Canada still can’t say if Volk­swa­gen broke the law

En­vi­ron­men­tal groups baf­fled by de­lay in lo­cal probe say min­is­ter ‘owes ex­pla­na­tion’

Toronto Star - - BUSINESS - MIA RAB­SON THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

OT­TAWA— Two years af­ter Cana­dian gov­ern­ment test­ing helped the United States go af­ter Volk­swa­gen for fak­ing the re­sults of diesel-en­gine emis­sions tests, Canada says it is still un­able to de­ter­mine if Volk­swa­gen broke the law in this coun­try.

An En­vi­ron­ment Canada of­fi­cial speak­ing on back­ground this week said it will likely be many more months be­fore Canada’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion con­cludes.

The de­lay is baf­fling to Cana­dian en­vi­ron­ment groups, which have taken En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Cather­ine McKenna to court in a bid to make sure the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is com­pleted.

“I don’t see why this is com­pli­cated,” said Tim Gray, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of En­vi­ron­men­tal De­fence. “The min­is­ter of en­vi­ron­ment owes Cana­di­ans an ex­pla­na­tion.”

Canada launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Volk­swa­gen’s diesel car sales on Sept. 22, 2015, the same day the Ger­man au­tomaker ad­mit­ted it had sold more than 11 mil­lion ve­hi­cles around the world equipped with soft­ware de­signed to dupe emis­sions test­ing equip­ment.

The U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA) un­cov­ered the scan­dal, which found the com­pany’s claims about emis­sions from its diesel ve­hi­cles, well above tailpipe emis­sions stan­dards in the U.S. and Canada, had in fact been fal­si­fied.

Class-ac­tion suits in the U.S. and Canada have cost the com­pany more than $16 bil­lion (U.S.).

Six ex­ec­u­tives were charged crim­i­nally in the U.S. over the scan­dal, and seven months ago the com­pany it­self pleaded guilty in the United States to fraud, agree­ing to pay more than $4 bil­lion in fines.

It now ap­pears test­ing in Canada contributed to the U.S. case.

Cana­dian doc­u­ments ob­tained by The Cana­dian Press through the Ac­cess to In­for­ma­tion Act say ve­hi­cle test­ing done at En­vi­ron­ment and Cli­mate Change Canada’s lab­o­ra­tory in Ot­tawa “contributed to the United States En­vi­ron­ment Pro­tec­tion Agency’s is­suance of a sec­ond no­tice of vi­o­la­tion in Novem­ber 2015.” That month, the EPA ac­cused Volk­swa­gen of equip­ping 10,000 of its 3.0-litre diesel en­gine ve­hi­cles in its Volk­swa­gen, Audi and Porsche mod­els with the de­feat­ing soft­ware.

That no­tice came two months af­ter a vi­o­la­tion no­tice about 482,000 2.0-litre diesel en­gine cars sold since 2008 which were also equipped with the soft­ware. About 105,000 of the af­fected mod­els were sold in Canada.

Amir At­taran, the lawyer rep­re­sent­ing two groups su­ing Canada over the Volk­swa­gen in­ves­ti­ga­tion, said the note sug­gests Canada has had its own data show­ing Volk­swa­gen vi­o­lated Cana­dian emis­sions stan­dards for more than two years, but still hasn’t done any­thing about it.

“It’s not that we can say we don’t know the cars are vi­o­lat­ing the rules, be­cause we’ve ac­tu­ally tested them at En­vi­ron­ment Canada’s Ot­tawa lab,” he said.

What’s left to de­ter­mine is if Volk­swa­gen will face any crim­i­nal pe­nal- ties in Canada.

En­vi­ron­ment Canada of­fi­cials say the case is com­plex and is tak­ing a long time to com­plete, but if suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence is found, it will take “en­force­ment ac­tion.”

“It is not un­com­mon for in­ves­ti­ga­tions into cases of this com­plex­ity to take time,” an of­fi­cial said in an email.

In its press re­lease when it launched the in­ves­ti­ga­tion more than two years ago, En­vi­ron­ment Canada ex­plic­itly said de­feat­ing soft­ware de­vices are pro­hib­ited un­der the Cana­dian En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Act.

En­vi­ron­men­tal De­fence also al­leges Volk­swa­gen be­gan sell­ing the faulty 2015 diesel en­gine mod­els this year with­out fully re­pair­ing them.

At­taran said af­ter a soft­ware up­grade mostly fixed the prob­lems, the com­pany got per­mis­sion from the EPA to sell the cars in the U.S., pro­vided it com­mit­ted to fully re­pair­ing them with new hard­ware in 2018.

He said there is no ev­i­dence the com­pany re­ceived any ap­proval to do that in Canada, and yet the mod­els were put back on the sales floor this year.

En­vi­ron­ment Canada is in­ves­ti­gat­ing that al­le­ga­tion, but told En­vi­ron­men­tal De­fence “a year or more will be re­quired” to com­plete it.

RONNY HART­MANN/AFP/GETTY IM­AGES FILE PHOTO

“It is not un­com­mon for in­ves­ti­ga­tions into cases of this com­plex­ity to take time,” an En­vi­ron­ment Canada of­fi­cial said of its Volk­swa­gen probe.

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