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Burnaby councillors eye Sue Big Oil campaign

An advocate with Burnaby For Our Kids said a class action lawsuit would put pressure on fossil fuel companies to 'take responsibility for their actions.'
A coalition of climate activists including For Our Kids Burnaby asked the city's environment committee to recommend council join a class action lawsuit against fossil fuel companies.

A local climate activist group’s campaign to “Sue Big Oil” has caught the eye of Burnaby city councillors, who will now recommend considering a class action lawsuit against selected global fossil fuel companies.

Kate McMahon, Burnaby resident and team lead of Burnaby For Our Kids, told the city’s environment committee the climate crisis is already causing significant damage in Burnaby and the city is on the hook for the costs.

“As a parent, I am concerned about the health and safety of our community and the effects the climate crisis is having on our kids now and in the future,” she said at a meeting Feb. 21.

“But as a taxpayer, I’m also concerned about how the city is planning to adapt to our change in climate.”

She said the Sue Big Oil lawsuit would be an opportunity to work with other B.C. municipalities “to make major polluters pay for their fair share of climate costs.”

“The Sue Big Oil class action will immediately put pressure on these companies to take responsibility for their actions and ultimately provide communities like ours with resources needed to help pay for these mounting costs.”

Fiona Koza, a climate accountability strategist with West Coast Environmental Law, a non-profit group of environmental lawyers, suggested the class action lawsuit be brought by local governments because they own 60 per cent of public infrastructure and have few ways to raise additional funds to pay for climate damage and adaptation.

She asked for a pledge of $1 per Burnaby resident.

The money would not be required until a critical mass of B.C. municipalities signed on to the campaign, representing at least 500,000 residents, with one municipality acting as the lead plaintiff.

The money would not go to West Coast Environmental Law; local governments involved would find their own class action lawyer, Koza said.

Squamish, Gibsons, View Royal, Slocan and Qualicum Beach have already committed to the campaign, while Port Moody and Saanich are “seriously considering” the idea, according to Koza.

Koza said the specific companies to be sued would be for the local governments and their counsel to decide but suggested Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP and Shell as possibilities.

Coun. Maita Santiago put forward a motion to have Burnaby work towards a proposed class action suit against selected global fossil fuel companies, contingent upon other British Columbian municipalities joining and raising a combined minimum of $500,000.

Her motion asked to set aside the equivalent of $1 per resident for the suit and that any money awarded as a result of a settlement or court order be used to mitigate any current or future damage caused in Burnaby due to climate change.

The motion was passed unanimously by the environment committee and will have to get the approval of council before Burnaby is officially committed to the campaign.