Ecojustice Case – Healthy communities Case Status: In Progress

Ensuring Volkswagen pays for its environmental crime

Environmental DefenceClient
Canadian Physicians for the EnvironmentClient
Highway 401 Photo by Nayu Kim
Photo by Nayu Kim

Approximately 105,000 Volkswagen vehicles equipped with illegal emissions-cheating software were imported and sold in Canada. These cars are capable of emitting up to 35 times the legal level of nitrogen oxides — known to cause adverse, even fatal, effects on the respiratory systems of humans and animals, and damage to vegetation — into the air.

While the United States government prosecuted Volkswagen for this fraud — the company pleaded guilty and will pay a $15 billion settlement — Canadian law enforcers have done next to nothing.

That’s why in June 2017, Ecojustice lawyers, representing the executive directors of Environmental Defence and the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) applied to open four investigations into Volkswagen’s importation, marketing, approval and sale of diesel cars equipped with the illegal emissions-cheating software.

They allege:

  • That Volkswagen unlawfully imported noncompliant cars;
  • That Volkswagen unlawfully applied the National Emissions Mark on noncompliant diesel cars and sold those cars;
  • That Volkswagen provided false and misleading information; and
  • That Volkswagen and its local dealers unlawfully resumed sales of 2015 model cars after only completing a “half-fix” to the emissions system;

Under sections 17-21 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), citizens can call on the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to investigate allegations of criminal activity. Once these allegations have been made, the Minister must investigate the claims.

But that’s not what happened. In July 2017, the group received notice that the government would not investigate the first three allegations, saying that there is already an in-house investigation underway — no proof of this was provided. In addition to unlawfully denying the group’s request to investigate, the Minister’s office also said that it would not provide regular updates every 90 days (as is required by law).

As a result, we, on behalf of, Tim Gray and Muhannad Malas of Environmental Defence, and Kim Perrotta of Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, have filed a lawsuit challenging the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna’s refusal to investigate the allegations.

Why is Ecojustice involved?

Volkswagen has already admitted that it perpetuated fraud against the public and put human health at risk by selling emissions-cheating vehicles. Although other countries have moved swiftly to hold the company to account, we have yet to such decisive action in Canada. For nearly two years, Canadian law enforcers have dragged their feet in prosecuting Volkswagen’s criminal activity — despite the opportunity to piggyback off of the completed, successful U.S. prosecution.

We’re trying to ensure that the federal government fulfills its duty to enforce the law and hold Volkswagen accountable for knowingly importing, marketing and selling vehicles that emit illegal amounts of deadly pollutants into the air. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have linked VW’s cheating with 1200 premature deaths in Europe.

What would a win mean?

A win in this case would see the federal government open a meaningful and thorough investigation into Volkswagen’s diesel emissions-cheating and hold the company accountable for its fraudulent actions that resulted in significant deadly nitrogen oxides emissions in Canada.

Build the case for a better earth

Thanks to the support of people like you, Ecojustice goes to court to protect what we value most — the air, land and water that sustains all life. Make your gift today and support bold litigation for a brighter environmental future.

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