Statement from environmental and health groups on Ontario’s investigation into Volkswagen’s emissions scandal

Toronto, Ont. – Environmental and health groups applaud the Ontario government for taking action against Volkswagen two years after the automaker intentionally modified its diesel cars to allow them to pollute the environment. The Ontario government is charging the company for violating the province’s vehicle emission standards. However, Ontario’s action underscores the ongoing failure by the federal government to lay charges for behaviour that caused unacceptable and illegal levels of pollution across the country.

“Ontario’s recent charges against Volkswagen validate the need for strong action to punish companies that intentionally violate emission standards, pollute the environment, and hurt human health,” said Tim Gray, Executive Director of Environmental Defence. “This begs the question, why hasn’t the federal government acted and pursued charges against a company that intentionally and illegally misled regulators and the public?”

More than 100,000 vehicles were affected by the scandal across Canada, which has significantly contributed to worsening air quality and serious chronic health conditions. In Canada, cheat devices installed on affected vehicles led to emissions estimated to be 35 times higher than the legal limit.

“The lack of federal action means that Volkswagen may get away with causing massive amounts of illegal pollution,” said Kim Perrotta, Executive Director of Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. “It sends a terrible signal to companies if Volkswagen can get away with this without being charged. It tells them that they can disregard our laws, harm public health, and damage our environment without any repercussions.”

Charges by the U.S. government against Volkswagen have led to nearly $8 billion CDN in environmental penalties, much of which is being invested in projects to clean up the environment and reduce pollution across the country.

“While the federal government fails to prosecute Volkswagen’s pollution fraud, the U.S. has done so and reaped billions of dollars in fines that could be put into infrastructure that promote a cleaner economy and reduce pollution like building electric vehicle charging stations. Now Ontario is following suit,” said Amir Attaran, lawyer with Ecojustice’s law clinic at the University of Ottawa. “There are reasons to wonder what is going on inside Environment Canada when for over two years it hasn’t succeeded—or even committed—to prosecute the company for its dirty diesels.”

In August 2017, Ecojustice lawyers on behalf of Tim Gray and Muhannad Malas of Environmental Defence and Kim Perrotta of Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, 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).

This is a joint release from Environmental Defence, Ecojustice, and the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.

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