A group of young people from across the country are suing the Canadian government for not acting on climate change, and there is representation from Haida Gwaii in the group.
In a statement issued last Wednesday morning by the David Suzuki Foundation, the foundation said the 15 youths have each suffered “specific, individualized injuries due to climate change.”
The lawsuit, which was filed last Friday in federal court, will allege Ottawa is violating their rights to life, liberty and security of person under section seven of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
One of the plaintiffs grew up in Masset on the Haida Gwaii islands, Haana Edenshaw. Growing up in an area so steeped in natural beauty, but also constantly under threat from climate change and human activity, gave Edenshaw perspective from a young age on the importance of protecting the land.
“I’ve always grown up with the reality of climate change and protesting ecological destruction. Joining my family and the Haida nation as stewards and protectors of our traditional land from logging, trophy hunting, those kind of things,” Edenshaw said. “I’ve always been really environmentally aware, and tried to make all the changes I could individually in my own consumer habits.”
|Youth climate activist Haana Edenshaw of Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, walks to a rally in downtown Vancouver on Friday. Edenshaw is one of 15 plaintiffs who launched a lawsuit against the Canadian government. (Robin Loznak photo)
At home in Masset, Edenshaw started an ecological club to work on issues of climate activism and environmental protection. She also organized a climate strike day earlier in the year. Recently, she took her voice to the international stage when she was chosen to be a speaker at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, making recommendations to the assembled group of rapporteurs that nations should adhere to.
“It was really interesting to get to know so many people involved in this kind of thing,” Edenshaw said of her international experience. “There’s so many amazing people working on the policy, and it was great to be able to get my voice heard.”
Naturally, when Edenshaw heard that a lawsuit was mounting against the Canadian government on the issue of climate change, she knew she had to be a part of it.
“When I heard about the lawsuit I was immediately interested and looking forward to try and work with it,” Edenshaw explained. “
The youth will claim the government’s actions violate section 15, which deals with equality, as they say young people are disproportionately affected by climate change.
They will be represented by Arvay Finlay LLP and Tollefson Law Corporation, and partner with the Pacific Centre for Environmental Law and Litigation and the David Suzuki Foundation.
“The lawsuit calls on Canada to cease its conduct that is 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 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,” the foundation said in a statement.
|Haana Edenshaw has been involved with environmental activism her whole life, and was determined to help when she heard about the lawsuit. (Robin Loznak photo)
Edenshaw makes clear that there is no financial gain being pursued via this legal action. “The purpose of the lawsuit is not to get money or anything for ourselves. If the lawsuit succeeds the court will order the federal government to develop and implement a science based climate recovery plan, based on the best available science made to reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, and increase carbon sequestration with what scientists say is needed to stabilize the climate system,” she said.
On Friday the youth took part in a march and rally at the northern steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery Friday, coinciding with Greta Thunberg’s arrival and climate strike in the city. All 15 plaintiffs were present at the rally, where they were able to make their case heard.
“The rally was incredible. It was amazing to be able to have my voice heard, and it was amazing to meet Great Thunberg. She’s such an inspirational climate activist, and such a powerful speaker, it was really an honour to be up on that stage with her,” Edenshaw said of the event.
The climate activists were joined on stage by David Suzuki and Severn Cullis-Suzuki, who herself delivered an impassioned speech as a youth to the Rio Summit on climate change in 1992 when she was 12. Edenshaw explained that not only did the rally bring awareness to their cause, but also reinforced her spirit to see all of the support. Approximately 15,000 people came out to witness the rally.
|(Robin Loznak photo)
“It was really inspiring to know that there are people out there who are working really hard too. It made me feel a lot better,” Edenshaw explained.
“Seeing 15,000 people there supporting us, and seeing all these incredible people working so hard to do their part to avert the climate crisis has really made me feel a lot better about our case. It was amazing to meet my 14 co-plaintiffs, who are really inspirational people and who are working so hard all over Canada to help the environment. I feel like the government of Canada will see all our support.”
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Edenshaw and the other activists know it will be a long road ahead in court, but says they are ready for the challenge. She is occasionally discouraged by those who insist climate change is not real, but says there is enough support to drown out the negativity.
“That would affect anyone, seeing that kind of backlash,” Edenshaw says of some of the comments that surround the issue. “But knowing we have such strong support, and there’s also a community of co-plaintiffs who are also going through this sort of thing, it’s really good to have that support network. I can’t understand the disbelief, but we just try and tune it out.”
“I have to do everything I can to prevent this and get Canada to act, because the government has a responsibility to make sure that this country is safe for everyone living in it,” Edenshaw concluded.
Alex Kurial | Journalist
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