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.

Four years after “Diesel-gate” became headline news (and two Ecojustice lawsuits later), the Canadian government finally laid charges against Volkswagen for selling some 128,000 diesel cars — each equipped with a secret cheat device that allowed the vehicles to pollute up to 35 times the legal limit of toxic nitrogen oxides — to unsuspecting Canadians. But it wasn’t nearly enough.

The federal government secretly negotiated a sweetheart deal with Volkswagen before the company had been charged. Unlike any normal criminal who is charged by police and has no say in it, federal prosecutors secretly negotiated with Volkswagen about which crimes it agreed to be charged with.

Law enforcement officers were only able to charge the company with two previously-agreed criminal counts of misleading regulators and 58 counts of criminal importation, rather than the 128,000 counts Volkswagen could have been charged with for each illegal car it sold.


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. Serious consequences for VW would also serve as a warning to other companies considering cheating on environmental standards. We would also like to see the federal government fulfil its commitment to reform the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) to ensure stronger enforcement of pollution regulations, public participation and accountability.

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