Canadian Municipalities Should Sue Oil Industries for Climate Change Costs

Toronto City Councillor Mike Layton

“We could be on the hook for an enormous amount of money, into the billions as a city. …. I am a firm believer in the notion that polluters should pay.”                                                                                – Toronto City Councillor Mike Layton, who is tabling a motion at Toronto’s council to go after fossil fuel (oil and gas) industries for the costs of dealing with climate change.

A Commentary from Doug Draper, Niagara At Large

Posted March 27th, 2019

If our provincial and federal governments aren’t going to act aggressively enough to address climate change, municipalities will have to do it.

And one step they can take is to sue the industry’s most responsible for dumping climate-changing carbon into the atmosphere for the costs of the damage caused by the resulting severe weather.

That is a strategy the City of Toronto is reportedly now reviewing and debating in a motion which, if passed, would do just that – leave open the option of targeting oil corporations with lawsuits aimed at recovering the costs of damage caused by the severe weather outcomes of climate change.

It may be one of the few recourses municipalities have left to cover their damages since, at the federal government level, we currently have a government that has spent billions of tax dollars on an old pipeline to help keep a filthy tar sands industry alive, and we have an Ontario government that has scrapped plans to put a price on carbon pollution.

“I am a firm believer in the notion that polluters should pay,” says Mike Layton, a Toronto city councillor and son of the late federal NDP leader Jack Layton, who has put forward the motion which is reportedly being favourably received by others on the council, including the city’s mayor, John Tory.

Hopefully other municipalities across Canada, including municipalities in Niagara, will consider following suit.

Taking legal action against corporations responsible for producing whatever material or product causes damage or destruction to persons or property certainly netted results when, decades ago, tobacco companies were finally targeted with lawsuits launched by victims of their products.

Earlier this March, parents of children massacred by a shooter at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut seven years ago won a ruling from that state’s Supreme Court to sue the manufacturer of the gun used in the shooting.

Hopefully, those poor parents will succeed in nailing that gun manufacturer where it hurts by taking away some of the profits it rakes in from the sale of assault-style weapons to individuals who are not responsible in how they use or store them, or who are not mentally stable.

So why not sue merchants of a product that is contributing to a climate crisis of global proportions. It may turn out to be one of the most effective ways of encouraging corporations to shift to greener sources of energy.

So here is hoping this initiative wins enough support at Toronto city council and that other municipal councils across the province and country, including councils in Niagara, consider doing the same.

Here is a recent news release from the environmental organization Greenpeace Canada, on Toronto Councillor Mike Layton’s motion –  

Greenpeace Canada to Toronto City Council:               Hold oil companies accountable for their fair share of climate costs

March 22nd, 2019

TORONTO — Greenpeace Canada has urged Toronto City Council to support Councillor Mike Layton’s motion to investigate legal options for holding fossil fuel producers accountable for their fair share of the costs of dealing with climate change. The motion was developed based in part on expertise from Greenpeace and was put on Council’s agenda by Councillor Layton today.

“Toronto is already facing nearly billion-dollar costs for dealing with things like extreme storms, floods and heat waves, which climate change will make worse. We’ll need to pay even more to make city infrastructure, transit, housing and health systems resilient to these kinds of disasters. The motion before City Council is a not-to-be-missed opportunity for Toronto to ensure that the oil industry, which knew for at least 50 years that its products would fuel climate change, is contributing its fair share of the costs of dealing with the crisis,” said Keith Stewart, Senior Energy Strategist at Greenpeace Canada.

Recent journalistic and academic investigations have revealed that by the late 1960s, the oil industry was actively engaging in climate science and had concrete knowledge about fossil fuels’ impact on climate change. Yet rather than sharing this information, they launched sophisticated campaigns to cast doubt on the science and delay action.

Over a dozen U.S. cities and counties, including New York City, San Francisco and Baltimore, and a state, Rhode Island, have since launched lawsuits to hold fossil fuel companies financially responsible for their role in global warming-related damages. These state and municipal legal actions in the U.S. are modelled on the successful cases against tobacco companies, which hid the devastating health impacts of cigarettes from consumers but were ultimately made to pay over CDN $270 billion in damages.

Just like Big Tobacco, Big Oil needs to be held accountable for decades of climate denial, delay and damages. Instead of working on solutions to the climate crisis they knew was coming, oil companies chose to invest in public relations campaigns to cast doubt on the science, delay the transition to renewable energy, and invest in more extraction. Those decades of delay mean that Torontonians will shoulder much heavier health, affordability and financial burdens,” said Stewart.

In Canada, 20 local governments have sent climate accountability letters to the world’s largest fossil fuel companies, asking these corporations to pay a fair share of local costs. Victoria’s city council has also asked the Union of B.C. Municipalities to explore initiating a class action lawsuit on behalf of local governments.

Councillor Layton’s motion also asks City staff to calculate the costs of dealing with climate change. Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health and the Canadian Medical Association have identified climate change as an important health concern, increasing risks related to heat-waves, air pollution, mental health and more. According to the City’s Preliminary Resilience Assessment, Toronto is already experiencing “hotter, wetter, and wilder” weather due to climate change and protecting the city from extreme weather must be a top priority.

Greenpeace exists because this fragile earth deserves a voice. It needs solutions. It needs change. It needs action.

Around the globe, we are standing up with communities, and we are holding governments and corporations accountable. Whether on the streets or at the ballot box, we hold the real power when we work together

For more information on Greenpeace Canada, visit the environmental group’s website by clicking on

To read a story CBC posted on this issue, click on –

To read a story The Globe and Mail posted on this issue, click on – .

To read an opinion piece, published in The Toronto Star and written by Toronto city councillor Mike Layton in 2017, on this and related issues, click on – .

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“A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders


2 responses to “Canadian Municipalities Should Sue Oil Industries for Climate Change Costs

  1. I’m thinking that this is a great idea. Sue the people that have been making money selling oil for fuel, particularly because they’ve been suppressing fuel saving technologies for over a century.

    Historically proven examples (there are thousands). In the late 1800’s Benz invented an evaporator that would double mileage. In the 1940’s Pogue invented a 200 mpg carburetor that the allies used on their tanks to beat Rommel in Africa. There are over 5000 fuel saving patents that are NOT applied to vehicles, even though most of them are technology that’s in the range and abilities of backyard mechanics.

    My point is that these people have KNOWN how to save fuel (reduce pollution) since the 1800’s and have chosen making more money over reducing pollution.

    They should be sued.


  2. Not to throw the blame right back at Mr Layton, or any of the other 3 or 4 million additional taxpayers in the GTA, but, if you own a car… then YOU are the “end – user”, ergo the ultimate polluter in the petro-chemical-related causation of climate change.
    And if you have any mutual funds in your RRSP, you are ALSO an oil company owner.
    So, get ON this problem, will you?


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