Sierra Robinson is just a normal teenager. She goes to school, hangs out with her friends and loves the outdoors.
She’s also one of 15 youths taking Ottawa to court for failing to tackle climate change, and possibly robbing her and other young people of the same quality of life as generations before her have enjoyed.
“I’ve grown up in the Cowichan Valley on my family’s farm. I spent every moment I could outside, climbing trees, catching frogs, playing with chickens,” Robinson told Black Press Media by phone.
“That’s developed a really strong connection with the outside.”
Robinson, 17, is frustrated by a government that has said they’re serious about climate change, but then turn around and buy a pipeline.
She feels Trudeau’s participation in the climate strikes is more lip service than action.
“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 federal court to create a science-based climate recovery plan, and stick to court-mandate 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.”
Robinson and the 14 other youths will be partnering with the David Suzuki Foundation, who are hopeful that 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 that 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 to involved.”