Forest fire inspires Smithers youth to join climate lawsuit

Fifteen teenagers are suing Canada for violating their Charter rights by not tackling climate change

Montay Beaubein-Day is a 12-year-old Tahltan-Wet’suwet’en young person who attends school in Smithers.

He’s also one of 15 youths taking Ottawa to court for failing to tackle climate change, and possibly robbing him and other young people of the same quality of life as generations before him have enjoyed.

“I wanted to get involved because in Telegraph [Creek] there was a huge fire and my family’s ranch burnt down and I don’t want that to happen to anybody else,” he said.

He also pointed to a decline in fish stocks that he said is threatening his First Nations culture.

READ MORE: 15 Canadian youths to sue Ottawa for not acting on climate change

He said he wants to send a message to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“I want Justin Trudeau to listen to the scientific experts on climate change,” he said.

“I’m really proud of Montay,” said Sarah Beaubein, his mother. “It’s been something he’s really wanted to do, and so, I knew it was going to take some commitment and he’s up for it, so all we can do is support him in his journey.”

Chad Day, Montay’s father and president of the Tahltan Central Government, said the family is prepared for a process that could go on for years.

“The litigation is being funded by various sources, including the David Suzuki Foundation, so for the time being it’s going to be a serious time commitment on behalf of Montay and our family, but we don’t anticipate it is going to cost us any money at this time,” he said.

The family was in the Lower Mainland Oct. 25 for a rally outside the Vancouver Art Gallery. Montay said it was an exciting experience with lots of people and energy.

The youth climate movement — which has picked up a lot of steam this year with the emergence of Greta Thunberg, the young Swedish activist — has also been marred by vitriolic backlash, particularly on social media.

Accusations of adult environmental organizations using children as pawns have become a staple of Facebook and Twitter commenters.

Even the President of the United States ridiculed Thunberg on Twitter.

A mural of Thunberg in Edmonton Alta. was defaced during her visit to that province last week.

READ MORE: Climate activist Greta Thunberg’s mural defaced in Edmonton

Day said he is aware of the potential for the same kind of backlash to the lawsuit and his family is also prepared for that.

“I come from a legal background and I’m close to multiple of the lawyers involved in the background, so we will monitor that stuff closely and make sure that Montay doesn’t do anything that he’s uncomfortable with, but ultimately this was highly driven by Montay wanting to get involved,” he said.

“Ultimately this is something the younger generation is really passionate about. Montay is the second youngest plaintiff of the 15, so although there’s definitely going to be some pressure on him, we feel like there’s not as much pressure on him at this particular point in time, but we are committed to him, if he’s committed to stay involved in this in the long run.”

Montay said he isn’t worried about it.

Sierra Robinson, a 17-year-old Cowichan Valley teen who is leading the group of 15 said she wants to see politicians such as Trudeau pay more than lip-service to the issue.

“We’re striking because of people like him, who are continuing to contribute to the climate crisis,” Robinson said.

“It’s terrifying because we can try to do everything we can on an individual level… but really, it’s [up to] our politicians, as they’re continuing to buy pipelines.”

The lawsuit has two sides: one is the right to life, liberty and security of the person under section seven of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, while the other is more specific to the youths involved. That challenge will fall under section 15 of the Charter, and argue that young people are directly impacted by climate change in a way older generations are not.

The youths are asking the Supreme Court of Canada to create a science-based climate recovery plan, and stick to court-mandated targets so they can enjoy the same planet as generations before them.

Robinson knows suing the federal government is a drastic step. But it’s one she feels she has to take to get the government’s attention.

“We can’t vote yet, so we’re not included in these conversations that are shaping our futures,” she said.

Robinson hopes the lawsuit will bring the issue of climate change closer to home for politicians.

“They live in these big fancy houses, or they live in a way where they’re further away from the impacts,” she said.

“I’m just frustrated that we have to go to the level of an entire lawsuit to get our government to take action. People should have done this a long time ago.”

For Robinson, climate change hits a lot closer to home.

She remembers a neighbouring farmer whose well ran dry and had to choose between water for his cows, and watering his corn crop.

“He lost his whole crop of corn because he was only able to give that water to his cows to keep them alive,” Robinson said.

“That’s really scary.”

VIDEO: Smithers students march down Main Street in support of global climate strike

The David Suzuki Foundation is hopeful the energy around climate change these days will push the courts to intervene.

“That’s a very positive potential is that it will spur governments’ attention and action on this issue, and make climate more of a priority,” foundation CEO Stephen Cornish said.

Cornish said court action was necessary because the steps being taken by Ottawa are not good enough.

“What’s important to note [is] that this isn’t about a particular party,” Cornish noted.

“There have been successive generations of government who have not lived up to this.”

Cornish is hoping the lawsuit sets a precedent for other countries around the world.

Lawyer Chris Tollefson, who will make up part of the legal team, said the lawsuit will aim to set a precedent that Canadians do have the rights when it comes to what sort of planet they live on.

“There is a right to a stable climate [and] the government can provide that,” Tollefson told Black Press Media by phone.

Tollefson said young people will live more of their lives affected by climate change.

“Because they’re still growing physically, the impact of things like poor air quality, new kinds of diseases that are associated with climate change… those will impact them in a different way,” he said.

A victory, Tollefson said, “can help us to restore a stable climate and keep the courts involved.”

READ MORE: B.C. communities push back against climate change damages campaign



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