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Burnaby joins Sue Big Oil campaign, would commit $1 for every resident

"I think it's very prudent; it makes sense," said a local Burnaby mom advocating for the campaign.
Environmentalists from various local advocacy groups descended upon Burnaby City Hall May 13 to celebrate Burnaby joining the Sue Big Oil campaign.

Burnaby council has voted to join the "Sue Big Oil" campaign which would commit $1 for every Burnaby resident to a proposed class action lawsuit against selected global fossil fuel companies.

The lawsuit is contingent upon other B.C. municipalities joining the campaign and raising a combined minimum of $500,000, and Burnaby will only commit if at least one other local government with a population of 150,000 or more also joins.

The proposed lawsuit is intended to have B.C. communities recoup the costs of climate change "while holding the world's largest polluters accountable," according to Fiona Koza, a climate accountability strategist with West Coast Environmental Law.

Burnaby is now the largest city in B.C. to join the Sue Big Oil campaign.

Burnaby Citizens Association Coun. Daniel Tetrault said Burnaby could be spending millions in the future as a result of climate change.

"This is something our future generation will face," Tetrault said at a meeting May 13, noting climate concerns are one of the biggest concerns he hears from kids.

He read a letter he received from a nine-year-old Burnaby child named Penny.

"My class was way too hot in June, and I can barely have any birthday parties because it's in June. ... Pollution is causing climate change and extreme weather. It's not fair that we need to pay for their mess and damage. Sue Big Oil."

The supporters in council chambers applauded Penny's letter.

But one councillor opposed the proposal.

OneBurnaby Coun. Richard Lee said people still use fuel every day, so he could not in good conscience sue Big Oil.

"It's important to keep our economy going," Lee said.

The vote was 8-1 in favour of joining the campaign.

Local support

Kate McMahon, Burnaby resident and team lead of local climate group Burnaby For Our Kids, said she's very excited about Burnaby joining the campaign.

"I think it's very prudent; it makes sense," McMahon said.

"I think we know that even if we were to stop fossil fuels tomorrow, things are going to get worse before it gets better, and for our kids, we need to know that the city has the wherewithal to adapt and to protect and keep the community safe and healthy."

Any money awarded to the city as a result of a settlement or court order would be used to mitigate any current or future damage caused in the city due to climate change, according to a staff report.

Burnaby For Our Kids brought the Sue Big Oil proposal to the city's environment committee in February.

Then in a closed-doors meeting in April, council supported the campaign with the added conditions for participation in the suit, according to the staff report.

Squamish, Slocan, Gibsons, Qualicum Beach and View Royal have also signed onto the campaign, but none of those municipalities has more than 24,000 residents.

Burnaby's population at the 2021 census was 249,125.

"We're not asking (the fossil fuel companies) to pay the full amount of climate costs, but just their fair share," Koza said.