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(PIAC — 19/09/08)—On Sept. 17 the Montreal Gazette reported: “Air France, Deutsche Lufthansa AG and Singapore Airlines have reduced their fuel surcharges this month. But U.S. and Canadian carriers, contending with lacklustre travel demand in the face of a weak U.S. economy, say they’re not planning to cut fees.”
“It seems to me that they’re rather quick to implement charges (on checking extra bags and pillows) and fuel surcharges when prices go up, so we’d expect to see the same type of reaction when prices are going down,” said Michael Janigan, executive director of the Ottawa-based Public Interest Advocacy Centre.
“Most observers would feel that fuel is trading down, so it’s reasonable to expect that consumers should benefit from that.” He questioned whether carriers are now using the fuel surcharges – initially described as an industry lifeline – to boost profits,” Gazette’s Allison Lampert reported.
The next day Air Canada eliminated its second bag fee and folded its fuel surcharges into advertised fares and Westjet eliminated its fuel surcharge.
(PIAC — 19/09/08)—Option Consommateurs opened an Ottawa office staffed by Ms Anu Bose on Sept. 18. Ms Bose holds a doctorate in Development Administration from the University of Birmingham (U.K). She has worked in India, Kazakhstan, Sri Lanka, Switzerland and the UK and spent a major part of her career in the not-for-profit and academic sectors. She will also be responsible for representing consumers’ interests on Parliament Hill.
Option Consommateurs is a Montreal-based not-for-profit association whose mission is to promote and defend the rights and interests of consumers and ensure that they are respected. It was founded in 1983. Option Consommateurs is involved in over thirty class-action suits. It has developed a special expertise in energy, agrifoods, financial services and commercial practices.
Option Consommateurs and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre work together on many projects including Public Interest News.
(PIAC — 19/09/08)—”The Ontario Superior Court of Justice sided with a class-action suit that claimed a $25 “administrative” fee charged to Bell ExpressVu customers who were more than two months late paying their bills amounted to a criminal rate of interest. The law in question prohibits annual interest rates in excess of 60 per cent and was originally intended to target loan sharks,” the Toronto Star reported on Sept. 17.
“I think the reason why you still have this going on is that there’s next to zero customer protection in federally regulated industries such as airlines and telecom,” PIAC’s John Lawford said in the report by the Star’s Chris Sorensen.
In a Canwest News Service story: Lawford said he ” fully expects the company to appeal the decision, but its challenge will be hampered by (Justice) Perell’s record. “Perell can pretty much write any book on any area of law he wants. In particular, he’s often looked at debt, credit and payment issues, so if the Court of Appeal works the way it should, this should be an unappealable judgment.”
“Lawford said the principle is simple: “It just comes down to companies can’t use legal trickery to try to explain charges away when they have the effect of interest,” Canwest’s Sarah Schmidt reported Sept. 17.
PIAC has begun a study on late fees and criminal rates of interest.
(PIAC — 19/09/08)—”People planning to vote in this fall’s federal election who don’t have the ID required under new rules may just have to sit it out. In November 2007, the British Columbia Public Interest Advocacy Centre filed a legal challenge with the B.C. Supreme Court against an amendment to the Canada Elections Act regarding voter identification,” Georgia Straight reported on Sept. 16.
“However, hearings are not expected to take place before the October 14 federal election. A paper prepared by (BC PIAC’s Jim) Quail cited estimates by former chief electoral officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley that five percent of voters would encounter problems with the new rules, the equivalent of 700,000 Canadians being unable to cast their ballots.
“I was hoping the election wasn’t going to come,” Quail said. “It means we’re not going to have the problem fixed in time for this election and this is very unfortunate,” the Straight’s Carlito Pablo wrote.
(PIAC — 16/09/08)—“Michael Janigan, executive director of the Ottawa-based Public Interest Advocacy Centre, says the early-termination fees are effectively used to lock consumers into a host of obligations that bind them to their current Provider,” CBC News reported.
“Bell and Telus embark upon a public relations fiasco associated with text messages with impunity,” he said. “Why do they do that? Well, because they get people locked into all of these contracts and things.” Janigan says competition would be improved if cellphone providers were limited to one-year contracts, noting long-distance telephone competition has been successful because consumers can change providers in a frictionless swap,” the CBC’s Peter Nowak reported on Sept. 8.
(PIAC — 16/09/08)—“Why has all this negative sentiment toward telecommuns companies come to a frothing boil over the past year? Consumer groups say it’s the result of a push by successive governments for deregulation. “Deregulation is giving carriers even more chutzpah than they normally have,” says the Public Interest Advocacy Centre’s John Lawford. “This is what you get. It’s the chickens coming home to roost,” CBC News reported.
“The Liberals started the ball rolling in 1995 when then Prime Minister Jean Chrétien abolished the cabinet position of Minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs. The position’s duties were folded into the new position of Industry Minister. The Conservatives followed up by issuing a policy directive to the CRTC shortly after taking office in 2006 that effectively declawed the regulator. Then minister of industry Maxime Bernier told the CRTC to avoid regulating proactively.
“The Competition Bureau, meanwhile, has been loud and clear that it is against intervening in the market. “I believe that regulation should always be viewed, not as a first step, but as a last resort,” Competition Commissioner Sheridan Scott, a former Bell Canada executive, told the annual Telecom Summit in June.
The result today is that there is no consumer voice on a national level, Lawford says, which stands in stark contrast to the United States, where the Federal Trade Commission is a strong and well-respected rights protector. “There’s nobody at the cabinet table to say, ‘Just a minute, people are angry,’” he says. “Deregulation is all well and good but you have to make sure people don’t get trampled on the way,” CBC’s Peter Nowak reported on Sept. 8
(PIAC — 16/09/08)—“Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon announced on (Sept. 5) a new airline passenger bill of rights, but said legislation or regulations aren’t necessary to ensure it’s enforced, because Canadian airlines are on board with the plan. If passengers are already on an aircraft when a delay longer than 90 minutes occurs, airlines have to let them disembark, according to the new Flight Rights Canada unveiled at the Ottawa airport. And if a flight is delayed more than four hours, airlines will have to give passengers a voucher for a free meal. Airlines also will be required to put customers up in hotels if a flight is postponed more than eight hours, and the delay is not weather-related,” Canwest News Service reported.
The bill of rights is silent on the question of airfare advertising, and does not include any minimum penalties if airlines don’t abide by the terms.
Michael Janigan, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, says this latest initiative is full of holes. In addition to doing nothing to prevent misleading advertising, he said the passenger bill of rights doesn’t establish compensatory relief for being bumped because a flight is overbooked or cancelled, or for having to deal with lost baggage, as is the case in the U.S,” Canwest Sarah Schmidt reported on Sept. 6.
(PIAC — 16/09/08)—“On the advice of the Prime Minister, the Governor General, by proclamation on Sept. 7, dissolved Parliament and gave instructions to issue writs of election. Oct. 14 has been set as the polling day and the writs of election are to be returned by Nov. 4. Elizabeth May is seeking election in the Central Nova riding. “Ms. May is a graduate of Dalhousie Law School and was admitted to the Bar in both Nova Scotia and Ontario. She has held the position of Associate General Counsel for the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, representing consumer, poverty and environment groups in her work,” Globe and Mail Update reported Sept. 9
(PIAC — 16/09/08)—“Bill C-61, if passed and enforced, will mean ludicrous penalties for those who download and upload copyrighted material. People caught downloading music or video other.incs face fines up to $500. Uploading to a peer-to-peer network could result in lawsuits of $20,000 per file,” the Muse reported.
“This is very scary territory for Canada to be entering. In a healthy democracy, the private sector would not be responsible for surveilling and policing the public, yet this appears to be how the new law will work. Obviously, critics have described the Bill as anti-consumerist and pro-industry, for this and many other reasons. In fact, an astounding number of consumer advocacy groups, from Online Rights Canada to the Public Interest Advocacy Centre have vehemently opposed the Bill,” the Memorial University of Newfoundland student paper reported on Sept. 2.
“And, if you need another reason to dislike it, C-61 won’t just limit the leisure activities of students; it might also impact us in the classroom. Under the new legislation students and educators may only make one copy of digital course materials, and borrowing a CD from the library and copying it could mean a $500 fine.
(PIAC — 16/09/08)—In April 2007 the federal government deregulated the local telephone industry. The government “promised the move would boost local phone competition and lower prices, but there has been little evidence of that, consumer groups say. In fact, Rogers raised its phone prices earlier this year while Telus was rebuked by the CRTC in April for introducing a new long-distance access fee to customers using call-around services such as Yak,” CBC News reported on Sept. 8
(PIAC — 4/09/08)—The Public Interest Advocacy Centre will soon release a new report: “Not Ready for Prime Time”. The report which had been scheduled for release today, sets out some key findings of PIAC’s year-long research in the field of high-interest lending which includes payday loans and subprime mortgages. The report used focus group results in Edmonton, Toronto, and Vancouver to derive information concerning pay-day loan and sub-prime mortgage users.
(PIAC — 3/09/08)—In the wake of the Maple Leaf meat recall Option Consommateurs asked the government to take strong measures to ensure the food we buy is safe. On Aug. 27 Option Consommateurs’ Michel Arnold said the responsibility for food safety must be kept by the government and not turned over to the industry. The same day the consumers group launched a class-action suit against Maple Leaf.
(PIAC — 3/09/08)—“The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is moving forward on a plan to create different rules for provincially registered meat plants despite industry concerns about less rigorous inspection standards. The new rules would allow them to ship their products to other provinces but ban them from international markets,” Canwest News reported.
“Deborah Stark, assistant deputy minister for food safety at Ontario’s Ministry of Agriculture, says if the move toward national standards is implemented, inspection standards will not be “less from a food safety perspective.” Anu Bose, who heads up the Ottawa office of the consumer group Option Consommateurs, says she’s not comforted by such assurances, characterizing it as a “nightmare” scenario,” Canwest’s Sarah Schmidt reported on Aug. 27.
(PIAC — 3/09/08)—“An Air Canada regional affiliate has dumped life vests from its aircraft as a cost-cutting measure, a move critics say is going too far for the sake of saving money. But critics suggest the decision is a case of over zealous cost-cutting,” the Ottawa Citizen reported.
“Michael Janigan, the executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre said airlines have been reducing costs related to passenger comfort – for example, charging for blankets, headphones and extra baggage – but it goes beyond that now. “It’s clear that they’ve turned their attention to expenses that are not simply . . . applicable to the comfort of their passengers,” he said. “This is now in the area of air passenger safety itself,” the Citizen’s Arielle Godbout reported on Aug. 25.
(PIAC — 3/09/08)—“In its first year of operation, the complaints body has fielded more than 5,000 inquiries, with almost 2,000 qualifying as matters for investigation. But compared with similar agencies in other countries, such as Australia’s Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman, which dealt with more than 100,000 complaints last year, the figure is paltry. Consumer groups say the low number doesn’t reflect a lack of angry customers, but rather that the CCTS has spent the past year getting up and running and has yet to promote itself to the Canadian public,” CBC’s Peter Nowak reported on July 28.
“People are finding it mostly, I’m afraid, through word of mouth and through referrals from the CRTC,” said John Lawford, a lawyer for the Public Interest Advocacy Centre. PIAC is pushing for CCTS information to be added as an insert to every customer’s bill, a move the carriers oppose. “That’s the one they always resist because they say it costs money,” Lawford said,”
(PIAC — 3/09/08)—“Without effective enforcement, Canada’s Do Not Call program – the countrywide initiative to eliminate pesky telemarketing calls – could turn out to be nothing more than a paper tiger, caution telecom industry and consumer experts,” ITBusiness reported.
“We’re happy to hear the NDCL is getting off the ground. But its success will depend on the enforcement and implementation regime,” said John Lawford, research analyst and counsel for the Ottawa-based Public Interest Advocacy Centre. “I hope the managers make a decent effort at enforcement, or else less [scrupulous] telemarketers will take their chances at breaking the law and the NDCL could end up as a paper tiger.” Lawford said effective enforcement and implementation hinges on adequate funds to run the program,“ ITBusiness reported on Aug. 1.
The Bell Canada operated Do-Not-Call registry will be up and running on Sept. 30.
(PIAC — 3/09/08)—The do-not-call registry exempts organizations like newspapers and political parties. In March Ottawa U’s Michael Geist established, a “website that enables Canadians to opt out of many exempted organizations at no cost with a few easy clicks of the mouse. Visitors to the site are asked to enter their phone number (and email address if they wish) and to indicate their calling preferences for nearly 150 organizations.”
On Aug. 1 Geist wrote in a Toronto Star column: “The public reaction has been extremely supportive. Since its launch, the site has sent out millions of opt-out requests on behalf of tens of thousands of Canadians.
(PIAC — 3/09/08)—“You may be under the impression that Canada already has a reasonable approximation of ULC. After all, we spent $659 million on legal aid programs in 2006–07. It is true that if you’re accused of a criminal offence that could put you behind bars and you earn less than, say, $13,000 a year (depending on where you live), you will be provided with a lawyer. Otherwise, you’re on the hook for lawyer’s fees that can average over $300 an hour,” Walrus Magazine reported in its September edition.
A four-person legal team assembled by the Canadian Bar Association filed a test case arguing that the failure to provide minimum levels of civil legal aid in British Columbia is a violation of constitutional rights. The case alleges that the exclusions and restrictions in BC’s civil legal aid constitute “a systemic denial of access to justice to and systemic discrimination against Poor People.”
The case in part rests on events in 2003 and 2004, when BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre litigated on behalf of four clients, none of whom could afford a lawyer, who were being sued by the government for alleged overpayment of disability and income assistance benefits. One was a single father of three who was suffering from leukemia and who had developed a permanently disabling condition after undergoing a bone marrow transplant; the others were in similarly difficult situations.
The government’s response: it simply dropped three of the suits and settled the fourth out of court, rendering any arguments about the constitutional right to counsel moot. “And then they wrote a letter saying, ‘Well, if you have any more clients like this, just give us a call,’” Melina Buckley says, shaking her head. “We couldn’t believe it,” Walrus Magazine reported.
(PIAC — 3/09/08)—“WestJet Airlines Ltd. made its first foray into an “à la carte” pricing strategy yesterday, saying it would begin offering advanced seat selection for a fee,” the Financial Post reported on July 17.
WestJet said it would charge $10 for advanced seat selection and $15 if passengers want to sit in the roomier emergency aisle rows. Air Canada, for its part, adopted its so-called “a la carte” pricing strategy two years ago.
Rather than unbundling existing services and charging for them, WestJet intends to provide extra services for a fee going forward.
Michael Janigan, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, said that WestJet was “slicing the apple a little fine.” “It’s funny, because WestJet really marketed itself as the un-cola, the non-Air Canada version of airlines, and more and more it appears their vision of the future is to become Air Canada,” the Post’s Scott Deveau reported on July 17.
(PIAC — 3/09/08)—The government’s Competition Review Policy Panel, made up exclusively of heavy-hitting players in corporate Canada stuck pretty much to the same script prescribing sweeteners for their constituency to address the perceived decrements in Canada’s productivity and general economic performance.
The Panel’s June 26 report does provide a useful exposition of the difficult matrix of the Canadian economy, and presents a comprehensive spreadsheet and wish list for reform. But notwithstanding the commissioning of over twenty research reports, and thirteen days of consultation sessions, the report’s authors connect the dots between current conditions and the desired end state with rhetorical, rather than empirical flourishes.
This problem is most apparent in the Panel’s treatment of the Competition Act. It parrots the MacDonald Report of nearly 25 years ago in its belief that foreign investment can relieve corporate concentration and market dominance in Canadian markets so controlling mergers and amalgamations shouldn’t be an important concern in competition law. Why foreign owned players wouldn’t snap up Canadian dominant firms in a supine merger regime, rather than compete, is a question that seems to elude the Panel.
Governments will continue to get policy views refracted through the prism of self-interest so long as they are non-inclusive in the selection of those they listen to. If competition between national economies is a form of war, the Panel’s Report constitutes a kind of brief for the use and enhancement of one type of weaponry only. In order to construct an appropriate war strategy, the government must now seek to weigh that brief against the real opportunity for victory by using all the weapons available, and acting in the interests of all stakeholders in the entire Canadian economy.
(PIAC — 3/09/08)—On June 20, Travel Protection Initiative, a coalition of Canada’s travel industry and consumer groups, responded to federal Transport Minister’s Lawrence Cannon’s statement he would not bring into effect the provision of Bill C-11 passed in June of last year that would mandate that airline advertising feature an all-in price.
In a letter to Standing Committee Chair, Merv Tweed, the groups note the overwhelming public support for the measure as well as the rules in other jurisdictions including the United States and Europe that prevent the misleading practice of advertising one price and then charging another which is many times the advertised price. The letter also submits that Transport Canada has chosen to favour several airline constituents over the interests of thousands of travel agents that are bound to observe rules that oblige them to advertise an all-in price.
TPI includes the Travel Industry Council of Ontario, Association of Canadian Travel Agencies, Option consommateurs and PIAC. The letter is on:
(PIAC — 3/09/08)—Writing in the July 8 Financial Post, Michael Janigan, executive director, Public Interest Advocacy Centre, Janet Yale, TELUS executive vice-president of corporate affairs and Mark Goldberg, president of Mark H. Goldberg & Associates Inc., called on the federal government to use the $4.2-billion windfall from the recent wireless spectrum auction to fund the expansion of broadband internet access in Canada.
Rather than pay down debt or reduce taxes as Finance Minister Jim Flaherty suggested, Janigan et. al. said that the federal government should follow the example of other countries, wherein “the money would be best invested in a program designed to directly help make Canada a world leader in broadband, a technology that has grown increasingly essential to a nation’s economic well-being in an ultra-competitive world.”
Among other things, they noted that broadband offers opportunities for education, training and lifelong learning and that the technology provides people particularly in rural and remote areas with improved health care through diagnostic services and real-time consultations.
For business and e-commerce, broadband has become an indispensable tool. In this regard, the authors observe that “A third of communities across our country still lack high-speed access to the Internet and many quite simply don’t offer compelling economic prospects for investment from the private sector. Consequently, people in these towns and villages are being left behind. The unexpected [spectrum auction] bounty would go a long way toward changing that reality and offering more Canadians level access to the modern playing field.”
(PIAC – 20/06/08)—“The fight between Bell Canada and a consortium of independent Web service providers over how traffic is allowed to flow over the Internet is “only the tip of the iceberg,” for an industry that could find itself in more disputes, Canada’s telecom regulator has warned,” the Globe and Mail reported on June 18.
The “head of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission indicated the government might need to step in to establish rules on Internet “traffic shaping” or further disagreements are likely to erupt,” the Globe reported.
“John Lawford, a lawyer representing the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, a consumer group, said many Internet users are angry at the strategies of Bell and Rogers,” the Globe’s Grant Robertson and Matt Hartley wrote.
(PIAC – 20/06/08)—A major study of the working conditions of BC immigrant and migrant farm workers was released on June 18 by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. “This study will serve as a wake-up call,” says co-author Arlene McLaren, SFU Professor Emeritus of Sociology. “Our research finds that farmworkers are being treated as second-class citizens, and remain vulnerable to abuses of their rights such as dangerous working conditions and violations of health and safety laws.”
On May 17 the Vancouver Sun reported: “Three farmworkers have appealed a Federal Tax Court decision that found they had inflated their hours when applying for unemployment insurance in 1997, lawyer Sarah Khan said Friday. The B.C. Public Interest Advocacy Centre on Friday filed three separate Federal Court appeals on behalf of the berry pickers, she said. The appeals relate to the hours and earnings the workers claimed for employment insurance.“
“The three new appeals come after last month’s conclusion of a 107-day appeal by 75 berry pickers relating to their collection of employment insurance. Each appeal was considered separately. Some were dismissed but others allowed,” the Sun’s Chantal Eustace wrote. BC PIAC Executive Director Jim Quail and CCPA’s Senior Economist Armine Yalnizyan are members of PIAC’s board.
(PIAC – 20/06/08)—“Just after 11:00 a.m. (June 12) the U.S. got its Canadian copyright bill, Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law wrote. Geist has led the opposition to importing the US’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
“The message is that we’re going to lock away your content, and then we’re going to sue you if you try to get around it, even if what you’re trying to do is things that consumers do every day,” John Lawford told CBC Radio’s The House. “Every time you have a right in this new bill, it’s taken away if the content provider decides to put a lock on it, and that’s the short way to understand this bill,” PIAC’s Lawford said on June 14.
The Public Interest Advocacy Centre and Union des consommateurs, Option consommateurs, the Consumers Council of Canada, the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC), and the grassroots digital activism organization, Online Rights Canada released Canadian Copyright Law: A Consumer White Paper on June 5.
(PIAC – 20/06/08)—”For the first time in Canadian history, gas companies were found guilty of fixing prices in four cities east of Montreal – and the Competition Bureau says it is investigating to see if Canadians in other centres are being ripped off,” Canwest News Service reported.
“Ultramar, one of the largest marketers and refiners of petroleum products in the country, was among the companies that pleaded guilty and was fined $1.85 million. One of its regional sales representatives, Jacques Ouellet, was fined $50,000 by the Competition Bureau and fired by Ultramar.
Michel Arnold, the executive director of Option Consommateurs, said he’d like Canada to stiffen laws and increase fines against price fixing. He encouraged consumers to complain to the Competition Bureau if they believe they have evidence of price fixing,” Canwest reported on June 12.
Public Interest Advocacy Centre and Option Consommateurs support the reintroduction of the Martin government’s legislation to increase the power of the Competition Bureau.
(PIAC – 20/06/08)—”A private member’s motion calling for an ‘airline passenger bill of rights’ received unanimous support in the House of Commons Thursday setting the stage for legislation and new regulations to protect passengers,” Canwest News Service reported on June 12.
“The vote of 249 to 0 approved a motion to model an air passenger bill of rights after those in Europe and those being debated in the United States”. Parliament’s motion is a result of mounting criticism of airline “service”, unfair advertising and increasing fares and fees.
“Michael Janigan, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, recalled that he pushed for a passenger bill of rights when Air Canada acquired Canadian Airlines International Ltd. in 2000, but didn’t get enough political traction back then. Today, with fuel surcharges and various fees raising ticket prices sharply even as in-flight services are restricted, air travel has become a hot-button issue among consumers, he said. “We can’t rely simply on the goodwill of airlines to protect passengers,” the Globe and Mail reported.
(PIAC – 20/06/08)—“A Canadian privacy group has filed a complaint against the social networking site Facebook accusing it of violating privacy laws. The Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic has listed 22 separate breaches of privacy law in this country. Clinic Director Phillipa Lawson told the BBC that, with over 7 million users in Canada, “Facebook needs to be held publicly accountable”.
“The basis of the complaint, filed with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, states that Facebook collects sensitive information about its users and shares it without their permission. It goes on to say that the company does not alert users about how that information is being used and does not adequately destroy user data after accounts are closed. “Social networking online is a growing phenomenon,” said Ms Lawson. It is proving to be a tremendous tool for community-building and social change, but at the same time, a minefield of privacy invasion,” the BBC News reported on May 31.
PIAC assisted CIPPIC in the development of the complaint.
(PIAC – 29/05/08)—The Canadian Consumer Initiative (CCI) is urging all four federal political parties to take a position in favour of net neutrality. CCI opposes the practice of “throttling” by telecom giants such as Rogers and Bell who examine Internet traffic in order to deliberately slow down certain applications. On May 27 CCI asks also that the government take the necessary legislative actions in order to guarantee the principle of net neutrality as recommended by the Telecommunications Policy Review Panel in 2006.
Large ISPs deliberately slow down certain applications and thus violate several sections of communications law by limiting citizens’ access to telecom services, constraining the free operation of markets and endangering the already fragile competition in the highspeed internet market. The Canadian Consumer Initiative says this type of control harms technological innovation and strikes at the heart of consumer privacy, the principle of technological neutrality in telecom and network common carriage.
The Canadian Consumer Initiative (CCI) includes the Alberta Council on Aging Services, the Automobile Protection Association, the Consumers Council of Canada, Option consommateurs, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, and l’Union des consommateurs.
(PIAC – 29/05/08)—In March, the Ontario government passed Bill 11 which bans smoking in cars when there are children under the age of 16 present. Metroland investigated the issue from the perspective of public safety versus personal rights. “It’s difficult because in trying to define privacy in the first place, people have different ideas of what that means,” PIAC’s John Lawford told the newspaper.
“Lawford said some international charters have tried to define privacy but the Canadian charter has not. The only privacy law that is concrete in the Canadian charter is that “you can be free from being searched in your own home, but generally speaking in other areas it gets to be more iffy.”
“But there is a balancing act between privacy and other social needs such as security, and Lawford said because people don’t expect much in terms of privacy, it can be easily taken away,” Metroland’s Maria Tzavara wrote on May 14.
(PIAC – 29/05/08)—Air Canada is now including its fuel surcharge fee in its ads but not in its advertised price, the National Post reported.
“All this is simply bait-and-switch advertising with a little bit of a veneer of respectability,” the Post quoted PIAC’s Michael Janigan. “The bottom line is people should know what they’re paying for.”
PIAC fought for amendments given royal assent last year that require airlines to advertise the final price, but are not in force because of a Transport Canada stakeholder consultation.
“The executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, is urging the government to enact the law before the airlines decide it is no longer in their interest to advertise details of the charge,” the Post’s Scott Deveau reported on May 22.
(PIAC – 29/05/08)—Option consommateurs released a survey comparing the regular price of 55 identical products at 40 stores in Quebec and the United States. Even though the dollar has been at par for more than a year Canadians are paying 21% more, the Quebec consumer protection group reported on May 16.
Option consommateurs is urging Canadian consumers to make their voices heard at the head offices of Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Sears and Toys R Us. Option consommatuers and PIAC work together on a number of issues and now share office space in Ottawa.
(PIAC – 29/05/08)—”The Public Interest Advocacy Centre, an Ottawa-based non-profit group, argued in a complaint to the Canadian Transportation Agency that the ‘On My Way’ service introduced by the country’s largest airline in early April could be considered discriminatory,” the Toronto Star reported.
“The service, which costs an extra $25 one-way for short-haul flights or $35 for longer trips within Canada or to the United States, promises paying passengers access to specially trained customer service agents who will rebook flights on Air Canada or another airline and secure free meals and hotel rooms.”
“In the event of an airline disruption, you will get two classes of passengers,” said Michael Janigan, PIAC’s general counsel. Unlike some of Air Canada’s other pay-for-use services, which include charging extra for pillows, blankets or free meals on some flights, Janigan said, flight disruptions affect all passengers equally and it is unclear what the impact of the program will be on those who don’t want to participate, the Star’s Chris Sorensen reported on May 10.
(PIAC – 29/05/08)—On May 6 consumer groups filed for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, the March 2008 decision of the Federal Court of Appeal to uphold a February 2006 decision of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to allow telephone companies to spend money collected in local telephone rates on their broadband operations in rural areas.
In 2006, there was approximately $650 million in deferral accounts maintained by the country’s largest telephone companies including Bell Canada, TELUS, MTS, Sasktel and Bell Aliant, arising from price cap rate reductions that hadn’t been passed on to consumers. In 2008 the CRTC reduced the amount that was spent on broadband by about 40%, ruling that these monies should be rebated to the local telephone subscribers.
The Consumer group appellants, the National Anti-Poverty Organization and the Consumers Association of Canada, have maintained the deferral accounts are rate reductions that were collected for local service and the entire amount should be rebated back to the customers who paid the inflated rates.
Michael Janigan, general counsel for the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), noted: “Local telephone subscribers were forced to pay more to supposedly help competition get established. It only makes sense that they should get the remaining money in the deferral accounts set up to record the over collected rates.” Bell Canada is also expected to be seeking leave to appeal on the grounds that the deferral account money belongs to the telephone companies and should not be rebated.
(PIAC – 29/05/08)—“Bell must also now deal with a complaint filed by CIPPIC (Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic) to the Privacy Commissioner earlier this week. The Ottawa-based legal clinic said traffic shaping and use of “deep packet inspection” technology by Bell and other large ISPs is a violation of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act,” CBC News reported on May 14.
CIPPIC counsel Phillipa Lawson is making the case. She began her career at PIAC and continues to work with PIAC on number of issues.
(PIAC – 25/04/08)—The legislative blueprint to implement Canada’s Data Breach Notification Model leaves most of the power in the hands of industry, Canwest News Service reported on April 25. The Winners, Talvest Mutual Funds and Chrysler Financials of the world will decide if and when consumers are advised their personal information has been lost.
“In the event of a data breach where an organization determines there is a high risk of significant harm to individuals resulting from the breach, the organization is required to notify affected individuals as soon as is reasonably possible after detection of a breach,” the proposal states.”
Canwest’s Sarah Schmidt quoted PIAC’s John Lawford: “You could defend yourself by saying, ‘I never disclosed the information because we determined ourselves that there was not a high risk of significant harm. It was just a moderate risk of significant harm.”
(PIAC – 25/04/08)—On April 21 the Law Foundation of Ontario announced the selection of PIAC, among seven public interest organizations, for the 2009/2010 term of its Public Interest Articling Fellowships program. “PIAC is very grateful to the Law Foundation for its support,” Executive Director Michael Janigan said. “Articling students have done some great work for us in the past. We have a lot work ready for this year’s students.”
The deadline for application is June 2, 2008.
(PIAC – 25/04/08)—On April 17 the CRTC killed a Telus long distance access fee but other fees are sure to come. “Telus overcharged customers,” said John Lawford, for PIAC, who brought the issue to the CRTC. “It is unfortunate that the CRTC didn’t outlaw these fees for all customers.”
Lawford noted the rapid deregulation of telecommunications in Canada appears to be unnoticed by most Canadians: “The CRTC has been told by the government to rush to remove the last of the price and quality rules, like the ones the CRTC relied on today. But people do see a role for government oversight of large telephone, cellphone and Internet service providers. When we leave companies to set prices, they keep going up, like this.”
PIAC fought the fee on behalf of the Consumers’ Association of Canada and the National Anti-Poverty Organization.
(PIAC – 25/04/08)—“Union Gas and Enbridge customers can look forward to coughing up more on their bills, after a heartless, bonehead move by Dalton McGuinty’s cabinet to back an Ontario Energy Board (OEB) decision to deregulate natural gas storage in the province,” the Toronto Sun reported on April 17.
“After paying to build natural gas storage units, ratepayers will no longer be allowed to share in the windfall of profits, when the companies sell excess storage. For Union Gas customers, who shared in 75% of the profits through credits on their bills, that’s a loss of some $70 million a year, claims Michael Janigan, general counsel for the Public Interest Advocacy Centre. Janigan was appealing the OEB decision on behalf of low income earners and senior citizens.
“Now, add in the extra $30-to $40 million Enbridge will now have to pay Union Gas for the storage it buys, and it’s a $100-million-plus windfall for Union Gas parent firm, Texas-based Spectra Energy,” Linda Leatherdale Sun Business Editor reported.
(PIAC – 25/04/08)—Two reports published by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre last year continue to inform the debate on consumer protection issues involving insurance and income trusts. In an examination of “common types of insurance coverage that you can probably do without” Gordon Powers identifies identity theft insurance as number three based on PIAC’s report. The Sympatico MSN Finance reported also included Child Life, Accidental death, Extended warranties, comprehensive vehicle insurance and flight insurance in its April 11 report.
“During this decade of increased standards of corporate governance, the use and popularity of income trusts has led to criticism of the absence of good governance practices and investor rights and remedies from income trusts that are otherwise applicable to corporate entities under corporate laws,” Mondaq Business Briefing reported on March 28.
“Critics and regulators, including the Bank of Canada, the Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA), the Uniform Law Conference of Canada (ULCC), the Canadian Coalition for Good Governance (CCGG) and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, have observed or expressed concern about these differences,” the McCarthy Tétrault news service reported. It suggests incorporating governance measures advocated by the CCGG on Dec. 10.
Identity Theft Insurance – Miserly Upon Misery: March 30, 2007 and
Income Trusts – A Challenge for Regulators: August 16, 2007 are available at
(PIAC – 10/04/08)—For a fee, Air Canada will help passengers delayed by weather or other “force majeures” the Montreal Gazette reported on April 3. Air Canada is calling the $25 fee “On My Way”. “Michael Janigan of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Ottawa wasn’t impressed. He suggested Out Of My Way as a more fitting name,” the Gazette’s Paul Delean wrote.
“It’s part and parcel of a continuing effort to try and make the service extended to you when you buy a ticket less and less. The expectation would be that if you paid for a flight, you’d be rebooked on the next available flight. I’m hesitant to figure what’s next with the airlines. Maybe washroom privileges (for a fee)? We’ll have to wait and see.”
Janigan said new fees like On My Way suggest it’s time for Transport Canada to take a stand and set minimum standards to protect passengers. “We can’t rely on airlines to set appropriate rules for what passengers are and are not entitled to,” the Gazette reported.
The Financial Post’s Scott Deveau quoted Janigan: “Ten years ago, these kinds of matters would be looked after by the airline itself. Effectively, what you’re seeing is a reduction of the air carrier’s responsibility to effectively taking off and landing.”
Are seatbelt and oxygen mask fees on our way?
(PIAC – 10/04/08)—The CRTC began hearings on April 8 to consider changes in the way the CRTC regulates cable and satellite television companies, known as Broadcasting Distribution Undertakings. Conventional over-the-air television signals are being phased out in Canada after August 2011. Then Canadian households will need to subscribe to either cable or satellite to have access not only to television signals but to Canadian television signals.
“Because basic television will only be accessible to Canadians through a cable or satellite providers, there should be basic service provided by Broadcasting Distribution Undertakings subject to some measure of price control to maintain affordability,” Michael Janigan said.
“PIAC believes that the greatest threats to the health of the broadcasting system do not come from unnecessary regulation, but from a concentration of market players with scant competition and regulatory controls to shape a fairer customer relationship,” the Hill Times’ Simon Doyle reported on April 7.
(PIAC – 10/04/08)—“Are the Senate and Transport Canada acting in the interests of some 10 million Canadian air travellers, or in the interests of a handful of major airline corporations?,” the Times Colonist editorialized on March 25.
On March 22 Canwest News reported: “Transport Canada has yet to launch consultations into new rules forcing airlines to advertise the full price of airfares eight months after a law was passed requiring it to do so, raising concerns the popular initiative could be killed.
Canwest quoted Michael Janigan: “My impression is Transport Canada was never interested in implementing this, and has no interest in consumer protection. I can’t think of another instance where, in effect, you’d want to encourage misleading behaviour on the grounds that it’s good for business.”
(PIAC – 19/03/08)—In the wake of CBC’s Feb. 27 Marketplace show, the Travel Protection Initiative (TPI) – a coalition of Canada’s consumer organizations and the travel industry – is demanding the federal government take action against Canadian airlines continuously misleading consumers by advertising artificially low fares. Marketplace revealed that Canadian customers were being deceived by airlines advertising fares that omitted items like fuel surcharges which often add 50% to the advertised cost.
“There is no reason that fuel surcharges should be segregated from the rest of the fare and kept out of the price,” said Michael Pepper, President of the Travel Industry Council of Ontario.
Last year, Bill C-11 gave the federal government power to require that airlines fall in line with practices in the travel industry in most of the country, as well as the United States and the EU, and advertise all-in prices for tickets.
“The government has no excuse for foot-dragging on this issue now that it has the power to protect passengers from airline misrepresentation,” said Michael Janigan, Executive Director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, which monitors airline issues.
(PIAC – 19/03/08)—In a decision released on March 7 the Federal Court of Appeal (FCA) turned down the PIAC’s appeal on behalf of the Consumers Association of Canada and the National Anti-Poverty Organization of the February 2006 CRTC Decision, which directed the incumbent telephone companies spend money from excess rates on broadband access rather than customer rebates.
The FCA ruled that the Commission’s powers were broad enough to set higher rates to favour competition and that the expenditure of rates collected from telephone services could be spent on internet.
The consumer groups are considering an appeal.
(PIAC – 19/03/08)—The Public Interest Advocacy Centre is watching Big Brother. Help protect our privacy by donating to PIAC.
Calgary Core Cams: Surveillance can be addictive: Frank Work: March 17
Radio frequency identification (RFID) systems in the workplace: Feedback request from Jennifer Stoddart: March 4
Ontario okays 11,000 TTC cams: Ann Cavoukian: March 4
Ottawa Transpo will be watching you and its drivers closely: March 4
Calgary pawnshop by-law feeds commercial police database: Feb 21
Alberta privacy commissioner orders nightclub to stop using license-scanners: Feb 20
RCMP has tens of thousands of records it shouldn’t have: Jennifer Stoddart: Feb 13
Enhanced Driver’s License with RFID concern all Privacy Commissioners: Feb 5
(PIAC – 19/03/08)—The government’s plan to turn airline safety over to the industry remains stalled in the House of Commons, as its main element, “safety management systems” are implicated in the sinking of the Queen of the North and CN’s poor safety record.
On March 12 the Transportation Safety Board reported on the sinking of BC Ferries Queen of the North. “That night, many basic principles of safe navigation were not followed. For instance, a dedicated certified lookout was not posted, a senior officer was not called and speed was not reduced in restricted visibility, and the vessel’s position and ship setting were not monitored,” Terri Theodore of Canadian Press quoted TSB investigator Pierre Murray. BC Ferries is regulated via safety management systems.
A March 7 report to Parliament on the Railway Safety Act concluded safety management systems at CN are less than effective because of the “culture of fear and discipline”.
C-7 Aeronautics Act will do for air safety what similar amendments over the last twenty years have done for marine and railway safety — i.e. transfer primary responsibility for safety from Transport Canada to the industry itself.
(PIAC – 26/02/08)—The Feb. 26 budget did “nothing substantive on poverty reduction or measures for First Nations, nor does it minimize the economic insecurity facing Canadian families,” Armine Yalnizyan, senior economist of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives said.
“The Conservatives have the audacity to claim they are prudent fiscal managers but for the first time in more than a decade this country is facing a potential deficit because of their $190 billion tax cut bonanza,” Yalnizyan said.
Armine Yalnizyan is a member of PIAC’s Board of Directors.
(PIAC – 11/02/08)—On Feb. 1 the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) supported a request made by PIAC to allow “VoIP number portability”.
What this means for consumers is that their Voice over Internet Protocol phone number may be changed to their home phone or cell phone number at no cost, regardless of who their VoIP carrier is or who their landline carrier is.
“This is good for consumers,” said John Lawford, counsel for PIAC. “Now VoIP numbers, like cell phone numbers, can be taken with you when you change companies.”
PIAC intends to monitor the CRTC’s enforcement of its decision and encourages consumers who have difficulties transferring numbers to contact the CRTC.
(PIAC – 1/02/08)—”Local phone prices in cities such as Toronto have yet to budge – and in some cases are set to increase – despite Ottawa’s efforts last year to boost competition by deregulating the industry” the Toronto Star reported on Jan. 24. The Star said Rogers home phone is raising prices by increasing its monthly system access fee to $5.95 from $4.50.
“What’s surprising about this is that it pertains to local telephones,” said Michael Janigan, the executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Ottawa. “We were told that prices were going to go down with the advent of local telephone deregulation,” the Star’s Chris Sorensen wrote.
”(Janigan) said increasing the so-called “system access fee” allows Rogers to keep its advertised rate low while leading consumers to believe the extra charge is coming from somewhere else. He likened it to the controversial ‘fuel surcharge’ that some airlines add to their tickets” the newspaper reported.
(PIAC – 1/02/08)—The current “Canadian Code of Practice for Consumer Debit Card Services” is not a sound basis for discussions a new PIAC report says. The scope and process of the current Department of Finance consultation appears unlikely to lead to significant improvements. The PIAC report notes: “A comprehensive and principles-based approach would better protect consumers in electronic financial transactions.”
It proposes eight principles on which a new framework should be based: universality, neutrality, security, accountability, transparency, liberty, enforceability and legitimacy. The report warns: “Increased disclosure is not an adequate remedy to unconscionable contractual requirements or business practices, which should be prohibited outright.”
The 47-page report, “Comments regarding the creation of a new framework for electronic fund transfers in Canada”, is available at piac.ca.
(PIAC – 1/02/08)—On Jan. 15 the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) criticized Industry Canada’s comments on a report about the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information and Ethics.
PIAC concerns focus on data breach notification, children’s privacy, public safety consent, and enforcement. The consumer protection group argued the current voluntary data breach notification requirements are not serving the public interest because companies are allowed to decide whether the scope of a data breach warrants notifying the public — an argument PIAC has been making since 2003.
PIAC argued children’s privacy is not protected under PIPEDA because the Act lacks specific requirements. In order to improve the Act, PIAC recommends that collecting and selling of children’s personal information to third parties (known as “secondary targeted marketing”) be made illegal. PIAC argued that Canada’s Privacy Commissioner requires more authority to enforce privacy laws better. PIAC recommends that PIPEDA be amended to give the Privacy Commissioner of Canada the ability to fine offending companies.
The 11-page submission is available at piac.ca.
(PIAC – 22/01/08)—PIAC’s appeal of a $650 million CRTC decision will be heard by the Federal Court of Appeal on Jan. 23. PIAC will contend the money belongs to the telephone customers who were overcharged.
The 2006 “deferral accounts” decision (Telecom 2006-9) ruled money telephone customers were overcharged, as required by a series of 2002 CRTC orders, could be used by Bell, Aliant, Sasktel and Telus to build high-speed internet networks in rural and remote areas and to improve access for persons with disabilities.
PIAC argues the CRTC is wrong to take the money raised from one group of consumers for one policy objective and apply it to another cause benefiting a different group of consumers. PIAC supports the goal of improving net access for people with disabilities and rural Canadians but does not think the CRTC plan is the way to do it.
According to a Jan. 17 Canadian Press report: “About 10 million Canadians would be eligible for a rebate in the order of $65 if the Court agrees.” The money has been set aside in deferral accounts at Bell et. al.
(PIAC – 22/01/08)—The CRTC announced a plan to allocate $300 million for broadband to 350 rural and remote communities in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec on Jan 17. The telecommunications regulator said the remainder of the $650 million deferral accounts will be rebated to urban customers
But as CBC News reported: “Key parts of the CRTC’s rebate decision could be made moot next week, however, when two separate court appeals are heard. Bell has objected to giving customers who paid into the account a rebate, arguing that the CRTC does not have the authority to order retroactive rebates on prices it has previously agreed to.”
“On the other side, several consumer groups — led by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre — have argued that the rural broadband plan should be scrapped and 100 per cent of the deferral accounts returned to urban customers, who overpaid on their phone bills in the first place” CBC News reported.
(PIAC – 22/01/08)—The Canadian Newspaper Association is calling on the Senate to hold public hearings on Aeronautics Act amendments which replace government safety inspections with corporate self-policing.
“Bill C-7 provides that information about safety-related incidents—including material from flight data recorders and self-reported violations—voluntarily provided by airlines or their employees will remain confidential. It also designates such safety reports as “mandatory exclusions” under the Access to Information Act, putting them beyond the reach of access requests” the Ottawa Citizen reported on Jan. 18.
“Essentially the public and the media are being asked to take both the airlines and Transport Canada’s word that any safety violations have been dealt with. The only time we’re going to hear about (safety problems) is when it’s too late, when it’s a really serious accident” Anne Kothawala, CNA boss told the Citizen’s Don Butler.
Bill C-7 is currently before the Senate. PIAC supports the Canadian Newspaper Association call for “sober second thought”.
(PIAC – 22/01/08)—Norfolk Power has applied to the Ontario Energy Board for a 5.1 per cent rate increase in power rates for small businesses and a 2.1 per cent increase to the residential rate. Big customers like a new Wal-Mart and auto parts maker Toyotetsu would see their rates fall by 0.8 per cent, the Simcoe Reformer reported on Jan. 16 and 17.
“The Norfolk application was filed Nov. 16. It has since attracted the attention of two consumer advocacy groups—the School Energy Coalition and the Vulnerable Energy Consumers Coalition. The two coalitions have been granted intervener status at Norfolk Power’s upcoming hearing before the OEB” the Reformer’s Monte Sonnenberg wrote.
PIAC represents VECC in Ontario Energy Board proceedings and will speak for low-income energy consumers.
(PIAC 15/01/08)—In a Jan. 11 submission to the federal government’s Competition Policy Review Panel, PIAC suggested Canada adopt standards for review of corporate mergers that look directly at whether consumers are harmed by the merger. In PIAC’s view, when mergers are likely to decrease competition they should only be allowed if consumers are not made worse off.
“It’s time Canada quit pretending the interests of customers and corporations are always the same,” said Michael Janigan, PIAC Executive Director and General Counsel.
Now mergers are allowed if the benefits to company shareholders are greater than the loss suffered by consumers. PIAC has also recommended that the previous government’s Bill C-19 be revived to allow for stiffer penalties for market deception, restitution to customers and increased powers for the Commissioner of Competition to protect markets.
(PIAC 15/01/08)—On Dec. 21 the CRTC awarded a five-year contract to Bell Canada to run a national do-not-call list. Bell will be responsible for registering numbers, providing telemarketers with up-to-date versions of the list and taking consumer complaints about telemarketing calls. The operation is to be launched by Sept 30.
“It won’t cost consumers a cent,” said John Lawford, PIAC counsel. “All you’ll have to do is call Bell and get your number on the list.”
The Montreal Gazette reported: “Companies that violate the law will face fines of up to $15,000 per call, though the CRTC says the maximum fine will be reserved for deliberate and repeat violators.” PIAC has worked for many years to establish a do-not-call registry and will monitor its operation.
PIAC 15/01/08)—PIAC welcomed the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s Dec. 20 decision to create a Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services. The new Agency will provide many consumers with a “one-stop shop” to bring their complaints about cellphone, telephone and Internet services.