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press release

Environmental groups go to court to defend Canadians’ rights to transparent investigation in the Volkswagen diesel scandal

October 21, 2019

OTTAWA, October 21, 2019 – Ecojustice is in court today on behalf of staff from Environmental Defence to demand that Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) proceed with an open and transparent investigation into Volkswagen’s emissions cheating.

Since the 2015 revelation that VW installed “cheat devices” in their cars, the federal government’s investigation into the company’s wrong-doing has stalled.  Meanwhile, both the US and Germany have successfully prosecuted VW for their illegal activity, with the company voluntarily paying out an estimated $15 billion in fines.

In June 2017, Ecojustice, on behalf of staff of Environmental Defence, asked ECCC to instigate an inquiry into four aspects of VW’s illegal actions. The federal government only agreed to investigate one, claiming that investigations into the other three allegations were already underway. The Ministry has not publicly revealed any evidence of achieving meaningful progress in any of the four investigations.

Amir Attaran, Ecojustice lawyer said:

“VW admits to breaking Canadian law, but, unlike in other countries, has yet to face any consequences. The government has the power to prosecute but has failed to do anything. The public needs confidence that their government will protect their health.

“Ecojustice is asking the court to uphold Canadians’ rights to know that the government is investigating VW’s crimes.”

Tim Gray, Executive Director at Environmental Defence said:

“The illegal emissions from the 120,000 vehicles that VW tampered with have without a doubt contributed to poor air quality and sicker people. The Environment Ministry’s inaction sends the wrong message to polluters and leaves billions on the table that could be invested to build electric vehicle charging stations.”


Background information:

  • In September 2015, news emerged that VW had installed illegal software in its diesel cars which resulted in 30 times the approved level of nitrogen oxides being emitted, posing a threat to human health.
  • A recent study suggested links between illegal VW cars and low birth weight and acute asthma attacks in children.
  • About 120,000 such cars with 2.0L diesel engines were imported and sold in Canada based on fraudulent regulatory submissions, all of which is illegal.
  • In June 2017, Ecojustice lawyers, representing Tim Gray and Muhannad Malas of Environmental Defence asked ECCC to open four investigations regarding criminal activity under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA). The Minister of Environment and Climate Change refused to open an investigation on the first three allegations, because the Minister claimed that her department’s investigation already covered these allegations.
  • This action contravenes the public participation provisions of CEPA, which allows members of the public to seek an investigation and to receive regular updates on the progress of the investigation.


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.

About 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.