Minister of Environment and Climate Change’s refusal to investigate Volkswagen’s criminal activity is unlawful
OTTAWA – Health professionals and environmental organizations have taken legal action to force the federal government to proceed with an investigation into Volkswagen’s (VW) importation, marketing, and sale of its emissions-cheating diesel vehicles in Canada.
“Volkswagen has already admitted that it perpetuated fraud against the public and put human health at risk by selling emissions-cheating vehicles,” said Amir Attaran, lawyer with Ecojustice’s law clinic at the University of Ottawa. “In taking zero enforcement action and levying no fines as other countries have, the Canadian government is leaving billions of dollars on the table – money that it could use to clean the environment.”
“The Minister of Environment’s failure to enforce the law flies in the face of what the federal government says it stands for – protecting the environment, balancing the budget, and building infrastructure for Canada.”
Ecojustice lawyers, on behalf of Tim Gray and Muhannad Malas of Environmental Defence and Kim Perrotta of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE), have filed a lawsuit challenging federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna’s refusal to proceed with an investigation under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA).
“Traffic-related air pollution is a huge problem in Canada; responsible for thousands of deaths and hospital admissions each year,” said Kim Perrotta, executive director of CAPE. “Volkswagen admits that its emissions-cheating vehicles emit up to 35 times the legal level of nitrogen oxides. The federal government has to take action to demonstrate that companies cannot get away with this.”
When the United States government prosecuted VW for its fraud, the company did not fight but instead pleaded guilty and voluntarily paid settlements totalling over US$15 billion (C$19 billion). That money is now being spent to help build American infrastructure, such as US$2 billion that the car company must spend to build electric vehicle charging stations across the U.S.
Yet despite VW’s admission of guilt and willingness to pay, the Environment Minister’s staff have only made excuses for not prosecuting VW, and have not collected a penny.
Under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), citizens can call on the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to investigate allegations of criminal activity. In June 2017, Ecojustice lawyers, representing three staff members of Environmental Defence and CAPE, applied to open four investigations into VW’s emissions-cheating in Canada.
1. That VW unlawfully imported noncompliant cars;
2. That VW unlawfully applied the National Emissions Mark on noncompliant diesel cars and sold those cars;
3. That VW provided false and misleading information to Canada’s government; and
4. That VW and its local dealers unlawfully resumed sales of 2015 model cars after only completing a “half-fix” to the emissions system;
The government has unlawfully refused to investigate three of the four allegations, citing an in-house investigation, opened two years ago that has failed to deliver any prosecutions.
“When a corporation breaks the law and puts human health and the environment at risk, it is the government’s duty to ensure that the polluter is held accountable for its actions,” said Tim Gray, executive director of Environmental Defence. “While we’ve seen other countries take strong action to prosecute Volkswagen for its admitted crimes, the Canadian government has taken no action. This is unacceptable to Canadians who want to see their laws enforced.”