Between 2009 and 2015, German car giant Volkswagen (VW) installed software on its vehicles that enabled them to cheat government emissions tests—a criminal act. VW has since pleaded guilty before the European and US authorities.
In the US, Volkswagen admitted to illegally installing the software, lying to the authorities and obstructing justice. In a settlement, Volkswagen agreed to pay fines totalling $2.8 billion and not to publicly deny the guilty plea in the US or anywhere else.
It has been established that Volkswagen used the same scheme in Canada with some 100,000 cars slipping under the radar of our environmental laws. But Canada hasn’t launched legal action against these violations of the Environmental Protection Act.
I wrote to Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna to ask why. She replied that her ministry was still investigating. I asked how it was possible that the US and Europe had had time to investigate, initiate legal proceedings, negotiate an agreement and collect billions of dollars in fines whereas here in Canada nothing has been done publicly. I got no answer.
It’s difficult to imagine what constitutes an investigation when the offending company has admitted wrongdoing and all the evidence has been made public. Like American consumers, tens of thousands of Canadian consumers cheated by Volkswagen have already filed a class action and negotiated compensation of over $2 billion. So the problem on our side of the border is not a lack of evidence.
According to Canadian law, Volkswagen should be fined at least $1 million for each violation. Importing a vehicle with fraudulent software is ONE violation, so VW has committed over 100,000 violations. If legal action were taken, the minimum fine imposed by the Crown would theoretically be $100 billion, which would bankrupt Volkswagen.
The consequences of initiating legal proceedings would be very serious, but Volkswagen has to face the music. If none are initiated in Canada, companies will think they don’t have to follow environment laws. Well, not if you’re a car manufacturer...