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press release

Environmental groups taking Minister to court again for failing to charge VW for polluting

July 24, 2019

Toronto July 24 – Ecojustice, on behalf of Environmental Defence staff, has launched a case seeking to hold Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna accountable for failing to transparently investigate Volkswagen’s (VW) sale of emission-cheating diesel cars.

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.  VW had already admitted its diesel cars broke the law, and had pleaded guilty and paid billions of dollars in the United States and elsewhere.

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. Ecojustice and Environmental Defence have received no meaningful information on the conclusion or progress of the investigation, which contravenes public participation provisions under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA).


About Volkswagen’s deception

  • Over 100,000 cars with 2.0L diesel engines were imported and sold in Canada based on fraudulent regulatory submissions
  • The company’s unlawful action resulted in 30 times the approved level of nitrogen oxide spewing from these cars, posing a threat to human health.
  • Instead of scrapping its inventory of illegal 2015 cars, VW sold them in Canada in 2017 with a crude “half fix” to the emission software, apparently without government permission.
  • The USA and Germany both aggressively prosecuted VW. Rather than fight the charges, VW admitted guilt, and has paid over $15 billion in fines and penalties.
  • In Canada, the Minister has failed to lay charges against VW for a period now approaching four years.
  • A recent study has linked these VW emission-cheating cars with low birth weight and acute asthma attacks in children.
  • In a letter to car owners, VW admitted that the 2015 cars cannot be fixed to comply with the pollution standards they were supposed to meet. The Minister has done nothing to get these polluting cars off the road and Canadians are victims.


Tim Gray, Executive Director of Environmental Defence said:

“We have been patient but waiting for four years and still getting no action to protect Canadians from polluters like VW is completely unacceptable. Minister McKenna must hold this irresponsible company to account to ensure future compliance with Canadian law.”

Professor Amir Attaran, lawyer with the uOttawa-Ecojustice Environmental Law Clinic, said:

“Yet again, the federal government is bending the law for VW.  For two years now, the Minister has been making excuses not to prosecute VW or its dealers, despite the fact that VW pleaded guilty to similar environmental crimes in other countries.  If the Minister did so here, Canada would receive billions of dollars of fines, just like the United States did.  By refusing, we estimate she is leaving about $100 per Canadian on the table.

“After two years of being patient, Ecojustice is suing the Minister on behalf of Environmental Defence staff, to force her to explain what, if anything, she has done to charge and prosecute VW.  We would like to see the Minister doing what’s right for Canadians, and our environment, instead of a foreign corporation.”



ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE (environmentaldefence.ca): Environmental Defence is a leading Canadian advocacy organization that works with government, industry and individuals to defend clean water, a safe climate and healthy communities.

The University of Ottawa and Ecojustice, Canada’s largest environmental law charity, are partners in the uOttawa-Ecojustice Environmental Law Clinic, a problem-based educational learning course designed to help train the next generation of environmental law and policy leaders.