Ontario Superior Court Dismisses Climate-Related Charter Application

  • June 16, 2023
  • Kimberly Potter, partner, Fasken; Anastasia Reklitis, associate, Fasken

On April 14, 2023, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice released Mathur v. His Majesty the King in Right of Ontario, 2023 ONSC 2316, a landmark climate litigation decision. The applicants, seven Ontarians between the ages of 15 and 27, sought declarations of constitutional invalidity in relation to Ontario’s legislated greenhouse gas emissions reduction target. The court expressed sympathy for the applicants’ environmental concerns but concluded that it could not, based on “the current state of the law”, find violations of the Charter in the circumstances before it.

The Mathur decision is the first case in Canadian history to substantively consider the intersection of climate change and Charter rights. Although the court disposed of the Charter arguments on other grounds, the court observed that the applicants had made a “compelling” case that the circumstances of climate change could impose positive obligations on the government under the Charter.

Further, the court wrote throughout its reasons that climate litigation in the Charter context raises novel considerations that may eventually require new analytical frameworks to address. Indeed, the applicants urged the court to adopt a new principle — “societal preservation” — in Canadian constitutional law. The court rejected this position, finding that this proposed principle did not meet the requisite doctrinal requirements. However, the Mathur decision confirms that Canadian climate litigation is likely to continue to generate new arguments and may result in consequent legal developments.