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Legal loopholes allow potentially defective tires on Canadian roads

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TORONTO (CP) _ Transport Canada says it needs more proof that Canadian drivers are at risk before it will consider following a U.S. recall of faulty Chinese-made tires.

``We don't need crashes or injuries or death, but we do need evidence,'' Lars Eif, chief of defect investigations and recalls at the federal ministry, said Tuesday.

But the Canadian investigation into the safety of the tires won't be completed until August, Eif added.

Ironically, Eif said Transport Canada's safety analysis will be carried out at a facility in Ohio.

The tires, manufactured by Hangzhou Zhongee Rubber Co., are being blamed for at least two deaths in the U.S. because the treads can separate and cause rollovers.

That risk led U.S. officials to issue a recall order last week for 450,000 tires sold between 2002 and 2007. The recall covers brand names including Westlake, Telluride, Compass and YKS, some of which were imported by a Toronto-area company.

The U.S. recall order is also the latest in a string of safety issues which have plagued Chinese-made products.

The contrasting responses in the U.S. and Canada raises concerns about Transport Canada's ability to monitor and enforce regulations on automotive products.

Unlike American authorities, Transport Canada doesn't have the power to issue recall orders unless a manufacturer itself says a product is defective.

In the case of foreign-made products, Eif said the ``onus is on the importer'' to inform the government about a defective product.

Bruce Cran, president of the Consumers' Association of Canada, said this policy leaves Canadians vulnerable to faulty and unsafe products.

``How much more ludicrous can the situation be, if you've got to wait for the manufacturer to say you need a recall?''

Cran said the government would rather sit and wait than take pre-emptive action.

``In effect, they're waiting for some kind of disaster where one of these tires blows on the freeway.''

However, even in the case of a fatal crash, Eif said Transport Canada still wouldn't have the power to issue a recall without going to court first.

He added that most companies issue voluntary recalls before the matter reaches the courts.

He also said that Transport Canada has yet to receive any formal complaints about the Chinese tires.

And just because American regulators have found the tires to be faulty doesn't mean they pose a risk to Canadian drivers, Eif said.

For example, differences in climate and driving habits could mean that a potentially substandard tire for American drivers is safe in Canada.

``We've found that Canadians drive differently,'' he said.

Still, Transport Canada's need for a court-approved recall order falls short of the powers of other Canadian government agencies responsible for monitoring and maintaining standards of consumer goods.

For example, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency can order recalls, with approval from the agriculture minister, on unsafe food products if another country such as the U.S. issues a prior warning, said CFIA spokesman Marc Richard.

``It's a team game,'' he said, referring to the international co-operation in monitoring food products.

On Tuesday CFIA issued a health warning and was monitoring the voluntary recall of Robert's American Gourmet Veggie Booty after numerous illnesses were reported in the U.S. but not Canada.

``Then it's up to consumers to look to see if they have that product,'' he said.

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Legal loopholes allow potentially defective tires on Canadian roads
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