2020-10-14

Caledonia teen a plaintiff in lawsuit against the federal government

by Kevin Mcbain

  • <p>PHOTO BY MAREN MEALEY</p><p>Ira Reinhart-Smith, 16, of Caledonia talks to a crowd during a climate march in Halifax earlier this year. The young activist is one of 15 Canadian youths taking on the federal government in a lawsuit over climate change.</p>

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Sixteen-year-old Ira Reinhart-Smith of Caledonia is an up and coming advocate of environmental stewardship.

The youth has been active for several years in trying to get governments of all levels to take climate change more seriously.

And he is one of 15 youths from across Canada who filed a case against Ottawa on October 25, 2019, arguing that their rights to life, liberty, security and equality are being violated because the federal government has not done enough to protect the country against climate change.

The Grade 11 student, who attends North Queens High School in Caledonia, is the only plaintiff from the East Coast.

"We are youth spread throughout Canada who have been affected by climate change in our own ways," he said in an interview. "We know that the government is harming us through their inaction and their actions causing climate change."

On Nova Scotia's part, he pointed to hurricanes, rising sea levels and warmer waters.

"All of these are drastically affecting us right now and people have to realize that," he insisted.

Reinhart-Smith suggested youths around the world have done everything in their power to bring more action on climate change, including protesting, writing letters and signing petitions. The 15 youths listed as plaintiffs are going 'next level' in their fight."

"All of the youth in this fight have done such amazing work and we think this is the next and possibly the last step in our fight," he commented "The courts are the only ones that can protect our rights at this moment."

Reinhart-Smith and the other youths in the case were brought together by Our Children's Trust, a non-profit public interest law firm based in the U.S. which has helped organize similar lawsuits in the States and elsewhere.

Thie case – La Rose et al. v. Her Majesty the Queen – was brought forward in October of last year in Vancouver, when all the plaintiffs, lawyers and organizers were combined to launch the suit.

The statement of claim was filed the day teen climate activist Greta Thunberg visited Vancouver and led a climate strike rally attended by thousands.

The claim states that, despite knowing for decades that carbon emissions cause climate change and harm children, the government continued to allow emissions to increase at a level incompatible with a stable climate capable of sustaining human life and liberties.

The government filed a statement of defence in February acknowledging that climate change is real, but arguing that the plaintiffs lack public interest and that their claims are not justiciable.

In an effort to throw out the case entirely, two days of hearings were held in a federal court in Vancouver September 30 and October 1. It's expected the decision may take up to five months.

Although other countries and courts have recognized a constitutional right to a safe environment, Canada may not follow suit.

"The government was trying to strike our claim, saying we did not deserve to be in court, our case had no standing and it shouldn't be here," said Reinhart-Smith. "To hear the people that are harming us say that was tough."

When Reinhart-Smith learned that Our Children's Trust was pursuing a lawsuit, he wanted to be involved.

For the past two years, he has been involved in organizing Fridays For Future marches in Bridgewater and several other events including the Caledonia Earth Guardians.

He hoped the efforts will "force the government to make a plan based on the current science we have. The government should consult with scientists to make an actual plan that will lead us away from fossil fuel initiatives and into a green economy."

While the government is funnelling billions of dollars into the fossil fuel industry, Reinhart-Smith claimed it should be more focused on creating more accessible green energy and jobs.

"This government, I have to admit, has done more than its predecessors about climate change, but it is such a low bar," he said.

"We want to make Canada a better place. Right now, the courts are the only ones that will protect our fundamental rights. That's why we are going to court. We are not taking the government's word anymore that they are working on it," said the youth.

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