Intervention in support of the Association québécoise de lutte contre la pollution atmosphérique against Volkswagen
The worldwide dieselgate scandal has led to several class action lawsuits. Most of them were aimed at compensating buyers of Volkswagen vehicles because the car manufacturer lied to them by selling them vehicles equipped with a software that distorted the results of pollutant emissions tests. Instead, the Association québécoise de lutte contre la pollution atmosphérique (AQLPA) chose to sue Volkswagen on behalf of all Quebecers, since they all breathed in the excess nitrogen oxide emissions from the non-compliant vehicles.
The debate on the authorization of this class action went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. TJL represented ENvironnement JEUnesse (ENJEU) and the Centre québécois du droit de l’environnement (CQDE) in their intervention to support the AQLPA in its action.
The Supreme Court of Canada agreed with the AQLPA and dismissed Volkswagen’s appeal, refusing to overturn the decisions of the Superior Court and of a judge of the Court of Appeal of Quebec, which had authorized the AQLPA to claim punitive damages for the intentional infringement of all Quebecers’ fundamental rights.
In a groundbreaking judgment, Judge Daniel Dumais of the Superior Court of Quebec expressed it this way:
Some will say that we are potentially opening the door to citizens taking over the role that is primarily that of the state. That may be the case. But is this not an intentional, not accidental, attack on the rights of citizens themselves? If the State does nothing or if the sanctions are minimal, does this not encourage the repetition of such scenarios? Especially if the benefits far outweigh the consequences. The case, as presented, is worthy of debate.
A favourable outcome in this class action would set an important precedent for environmental class actions, especially when it is difficult or impossible to prove the causal link between contamination and individual health problems.