February 14, 2005

Quebec responds to claims that it fails to enforce air quality regulations

The Quebec government has filed a formal response with the Commission for Environmental Co-operation (CEC) to allegations that it is failing to enforce its air quality regulations in connection with emissions of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides from post-1985 light-duty vehicles.

In its submission last fall (ELW October 18-25, 2004), the Quebec Association Against Air Pollution (Association quÈbÈcoise de lutte contre la pollution atmosphÈrique-AQLPA) specifically claimed that the province is not effectively enforcing sections 96.1 and 96.2 of Quebec's atmospheric quality regulation, as well as sections 19.1, 20 and 51 of the Environment Quality Act. The AQLPA estimated that more than 600,000 light-duty vehicles, or 16% of the approximately four million such vehicles on Quebec's roads, do not comply with the provisions of these legislative and regulatory sections.

In its response to the submission, the Quebec government says the regulatory provisions dealing with anti-tampering cited by the AQLPA date back to the introduction onto the market of catalytic converters, which are compatible only with unleaded gasoline. In the past, says the province, the lower price of leaded gasoline prompted numerous vehicle owners to remove or modify their catalytic converters in order to use leaded gasoline, but this problem was in large part resolved by the ban on leaded gasoline that took effect in 1990, followed by the introduction of fuel injection and car engine computers.

Also in 1990, the response notes, the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) adopted the national Smog Management Plan, which focused on the development of motor vehicle inspection and maintenance programs (MVIMP). Thereafter, the Quebec Environment Ministry began the process-still in progress-of designing such a program for Quebec. The province points out that the design for an inspection program must take into account socio-economic and technical issues, and says it wants to start by dealing with pollution from heavy vehicles. Accordingly, the government has authorized the drafting of a regulation to address this issue.

Concerning the enforcement of the provisions cited by the AQLPA, Quebec reports that it found one prosecution dating from 1998. With regard to roadside inspections, the response notes that there are no applicable legislative provisions allowing for random vehicle checks, and points out that the courts have ruled that such checks may constitute an illegal detention under the Canadian and Quebec charters of rights and freedoms.

Addressing the question of inspecting parked cars, the province notes that in the absence of evidence pointing to the existence of a crime ring that removes or modifies anti-pollution devices, the government would have to send inspectors into randomly-selected garages. This, it says, would not result in a significant number of convictions.

Beyond strict judicial enforcement of the law, the response adds that the Environment Ministry has carried out awareness raising, educational and information activities, and has monitored the state of the automobiles on Quebec's roads, conducting two inspection campaigns in 1988-89, smaller-scale inspection clinics, and a voluntary campaign in 1997-98).

Under Article 15(1) of the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation, the CEC secretariat must now advise the CEC Council (made up of the top Canadian, U.S. and Mexican environment authorities) whether it believes that, in light of the government response, the submission warrants development of a factual record.

More information, including the submission and government response, is available on the CEC Web site, www.cec.org.

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