Saskatchewan residents taking province to court to try to force climate action

The applicants are asking the court to order SaskPower to achieve net-zero emissions by 2035.

Group wants court to order SaskPower to achieve net-zero emissions by 2035

Power plant with lots of smoke arising from it

Lynn Oliphant, 80, tries to reduce his ecological footprint as much as he can. He wants the Saskatchewan government to start doing the same.

Oliphant is one of seven Saskatchewan residents — aged 15 to 80 — working with Climate Justice Saskatoon to take the province to court over its role in climate change.

The group filed an application to the Court of King's Bench on March 31 claiming that government action to expand gas-fired electricity generation violates Section 7 of the Charter and Rights and Freedoms which guarantees the right to life, liberty and security.

The applicants are asking the court to order the Crown corporation SaskPower to set a reasonable target to decarbonize and to achieve net-zero emissions by 2035.

Oliphant pointed at hundreds of 2021 heat-related deaths in British Columbia and the town of Lytton burning to the ground as examples of the need for quick climate action in Saskatchewan and across Canada.

"The only way to address this is by rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions, so building a new gas-fired power plant like we are in Moose Jaw and possibly another in Lanigan is not the sustainable path," Oliphant said.

Oliphant and his wife live in an energy efficient home they built more than 25 years ago. They have a solar panel array and don't use natural gas or any fossil fuels, for heating or any other energy usage. He said the changes cut back their carbon footprint by 50 per cent.

"If you're living in a world where the government doesn't make it easy to do the right thing, then we don't progress very far," Oliphant said.

"I think the government has got to come to grips with the fact that climate change is real."

LISTEN | Will the courts be the new frontine in the fight to save the planet? A group of seven citizens in Sask. think so:

Saskatoon Morning17:20Will the courts be the new frontline in the fight to save the planet? A group of seven citizens in Sask. think so

A handful of people fighting against Climate Change will soon go before a judge, trying to force the provincial government to take action to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Host Leisha Grebinski speaks with one of the group members, Lynn Oliphant. She also speaks with University of Calgary environmental law expert Martin Olszyski about the viability of the case.

SaskPower says it is currently aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030 and be net-zero by 2050.

The Government of Saskatchewan says it will be defending the province's decision to build natural gas-fired power plants, "as this is the most effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions without causing undue harm to our people and economy."

How do climate action court claims work?

This is the first court claim like this against Saskatchewan's government, but not the first in Canada.

Martin Olszynski, an associate professor in the faculty of law at the University of Calgary, said there have been similar lawsuits, which tried to use the Charter and Rights and Freedoms as an argument for climate action, filed against the Ontario and federal governments.

"There is generally a push and effort around the world to try to use the courts, not instead of the public arena but in addition," Olszynski said.

"There's public opinion where we have our policy debates about these things, but then using the courts of law to try to compel governments to take more aggressive action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and fighting climate change."

An Ontario judge harshly criticized that province's climate plan on April 18, saying "it falls severely short'' of what the science on climate change requires, but dismissed the lawsuit brought by a group of young people who say the government's action threatens their future.

Despite that application being unsuccessful, Olszynski said it was a step in the right direction for climate activists in Canada.

"The court said very clearly that Ontario's sort of very lax goals … are not consistent with the science of achieving [only] 1.5 degrees [of warming], and that did engage the applicant Section 7 charter rights to life, liberty and security of the person," Olszynski said.

"So that was really relevant, that's a big deal,that kind of the first one of those."

The judge dismissed the lawsuit for several reasons including that the inadequacies in Ontario's climate plan and targets did not rise to the level of violation Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees the right to life, liberty and security.

Olszynski said these sorts of cases are very rarely a pure win or loss. He added that the court battles have many nuances and incremental developments, as many of the lawsuits are novel.

What could happen if the judge rules in favour of the group?

Olszynski said the citizen group is asking the court to acknowledge that the Saskatchewan government is harming citizens through SaskPower's greenhouse gas emissions.

He added that if the court rules SaskPower's current climate action strategy is unconstitutional, it could lead to changes for the Crown corporation.

Germany is making changes to its legislation after losing a court battle to young climate activists.

"We see in that context, courts saying, go back to the drawing board, come up with a new plan, a new approach, change this or that," Olszynski said. "So those are the kind of things we could see here as well."

Oliphant acknowledged that Saskatchewan court battle could be difficult, but said there are no guarantees for the province.

"Our province was mistaken in believing that the court would side with them in terms of carbon tax," Oliphant said.

The group is set to appear in court in front of a King's Bench Judge on May 4.


Will McLernon


Will McLernon is an online journalist with CBC Saskatchewan. If you have a tip or a story idea, send him an email at

    With files from Saskatoon Morning and Inayat Singh

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