Volkswagen intends to plead guilty on environment charges in Canadian court

Volkswagen intends to plead guilty to all 60 charges it faces for allegedly breaking numerous environmental laws, a lawyer representing the German auto giant told an Ontario court Friday.

The federal government charged the behemoth this week with 58 infractions of the Environmental Protection Act, as well as two counts of providing misleading information, alleging the company imported 128,000 cars into Canada between 2008 and 2015 that violated emissions standards.

Volkswagen’s lawyers said they intend to take responsibility, and have reached a plea deal with the Crown.

“We are before Your Honour prepared to plead guilty to 60 charges, all the charges before the court. It is hard to picture more clear accountability than that,” defence lawyer David Humphrey told the judge.

But the proposal was held up for several hours by a lawyer representing an environmental group who submitted to the judge that the court should hear victim impact statements before making a sentencing decision.

Typically, if victim impact statements are heard in court, they are brought by the Crown rather than a third party.

The judge was considering whether it would even be appropriate to hear victim impact statements in a case involving environmental law. That decision was reserved until next Thursday.

Environment Canada’s investigation, launched in September 2015, was repeatedly criticized by environmental experts and lawyers for taking too long.

The company pleaded guilty in U.S. court in 2017 for violating American laws and was fined $4.3 billion. In 2018, German prosecutors fined the company one-billion euros in the emissions-cheating case.

Several company executives and managers involved in the deception were charged in the U.S. and Germany, and some have already been sent to prison.

In total, the scheme has cost the company more than US$30 billion in fines and civic lawsuits, as well as compensation to customers who returned the affected cars for refunds or exchanges.

The affected vehicles in Canada included 3.0-litre and 2.0-litre diesel engine vehicles sold under the Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche brands.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 13, 2019.

The Canadian Press