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VW plea delayed again as judge denies standing to public in emissions case

TORONTO — A judge denied standing to three members of the public in the emissions case against Volkswagen in Ontario court Thursday, saying it’s not their role to prosecute the company accused of harming them.

Lawyers for the German automaker have said the company intends to plead guilty to all 60 Canadian charges it faces in the emissions-cheating scandal, and Justice Enzo Rondinelli had been weighing a third-party application to hear from its alleged victims.

In denying that application, Rondinelli noted that in a criminal case it is the Public Prosecution Service of Canada’s role to represent the public at large.

“No doubt there was a time when early societies functioned without centralized systems of criminal justice. Victims resolved criminal disputes themselves,” Rondinelli said, adding the revenge-based system of justice was phased out for a reason.

“With the distinction between civil and criminal law, it became generally undesirable to have alleged victims of crimes be heard as part of criminal proceedings.”

He said this case is not the only legal proceeding against Volkswagen in Canada, and with several class-action lawsuits in the works, the victims will “have their day in court.”

Prosecutor Tom Lemon said he will gather victim impact statements and review them before submitting them to the court on Jan. 22, 2020, in line with the typical process.

But Amir Attaran, whose clients sought standing, argued that all Canadians were harmed by Volkswagen’s actions and should be given time to express that before the company is sentenced.

Volkswagen is accused of importing 128,000 cars into Canada between 2008 and 2015 that violated emissions standards.

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

Volkswagen 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. 19, 2019.

Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press