Climate crisis: Supreme Court refuses to hear youth appeal

Crisis change: Supreme Court refuses to hear youth appeal

The Supreme Court of Canada announced this week that it will not hear the appeal of ENvironnement JEUnesse v. Canada. This case, led by young people, could have set an important precedent in Canadian law.

ANALYSIS – ENvironment JEUnesse claimed to represent Quebecers aged 35 and under. He accused the federal government of infringing on the rights of young people by violating their rights to life, security, equality and to live in a healthy environment.

The petition filed in the Supreme Court of Canada followed the rejection, in December 2021, by the Quebec Court of Appeal of an application filed in 2018.

The refusal by the highest court in the land is a missed opportunity to determine whether Canadians can sue their governments under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms for failing to take appropriate action to stem the climate crisis.

This case is one of many lawsuits growing across the country – and the world – in which children and young people are holding their governments to account through human rights litigation. They are increasingly playing a leading role as human rights advocates on the most pressing issues of our time, such as climate change and reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.

As children's rights researchers, we are interested in how well-equipped legal processes in Canada are to deal with youth-led cases involving their human rights. We have seen that much more needs to be done to ensure that children and youth are treated as rights holders in Canada and that our legal processes are responsive to their needs.


The climate crisis is often described as the most pressing human rights challenge of our time. Children and young people are not only disproportionately vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, as their physiological and cognitive development makes them less able to cope with climate-related shocks and stresses, but they will also bear an increased burden of its consequences when the impacts worsen, when they are adults.

Children and young people around the world have mobilized to hold governments and corporations accountable for the human rights consequences of their inaction. Those in Canada are no exception. They acted as guardians of human rights in Canada by initiating pioneering Charter litigation across the country, including in Quebec, Ontario and before the Federal Court of Appeal.

This litigation is a shining example of the defense of human rights by young people. Young people are the main protagonists in this matter and the ENvironnement JEUnesse website presents information accessible to them and provides information on how to get involved. It features relevant videos, photos, fact sheets and educational tools. The organization can thus serve as a model for youth-led litigation, in a manner consistent with best human rights practices.

The courts that heard the case, on the other hand, were less exemplary. During their hearing, neither the Quebec Superior Court nor the Quebec Court of Appeal provided the young people with accessible information about the dispute or provided for special measures to allow them to follow the case. .

The rules of procedure of the two tribunals do not provide for measures allowing meaningful and age-appropriate participation of young people. On the merits, the best interests of the child were absent from both courts' analysis of Canada's obligations to children and youth under the Charter in its response to the climate crisis.

< p>This is consistent with what we found in our research. Few legal processes dealing with children's rights in Canada are designed to allow them meaningful participation. Most administrative tribunals in Canada do not provide them with adequate resources. No human rights tribunal in Canada has rules of procedure allowing for child-friendly participation in decisions. In fact, many human rights laws in Canada expressly exclude children and youth from protection against age discrimination. To add to the barriers our children face in accessing justice, Canada has not ratified the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which would allow them to have access to a international complaint when their fundamental rights are violated.


Although we don't ive observed almost no youth-specific resources, rules of procedure, or processes for youth-initiated cases in Canada, there are best practices Canadian courts could adopt to respect children's rights.

A 2013 report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights provides a model of a child-friendly legal process. According to the report, the starting point must be the legal empowerment of children and young people. Children must receive appropriate information about their rights and how to claim them. Legal processes must be designed to accept and deal with complaints brought by or on behalf of children. This means enabling meaningful, age-appropriate participation, but also allowing them procedures and providing them with legal support in these procedures.

The United Nations Committee of Experts in charge of monitoring the Convention on the Rights of the Child recognized, in a report dated June 2022, significant shortcomings in the implementation of the Convention by Canada and has made recommendations that would help recognize children as rights holders in legal proceedings, including in relation to climate change.

The Committee recommends that the principle of the best interests of children be applied in all legal proceedings and decisions affecting them, and that hearing their views be a requirement for all decision-making processes that affect children, including in cases concerning the environment.

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The Supreme Court's decision not to hear ENvironnement JEUnesse's appeal is a setback for youth-led human rights litigation in Canada.

It is hoped that this decision will not discourage children and young people from asserting their rights in court. The latter are neither the property of their parents nor reduced versions of the adults. They are rights holders and, in many cases, human rights defenders.

Judicial processes in Canada need to recognize children and youth as rights bearers and adapt their processes accordingly. ensuring that they comply with best practices in this area.

A text by Anne Levesque, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa and Mona Pare, Professor, Children’s Rights and Human Rights at the University of Ottawa .

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Climate crisis: Supreme Court refuses to hear youth appeal

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