October 18-25, 2004

Quebec drags its feet on vehicle emission inspection program, says clean air group

Claiming that the Quebec government has repeatedly refused to comply with its own environmental regulations for reducing vehicle emissions, lawyer Dominique Neuman, has filed a submission on behalf of the Quebec association to fight atmospheric pollution (AQLPA) with the Commission for Environmental Co-operation (CEC) in Montreal. AQLPA maintains that the lack of a mandatory vehicle inspection program, which the government has said several times it would put in place, is causing serious harm to the population of Quebec in terms of environmental protection and public health and safety.

The group points out that for 19 years, all automobiles on Quebec roads have been required to be equipped with pollution control systems. AQLPA estimates that some 640,000 vehicles are in violation of this requirement, their pollution control systems either malfunctioning or having been removed. Moreover, in 19 years, the province has been unable to lay more than ten charges under the regulation.

"The regulation is useless," says Neuman. "There is no one to enforce it. All the states and provinces bordering Quebec require that a vehicle older than three or five years be inspected at least once every two years, usually at the time of licence plate renewal. But in Quebec, there is still nothing."

AQLPA president AndrÈ BÈlisle observed that "Quebec is nearly the only jurisdiction in North America that has not set up an inspection program. In refusing to accept responsibility and ensure compliance with its own environmental laws, the government is allowing Quebec to let cars on its roads deteriorate dangerously.

"The Quebec government has even promised for years to do so in several public announcements and action plans. But we are still waiting," he continued.

In 1996, the Quebec government asked AQLPA to propose principles for an automobile inspection and maintenance program. The group has worked in collaboration with several ministries and private-sector partners to set up such a program, modeled on existing programs in Canada, the U.S. and Europe. Starting in 1999, AQLPA submitted to the government several technical reports and recommendations indicating support across all affected sectors in Quebec for such an inspection program.

In its Climate Change Action Plan for 2000-2002, released in 2000, the provincial government cited a vehicle inspection/maintenance program as the primary measure for improving air quality and producing a positive impact on public health. But, notes AQLPA, the measure has never been implemented.

More information is available from AQLPA president AndrÈ BÈlisle, 418/642 1322, or from Dominique Neuman at 514/849 4007.

In related developments, the CEC Secretariat has dismissed a submission by The Friends of the Oldman River (FOR) claiming that Canada is failing to effectively enforce sections 35, 37 and 40 of the federal Fisheries Act and section 5(1)(d) of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA). The CEC Secretariat concluded that the submission contains insufficient information to allow the Secretariat to review it and does not indicate that the matter regarding the 6,922 letters of advice has been communicated in writing to the relevant Canadian authorities. The group had 30 days to provide a supplemental submission correcting the deficiencies cited by the Secretariat.

The initial submission (SEM-04-004/Oldman River III), filed last month, claimed that the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) was involved in 6,922 letters of advice to project proponents between April 1, 2001 and March 31, 2002. These letters, the FOR said, were unlawful because they were not authorized under section 35 of the Fisheries Act and because no environmental assessment was conducted as required by section 5 of CEEA before the letters were issued (ELW September 27, 2004).

More information is available on the CEC Web site, www.cec.org, under "Citizen Submissions."

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