Ecojustice Blog – Healthy communities Posted on December 19, 2019 (updated: December 19, 2019)

Volkswagen’s been charged for its emissions fraud, but it’s not nearly enough

Amir AttaranLawyer
VW charged for its emissions fraud
Photo by Jordi Bernabeu Farrús (CC BY 2.0)

The government’s secret deal let’s Volkswagen off easy for its emissions fraud

Four years after “Diesel-gate” became headline news (and two Ecojustice lawsuits later), the Canadian government has finally laid charges against Volkswagen for selling some 128,000 diesel cars — each equipped with a secret cheat device that allowed the vehicles to pollute up to 35 times the legal limit of toxic nitrogen oxides — to unsuspecting Canadians.

But don’t start cheering just yet.

We learned last week that federal government had secretly negotiated a sweetheart deal with Volkswagen before the company had been charged. Unlike any normal criminal who is charged by police and has no say in it, federal prosecutors secretly negotiated with Volkswagen about which crimes it agreed to be charged with.

As a result, law enforcement officers were only able to charge the company with two previously-agreed criminal counts of misleading regulators and 58 counts of criminal importation, rather than the 128,000 counts Volkswagen could have been charged with for each illegal car it sold.

The federal government is willing to let Volkswagen get away with its environmental crime spree — duping tens of thousands of Canadians into buying cars that emitted many times the legal limit of dangerous pollution — with a secretly negotiated slap on the wrist. This, when scientists say pollution from Volkswagen’s diesel cars hurt, even killed, many people.

Adding insult to injury is the fact that despite our best efforts, Volkswagen’s victims will not be guaranteed the opportunity to speak out in court about how the company’s crimes impacted them.

The United States and Germany have both held Volkswagen and its subsidiaries to account for their environmental crimes, including paying civil and criminal penalties of about $20 billion in the U.S. But in Canada, the record fine for pollution crimes is barely 0.01% of that. It’s time for Canada to do better.

While we’re disappointed that the court might not have the opportunity to hear victim impact statements, Ecojustice remains as committed as ever to using the power of the law to hold government accountable for its duty to protect Canadians — this includes busily preparing to go before the Supreme Court of Canada to ensure governments, at every level, take steps to address the climate emergency.

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