringed rights protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Québec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms by failing to take adequate action to prevent climate change.

ENJEU’s claim is the first rights-based climate class action in Canada and follows the international trend of claims instituted on behalf of young people for declaratory relief due to government inaction on climate change.

City of Victoria endorses class action against oil and gas producers

More recently, on January 17, 2019, Victoria’s City Council voted eight-to-one to support a class action lawsuit on behalf of local governments in British Columbia to recover costs due to climate change from major fossil fuel corporations.

Under the proposed lawsuit, as class members, municipalities would quantify individual and historic greenhouse gas emissions and apportion liability among defendant corporations.  Victoria’s City Council has asked the Union of B.C. Municipalities to consider initiating the lawsuit at its annual meeting this September.

The City of Victoria’s announcement came just a few days after the Insurance Bureau of Canada estimated that Canadian governments paid up to $5.7-billion for uninsured damages caused by extreme weather events in 2018.

Tip of the (melting) iceberg?

These proceedings build on climate change litigation recently commenced in various jurisdictions, including elsewhere in Canada (see, for example, Burgess v. Ontario Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, in which a group of property owners seek class certification and allege that the Ministry of Natural Resources failed to properly adapt to climate change and prevent flooding, resulting in property damage to their homes. The class has not yet been certified). Notably, the U.S. Supreme Court recently refused the government’s request to stay similar climate change proceedings, suggesting that we may see more such proceedings in the future.

A recent Osler update provides further details on the B.C. and Quebec cases. We will continue to track developments in climate class actions as they move through the courts.

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Editors

Deborah Glendinning

Partner, Litigation

Sonia Bjorkquist

Partner, National Chair, Litigation

Éric Préfontaine

Partner, Litigation

Christopher Naudie

Partner, Litigation

Craig Lockwood

Partner, Litigation

Tristram Mallett

Partner, Litigation

Karin Sachar

Associate, Litigation