Ecojustice Case – Healthy communities Case Status: In Progress

Demanding action against Volkswagen’s illegal emission cheating

Amir AttaranLawyer
Randy ChristensenLawyer
Anna McIntoshAnna McIntoshLawyer
Environmental DefenceClient
A Volkwagen vehicle stopped in traffic on a Toronto street.
Photo by Michael Swan via Flickr | CC-BY-ND-2.0

In September 2015, news emerged that VW had installed illegal software in its diesel cars, allowing them to pass emissions testing by misrepresenting how much pollution they typically emit. The company’s unlawful action resulted in 30 times the approved level of nitrogen oxides spewing from these cars, posing a threat to human health. About 105,000 such cars with 2.0L diesel engines were imported and sold in Canada based on fraudulent regulatory submissions, all of which is illegal.

Ecojustice and staff at Environmental Defence triggered the Minister to launch an investigation in 2017 after VW and its Canadian dealers quietly began reselling 2015 model year diesel cars equipped with an illegal “defeat device” to cheat Canada’s air pollution laws.

Two years later, those cars remain on the road, despite their violation of Canadian law. Environment and Climate Change Canada has failed to charge VW and has also violated the law by keeping details of the investigation secret. We received no meaningful information on the conclusion or progress of the investigation, which the Minister is required to provide by law.

Since the emission scandal broke, the United States and Germany have aggressively pursued and prosecuted VW on this issue – to the point that the company voluntarily paid billions in fines in the United States. It is hard to understand why it is taking so long for Canada to investigate a self-confessed polluter.

Why did Ecojustice get involved?

Emission-cheating cars are a danger to human health. A recent study in the United States links these illegal cars and low birth weight and acute asthma attacks in children.

The federal government should not have given VW a free pass after they admitted to wrongdoing. Ecojustice has asked for a judicial review because polluters, particularly those that go to such lengths to deceive, must be held to account.

What would a win mean?

A win would mean that the Minister will have to provide proper updates on this investigation and bring it to a conclusion. We want to hold VW to account for their actions and see the company held accountable before the law for putting human health in danger. Serious consequences for VW would also serve as a warning to other companies considering cheating on environmental standards.

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