Madam Speaker, Volkswagen was caught lying about illegal levels of emissions. Volkswagen Canada has finally formally pleaded guilty to 60 offences under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and was ordered to pay a fine, a fine that is $70 million short of the maximum that could have been sought. The government keeps bragging that it is the largest fine ever awarded. If letting big polluters of the hook for $70 million is the best ever, we have a bigger problem.
Last week, I asked the Prime Minister to explain why it took years to charge Volkswagen for illegally cheating emissions testing, especially when the U.S. quickly charged VW and made the company pay $20 billion.
Let us look at the facts. The company has admitted to using so-called defeat devices that allowed them to pass emissions tests while actually emitting far more nitrogen oxide than legally permissible, putting the health of Canadians and the planet at risk. Their cheating was initially discovered by U.S. scientists, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a notice of violation in 2015. Volkswagen attempted to cover up the scandal, but eventually caved under legal pressure in the U.S. and pleaded guilty, just over a year later, to three criminal felonies and agreed to pay $20 billion. They also entered an agreed statement of fact about those felonies that would have been admissible in Canadian court.
According to internal documents, Environment Canada worked closely with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during their respective investigations, which began in Canada in September 2015. However, charges were not filed until December 2019, four years later, despite the legally admissible statement of fact existing from the U.S. for the last three of those years.
There has been no public accounting for the length of the investigation. Environment and Climate Change Canada's investigators are not independent law enforcement officers. They are designated by and responsible to the minister. The charges appear to have been laid only after a plea agreement was reached, and the Canadian charges don't go as far as U.S. charges, despite the fact that we have the same emissions laws. Volkswagen has not been charged under the Criminal Code, and there is no evidence that investigators referred the matter to the RCMP, even though VW admitted to criminal wrongdoing in the U.S.
Canadian emissions laws are the same as those in the U.S., so why did it take years to charge Volkswagen in Canada while the U.S. quickly charged VW? Why did Canada wait so long, and why did VW get a fine that is well below the maximum? We do not know. What we do know is that ministers' offices and officials from the PMO, including Mathieu Bouchard, who some may remember from his involvement in the SNC scandal, started meeting with Volkswagen lobbyists during this time. It looks a lot like a corporation that was found guilty of committing what amounts to environmental fraud got a backroom deal.
We are facing a climate crisis, so why do the Liberals keep letting big polluters off the hook, and why do they keep putting corporate profits ahead of Canadians and the planet?