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Curb right-hand-drive imports, car dealers tell Ottawa

An SUV crashes into a sedan.

Thomas Eckstadt/iStockphoto

The Harper government is being urged to change a regulatory loophole that makes Canada a dumping ground for a very niche market - dangerous and highly polluting right-hand drive cars from Japan.

It was a 1992 Nissan 330ZX driven by a 20-year-old driver that was involved in the tragic deaths of an Ottawa couple last month. The couple was standing at a bus stop when they were run down.

And the Canadian Auto Dealers Association, in Ottawa this week for meetings, is calling on the government to make a change to its auto regulations that could put an end to such incidents. In question is a rule written in the 1970s that allows cars 15 years or older to be imported.

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This was meant, initially, to allow car collectors to bring older cars into Canada, Michael Hatch, the association's chief economist, explained. "But today a 15-year-old car is no longer an antique - 95-plus per cent of cars on the road are going to reach their 15th birthday."

As a result of Canada's lax regulations, older Japanese cars - which are still in good shape - are coming into Canada. Japan has strict rules relating to older cars and they are getting them off the road. Typically between 2,000 to 3,000 a year are being imported to Canada. The United States and Australia, meanwhile, increased their threshold from 15 years to 25 years several years ago.

"So what happens with these old cars that are pushed off the road in Japan. [They]have nowhere else to go but here and Canada has become a big dumping ground for these vehicles with tragic consequences as we have seen," Mr. Hatch said.

In addition, to being dangerous - visibility is restricted and our roads are not designed for right-hand drive cars - the association says a 20-year-old car pollutes 30 times more than a current model. As a result, it's asking the federal government to change the import regulation to bring it in line with the United States and Australia.

"It's not a pocketbook issue for us but it speaks to safety," Mr. Hatch said, noting that this is just a tiny slice of their market. About four million vehicles are sold in Canada annually.

He pointed to a 2007 study from the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia - most of these cars come into the province - that found a 40-per-cent higher accident rate with right-hand drive cars compared to left-hand drive cars. And he noted that Quebec and Prince Edward Island changed their licensing rules to keep these cars off the road.

The association has been pushing this issue for "years," Mr. Hatch said, but has had no traction because the "feds have 20 million other things to deal with." But he is hoping that the recent tragedy in Ottawa and the provincial changes, especially in a big province like Quebec, will "raise some eyebrows."

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"Ironically, federally there is a program called Retire Your Ride designed to get old cars off the road," Mr. Hatch added. "If you've got a 15-year-old car the federal government will give you $300 ... so the fed's left hand is taking cars off the road and its right hand s letting them into the country."

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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