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A Canadian law firm has filed class action lawsuits against General Motors over the automaker's handling of defective ignition switches in 1.6 million cars sold worldwide. (David Goldman/Associated Press)

Two Canadian law firms are going after General Motors over the company's handling of a recall of defective ignition switches in 1.6 million cars globally, including 235,000 cars in Canada.

The firms are looking to represent and compensate Canadians who owned the affected cars.

Merchant Law Group LLP has filed claims against the Detroit-based automaker in Ontario, Quebec and Saskatchewan, alleging "these vehicles suffer from a design defect which puts drivers at risk of the ignition switch moving from the 'ON' position to the 'OFF' position while driving," the firm said in a statement on its website.

The firm alleges the defect can result in a loss of a number of electrical systems, including electrical power, power-steering, brake-assist and even a loss of airbag function.

Law firm Sutts, Strosberg LLP, based in Windsor, Ont., which also handles many class action cases, recently posted a message in a local newspaper seeking GM vehicle owners.

The recall affected various models of small cars with the defective switch, used between 2003 and 2007.

GM announced last month that ignition switches in older models of the Chevrolet Cobalt, Pontiac G5s, Saturn Ion, Chevrolet HHR, Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky need to be repaired.

Those are the vehicles that form the basis of the Canadian suit against General Motors.

The new head of GM apologized earlier this week saying the company took too long to notify owners about the needed repairs. The company has acknowledged it learned about the problem switches at least 11 years ago, yet it failed to recall the cars until last month.

Chief executive Mary Barra, who took the leadership role in mid-January, said the company takes responsibility for mishandling the defect and would do what's right for customers. GM also announced it was hiring a new head of global safety.

Barra stopped short of saying the company would compensate families killed in crashes caused by faulty ignition switches. That number is likely to rise above the 12 currently cited by the company as GM and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration review accident reports and consumer complaints.

"I am very sorry for the loss of life that occurred, and we will take every step to make sure this never happens again," Barra said on Tuesday.

U.S. lawmakers have launched a probe into GM's handling of the recall, and are demanding to know why the automaker took so long to issue a recall for the affected cars.

The U.S. Department of Justice is also reportedly looking into whether GM broke any laws in its slow response to the ignition switch problem.

On Monday, GM issued a new recall of 1.5 million larger vehicles, including 70,437 in Canada, because their side air bags, front centre air bags and seat belts may not work properly if drivers ignore a warning light on their dashboard.

with files from the Canadian Press