Ecojustice Blog – Healthy communities Posted on May 24, 2018 (updated: January 22, 2021)

FAQ: Why we’re fighting to ensure Volkswagen pays for its crimes

Randy ChristensenLawyer
Volkswagen logo
Photo by High Contrast (CC BY 3.0 DE)

In 2017, we started working with our friends at Environmental Defence to ensure Volkswagen is held accountable for cheating the Canadian public and polluting our air.

A lot has happened since we first launched this case. This time last year, Volkswagen AG (also known as Volkswagen Group) was finally fined $196.5 million by the federal government for emissions-cheating. 

Although this fine is a first step, we were disappointed that Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change  has given no explanation as to why VW’s agents and subsidiaries have not been charged or if they were even investigated. Canadians’ right to demand such an investigation (as our clients at Environment Defence have done) is set out and protected by the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

That’s why, we’re headed back to court to argue that Environment and Climate Change Canada should investigate all parties involved in the emissions-cheating scandal, including VW’s subsidiaries and agents in Canada. 

What did Volkswagen do?

It is estimated that 105,000 Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche vehicles equipped with the illegal emissions-cheating software were imported and sold in Canada. The software acts like a secret on/off switch for legal compliance by turning the cars’ pollution control equipment on in the laboratory, but off when driven on the open road.

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. To top things off, recent research from the US Federal Bank of Reserve suggested links between emissions-cheating VW cars and low birth weight and acute asthma attacks in children. 

We’re helping our clients challenge the Minister of Environment and Climate Change’s refusal to investigate and hold all those involved accountable for their importation, marketing, approval and sale of diesel cars equipped with the illegal emissions-cheating software in Canada.

If Volkswagen has already been fined, why are you still going to court?

This case is continuing because when the federal government fined VW AG in early 2020, they only convicted the parent company of wrongdoing. 

Our clients at Environmental Defence raised serious concerns about VW’s agents and subsidiaries’ involvement in emissions-cheating. And under the law, they have the right to a proper and adequate response from the Minister of Environment and Climate Change. 

We cannot change what has been done to the air we breathe, but we can make sure that the Minister does their job and ensures all those involved in committing these environmental crimes pay for their actions.

What are we trying to accomplish?

In December 2019, the Federal Court dismissed our application for a judicial review into the allegations brought by our clients. Now we are going to the Federal Court of Appeal to appeal this ruling because we firmly believe that Canadians have the right to an adequate investigation into serious environmental crimes. 

Ecojustice wants the court to uphold the right of Canadians to request an investigation by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change and have these allegations taken seriously by the Minister. 

A ruling in our favour would send a strong message that the actions of corporations that break the law and commit environmental crimes against Canadians will not go unpunished. 

How can I support this case?

Ecojustice relies on the generosity of supporters like you to make our work possible. You can help by sharing the news about this case with your friends and family, or by making a donation today!

We’ve been fighting this case for a long time and we are not done yet. Your support will ensure that our team of experts has the resources they need to go toe-to-toe with the federal government and those responsible for emissions-cheating in the courts. Give today and help us make sure multinational companies who pollute Canada’s air do not get away scot-free.

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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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