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Public Interest News: July – November 2007

Telecommunications Consumer Agency: CRTC hearings Nov. 14

(PIAC – 12/11/07)—On Nov. 14 the CRTC will begin hearings on a telcom consumer protection agency. PIAC will bring the consumer perspective including a critique of the plan for an ombudsman put forward by the industry in July. The Public Interest Advocacy Centre will base its arguments on Cabinet Order P.C. 2007-0533 and the Telecommunications Policy Review Panel – Final Report 2006. PIAC Counsel John Lawford will be making the case.

PIPEDA: If they lose your personal data they should tell you

(PIAC – 12/11/07)—“The federal government says banks, retailers and other businesses should decide whether to tell Canadians they’ve suffered a security breach, a decision some privacy advocates say is “backwards” and may keep Canadians in the dark when their personal information has been lost or stolen,” CanWest News Service reported on Nov. 5.

“I think we have a real problem here,” said John Lawford, counsel for the Public Interest Advocacy Centre. “They got it backwards.” Lawford said the problem is that it’s difficult and risky for companies who have a vested interest in avoiding negative publicity and scaring customers, to impartially determine when a security breach might represent a significant public threat. “They’re not in a position to decide that,” CanWest’s Carly Weeks wrote.

PIAC wants a requirement for timely notification of any loss of personal information. PIAC is a party to Industry Canada’s review of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act. The review is scheduled to conclude in January.

PIAC Annual Dinner: Nov. 16

(PIAC – 12/11/07)—PIAC – 12/11/07)—PIAC’s Annual Dinner will featured guest Mark Lloyd speaking to: “Does a Free Market Guarantee an Informed Public?”. Mr. Lloyd is Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress, and author of Prologue to a Farce: Communication and Democracy In America. The event will be held Friday Nov. 16, 2007 at 6:00 PM at Yangtze Restaurant in Ottawa.

The fundraising event charges $50.00 a ticket. THE PUBLIC INTEREST ADVOCACY CENTRE – LE CENTRE POUR LA DÉFENSE DE L’INTÉRET PUBLIQUE is a registered charity BN: 130592405RR0001. Tax deductible donations can be made at:
http://www.piac.ca/information

Telus invents new $2.95 fee

(PIAC – 12/11/07)—The Vancouver Sun reported on Nov. 2 that Telus customers who don’t have a Telus long-distance plan may soon see a new $2.95 charge on their monthly phone bills.

“Patricia MacDonald, staff lawyer at the B.C. Public Interest Advocacy Centre calls the new charge “anti-competitive.” “I would hope that the [Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission] would take a very close look at this because it is definitely an anti-competitive measure,” MacDonald said. “It’s a move by Telus to actually punish consumers that aren’t using their long distance product . . . by putting an additional charge on their local service,” the Sun’s Fiona Anderson reported.

ID theft insurance for us, Data breach insurance for them

(PIAC – 12/11/07)—“Identity theft policies, first offered in the U.S. around 2000, have been introduced by many Canadian insurers in the last couple of years. Usually available as $25 to $50 add-ons to home or apartment insurance, they typically cover the cost of dealing with the bureaucratic problems that ensue,” the Globe and Mail reported on Nov. 1.

“Some critics have taken issue with the effectiveness of identity theft policies. In March of this year, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Ottawa studied the offerings and deemed them “flawed” because most financial losses are covered by the financial institutions so insurance is superfluous, and the coverage for time off work and legal assistance is usually capped at low levels,” the Globe’s Joanna Pachner wrote.

“As well, the study notes that most identity theft victims do not actually need full legal defence services. “Corporations may be the real parties in need of identity theft insurance, in the form of data breach insurance,” the writers conclude. Such insurance might encourage corporations to institute best practices for information handling,” the Globe reported.

Transport Canada transfers passenger safety to airlines

(PIAC – 12/11/07)—On Oct. 29 the government announced the reintroduction of former Bill C-6, reinstating it at third reading in the House. The bill takes the onus for air safety off Transport Canada by making the airlines adopt “Safety Management Systems”.

PIAC helped win whistle-blower protection during the committee stage of C-6 but remains opposed to the legislation.

“Transport Canada wants out of the air safety business. C-6 does it for them by effectively leaving safety up to the airlines,” says Michael Janigan, PIAC Executive Director and General Counsel.
“Transport Canada mandated SMS regimes at BC Ferries and CN Rail do not inspire confidence,” Janigan said.

Access to info: PCO apology to CP reporter

(PIAC – 31/10/07)—The Privy Council Office apologized to Canadian Press reporter Jim Bronskill for violating his privacy rights by not blacking out his name in an access to information request release which contained a record of government officials discussing access to information requests.

But the PCO made no apologies for its management of the access to information system.

“Scott White, editor-in-chief of The Canadian Press, said public servants and political aides shouldn’t be asking questions about requesters or their motives. There shouldn’t be any strategy on their part about how and why information is released. Either it can be released under the access rules or it can’t. Who is asking the question should be irrelevant,” CP reported on Oct. 29.

Finance Minister pushes for consumer benefit from Canadian dollar

(PIAC – 31/10/07)—Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is threatening to get tough with retailers if they don’t pass on the benefit of the high Canadian dollar to consumers. But an Oct. 23 Globe and Mail report suggests the benefits might be a long time coming.

“It’s the second time in a year that Mr. Flaherty has used his office to direct the harsh klieg light of public attention on what he considers a shortcoming in the free market,” the Globe’s Steven Chase wrote.

“Last December, at the prompting of the NDP, he went after big banks over excessive service charges: in particular, fees charged for interbank machine transactions. That campaign spanned four months, ending with spring of 2007 announcements from some banks that Mr. Flaherty embraced as results. But consumer advocates say he failed to extract much, particularly in light of the fact the Big Six banks posted combined profits of $19-billion in their latest fiscal year. John Lawford, a lawyer at the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Ottawa, said Mr. Flaherty gets an A for effort but as low as a D for achievement,” the Globe reported.

Re-regulate Cable: PIAC on Broadcasting Distribution Undertakings

(PIAC – 31/10/07)—The CRTC is considering changing the regulations for Broadcasting Distribution Undertakings (BDUs) for Cable and satellite carriers that ensure the provision of Canadian content, local community programming and mandatory carriage.

In written comments filed with the CRTC on Oct. 19, PIAC stated that broadcasting objectives can’t be fulfilled without access and affordability. Over 4 million over-the-air TV viewers will lose access in 2011 with the end of analogue broadcasting. PIAC wants basic cable service be re-regulated in the same way that basic local telephony is regulated—with a price ceiling.

PIAC called for a broadcasting consumer protection agency similar to the one contemplated by the CRTC for the telecommunications sector (Telecom PN 2007-16). The brief noted the financial strength of the sector. It reminded the Commission the airwaves are public space with the Broadcasting Act setting the national interest and sovereignty as priority objectives. The brief was written by PIAC staff.

Lawful Access 3: PIAC Comments on “Customer Name and Address Information Consultation”

(PIAC – 18/10/07)—PIAC today filed comments on the Government’s “Customer Name and Address Information Consultation” Document, otherwise known as “Lawful Access”, that is, the proposal to give police and government the power to intercept certain information from telecommunications providers such as Internet Service Providers and telephone companies.

The initiative appears to consider allowing government to ask for certain information about, for example, personal e-mails and web surfing habits. Certain possible “safeguards” are proposed but none is subject to the level of public scrutiny that one would expect in Canada, according to PIAC, and it appears judges will have either no role or only a limited one in deciding what the government and police may demand from telecommunications companies. The comments were written by John Lawford, PIAC Counsel.

Federal legislation to tackle identity thieves

(PIAC – 18/10/07)—“The Conservative government will introduce legislation this fall aimed at catching identity thieves before they attack the bank accounts of Canadians,” the Globe and Mail reported on Oct. 3.
Current offences are focused solely on the misuse of stolen identities through fraud, impersonation or forgery. [Justice Minister Rob] Nicholson said his bill will extend the law to include the collecting, possessing and trafficking of identity information,” the Globe’s Bill Curry wrote.

“John Lawford, legal counsel for the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, said the over collecting of personal consumer information is the main problem that should be addressed by lawmakers. He said that inspired by the profits that can be made by selling customer lists, companies are overly eager to gather information, but fail to properly protect the data. He wants the law changed so that companies are forced to tell the public when their databases have been breached,” the Globe reported.

Public Interest News
October 12, 2007

PIAC testimony on wholesale access to phone networks

(PIAC – 12/10/07)—“The focus should not be just on what is economically feasible for incumbents and competitors but what is necessary to protect consumers from dominant players or a cozy duopoly between the incumbent telephone and cable companies,” said Michael Janigan, PIAC executive director and general counsel.

“Wholesale services are the fees that small phone companies pay their larger rivals for use of various parts of their network,” the Globe and Mail reported on Oct. 7. The “$3.3-billion wholesale market” features smaller telecoms like “Manitoba Telecom Services Inc., and hydro firms in the phone business,” the Globe’s Catherine McLean wrote.

“With the CRTC’s decisions this summer that competitive local phone services exist in most major centres the commission should take a breather and monitor the behaviour of the big players like Bell and Telus. If, as we fear, Bell and Telus are using deregulation to lock up the markets they dominate then it would be a mistake to leave access decisions to Bell and Telus,” Janigan said.

Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission hearings on whether wholesale access to phone networks should be regulated started Oct. 9. PIAC will be testifying.

CRTC serves up more breaks for big telecoms: No Win-Back Rules

(PIAC – 12/10/07)—“Hoping to spur competition and inspire efficiency and lower prices, the CRTC has eliminated the last of the “win-back” rules that limited how aggressively cable and telephone companies could try to woo customers who left for alternative communications services,” the National Post reported on Oct. 6.

“The commission considers that the elimination of the remaining win-back rules will further encourage competition. This in turn can contribute to the affordability of service by putting downward pressure on subscription rates,” the Post’s Barbara Shecter wrote.

“Other analysts were not convinced that lower prices on individual telecommunications services will result. Customers are more likely to be offered a certain number of months of free service, a discount on a bundle, ‘’or whatever special offer they can come up with to recapture defectors” the Post quoted Kaan Yigit, of Solutions Research Group Consultants.

In the short-term, analysts agreed that yesterday’s removal of restrictions on incumbent phone and cable companies could marginalize a small number of independent Internet service providers. “There is no way to compete with the discount bundle offers of larger telcos or cablecos, unless you are a real niche player, geographically or otherwise,” the Post reported.

Data breach winners, TJX: Losers, Consumers

(PIAC – 12/10/07)—“Retail giant TJX Cos. should have foreseen and prevented a massive security breach this year because it collected too much customer information without adequate safeguards, says the critical conclusion of a months-long investigation by the federal and Albertan privacy commissioners,” CanWest News reported on Sept. 26.

“The investigation was launched earlier this year to determine how TJX, the parent company of Winners and HomeSense retail stores, lost credit and debit card information for more than 45 million customers,” CanWest’s Carly Weeks wrote.

No penalties were assessed but TJX agreed to implement the commissioners’ recommendations including better encryption. In a U.S. class action settlement announced the same day, TJX agreed to provide claimants with $30 to $60 vouchers, credit counselling and customer appreciation days.

OEB acts against the public interest

(PIAC – 12/10/07) — “Over the last two decades, governments and regulators, in Canada and in most of the developed world, have moved to replace state regulation of important public utilities, like telecommunications, energy and airline transportation, with competition whenever there has been an opportunity to do so,” Michael Janigan, PIAC executive director and general counsel wrote in a Sept. 24 Straight Goods column.

“The proponents of this change (usually the utilities themselves) have persuaded many governments to favour by statute, market forces over regulation as the preferred choice for providing consumer protection. But what happens when such a choice does not benefit consumers but actually costs them over a billion dollars more over 10 years?”

“This is the choice that the Ontario Energy Board has recently made in deciding that the natural gas storage market is competitive. Industrial and residential consumer groups have filed petitions to review the OEB decision, and these are already in the hands of the McGuinty cabinet. The Ontario government must decide if it is in the public interest, or even in accordance with competition principles, to charge Union customers an additional $100 million dollars per year with no offsetting benefits. Whatever the current trends in utility regulation, it seems reasonable that customers should always get what they have already paid for,” the consumers’ rights web site reported.

System Access Fees: $6.95 a month (Telus) $8.95 (Bell Mobility) for what?

(PIAC – 12/10/07)—“A Saskatchewan court is allowing a class-action lawsuit to proceed against Canadian cell phone companies. The suit alleges we’ve all been paying too much for phone service through unfair system access fees,” CTV News reported on Sept. 19.

A Toronto Star story the next day said: “At issue is whether Canada’s cellphone providers have misled monthly subscribers by implying that so-called “system access” or “licensing” fees are somehow required by federal regulators.”

“If it takes a class action to curb these kinds of practices, so be it. You can find parallels in other industries where fees are creeping up that have no particular merit, aside from padding the sellers’ pocket” PIAC’s Michael Janigan told the Star’s Chris Sorensen and Tyler Hamilton.

PIAC argues the CRTC should be more aggressive in protecting consumers from unfair practices like the system access fees which generate close to a billion dollars a year in revenues.

PIAC counsel John Lawford told CTV’s David Akin: “It’s an easy way to raise money without having to justify it in terms of the service that you’re offering. It’s just one of those fees that we have to charge, and that’s often the way it’s justified, we have to charge it. It’s not necessarily the case.”

CRTC denies Bell phone deregulation of small town Ontario and Quebec

(PIAC – 12/10/07)—On Sept. 11 the CRTC nixed Bell’s plan to deregulate 56 of 58 local phone markets. “The CRTC said the 56 markets are not competitive enough, so Bell will continue to have its services regulated,” CBC News reported.

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre called for a delay to any deregulation until a proper consumer ombudsman could be established. Critics also said there was no guarantee that phone companies would lower prices, while the risk of actual increases was real. No major phone company has yet to announce it is lowering prices,” CBC reported.

Deregulation “mutual deterrence” factor will prevent price wars: Telus CFO

(PIAC – 12/10/07) —“The CFO of Telus Corp. Robert McFarlane, said deregulation is a positive for the industry because it creates a rational free marketplace that could actually permit price increases,” Canadian Press reported on Sept. 11.

“If a rival targets a major “incumbent” company with low pricing, it does so knowing the established company will immediately be able to match that offer. ‘It’s almost like mutual deterrence,’ McFarlane said, of potential price-cut wars,” CP’s Laura Bobak wrote.

“”Telephone services are going the way of banking services – any discounts will be for big customers and the competition will not be strong enough to produce real benefits for ordinary consumers,” said Janigan, whose group represents a non-profit group of organizations representing pensioners, the disabled and rural residents. The view has been echoed by one telecom company – Vonage Canada.” CP reported.

Canada develops guide to help stop data leaks

(PIAC – 12/10/07)—Business Insurance reported new guidelines issued by Canada’s federal privacy commissioner on Aug. 1, resulted from a five-year review of Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act.

“The most controversial aspect of the guidelines is the absence of mandatory notification of consumers in all instances of a data breach, observers say. Data breaches should be considered on a case-by-case basis with the key consideration being whether notification is necessary to avoid or mitigate harm to an individual whose personal information has been inappropriately accessed, collected, used or disclosed, according to the guidelines. For example, if a company laptop containing encrypted information were to be lost or stolen and subsequently recovered but the information had not been tampered with, notification may not be necessary,” Business Insurance’s Gloria Gonzalez wrote on Aug. 27.

“The Public Interest Advocacy Centre, for example, expressed concern that notification was left to a company’s discretion, arguing that companies are not in a good position to judge potential harm to their customers and that their commercial interests could factor into notification decisions, said John Lawford, counsel for the Ottawa-based consumer group. Widespread compliance could stem the movement toward mandated breach notification, which [Privacy Commissioner Jennifer] Stoddart, several legislators and consumer groups that include PIAC are still promoting, privacy experts say,” the U.S. publication reported.

PUBLIC INTEREST NEWS
September 5, 2007

A month after dereg: No signs of local phone service savings

(PIAC – 5/9/07)—On Aug. 3 the CRTC deregulated local phone service in Quebec City, Montreal, Ottawa-Gatineau, Toronto, Hamilton, London, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Victoria.

CBC News reported: “Competition in the local phone market is going to heat up, and consumers can look forward to new and innovative service offerings becoming available from Bell in the near future,” said Kevin Crull, Bell’s president of residential services.”

“We will have opportunities to simplify our pricing structure and develop new and innovative services and promotions that cross all of our lines of business,” CBC News quoted Kelvin Shepherd, president of the consumer markets division at MTS Allstream.

“Telephone services are going the way of banking services — any discounts will be for big customers and the competition will not be strong enough to produce real benefits for ordinary consumers” said Michael Janigan, executive director and general counsel of the Ottawa-based PIAC”: CBC reported.

On Sept. 3 the Globe and Mail reported: “It’s a month since the former telephone monopolies gained the right to set rates for local phone service themselves, but you wouldn’t know it if you dropped by a Bell Canada store or visited Telus Corp.’s website in search of a big bargain.

A Bell Canada brochure in a Toronto outlet, for example, advertises home phone service prices that it says are regulated by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), even though that is no longer the case. As for Telus, its Alberta website says the price for home phone starts at $23.34, no difference from before the regulatory shackles came off,” the Globe’s Catherine McLean wrote.

Income Trusts: A challenge to regulators

(PIAC – 5/9/07) —On Aug. 16 PIAC released a new report on Income Trusts. While supporting, in principle, the Conservative government’s introduction of a tax intended to place income trusts units and corporate shareholdings on an even footing, the report notes several shortcomings in the tax policy process and the governance of trusts

John Lawford, PIAC legal counsel and co-author of the report, notes: “Tax policy reform is needed before the next major taxation controversy erupts. Investor protection and the taxpayer voice are sorely lacking – but obviously are needed – well before immense corporate investments make changing tax policy expensive to individuals and companies alike.”

The report includes a history and function of the income trust and chronicles the tax policy questions, including the ongoing dispute about the size of the “tax leakage” caused by the income trusts question.

The report calls for changes to equalize the position of shareholders and trust unit holders in terms of rights and criticizes the general lack of transparency in tax policy-making and the seeming reluctance on the part of the federal government to release information on tax policy-making under the Access to Information Act.

The 83-page report was co-authored by PIAC’s Amanda Tait.

McGuinty asked to nix OEB billion-dollar gift

(PIAC – 5/9/07)— On Aug. 13 the Vulnerable Energy Consumers Coalition asked the McGuinty government to overturn an Ontario Energy Board (OEB) decision allowing Union Gas’s Texas-based owners, Spectra Energy (formerly Duke Energy) to pocket an estimated billion dollars over a ten year period that would otherwise have gone to Union Gas Customers.

“The Ontario government must tell Union’s customers why it’s necessary to give a billion dollars of Ontario consumer money to Spectra when that money has been obtained by the use of storage facilities that the customers already built for Union with their rates”, said PIAC’s Michael Janigan who represents VECC. “This money belongs to customers. Sending it to Texas won’t help build any new storage, and won’t save any energy in this province”.

Other major natural gas consumer groups have also appealed the controversial OEB decision including the Industrial Gas Users Association (IGUA) and the Consumers Council of Canada (CCC)

“Union Gas Ltd., owned by Houston-based Spectra Energy Corp., is the largest natural gas storage provider in Ontario, controlling 63 per cent of the market through 20 underground gas-storage pools throughout southwestern Ontario. It fills the pools with natural gas in the summer, or when gas is cheap, so it can draw on those reserves when heating demands are high in the winter,” the Toronto Star reported on June 28.

“But Union Gas only needs two-thirds of that storage for its own operations, so in the past it has sold the surplus to other natural gas distributors and marketers at a regulated rate. Before the energy board’s decision, Union ratepayers got back 75 per cent of any profit from surplus storage sales. When the energy board decided to deregulate the storage market last summer, it ruled Union Gas and Enbridge Inc. could sell surplus storage at market rates – that is, at up to six times their cost – and pocket all revenues. The regulator upheld its decision last month,” the Star’s Tyler Hamilton wrote.

“Janigan said the regulator’s decision sets a “momentous precedent” because it supports deregulation without identifying any clear benefit for consumers. “I’ve followed (deregulation) of telecom and airlines, and there has always been a promise of greater choice and lower prices and better customer service. There’s none of that here,” he said. “This is really an enrichment, primarily for Union shareholders,” the newspaper reported.

Bell accused of hurting poor

(PIAC – 5/9/07) A campaign to overturn the 50 cent pay phone decision is gaining support. On July 30 the National Anti-Poverty Organization, Public Interest Advocacy Centre and Union des consommateurs petitioned federal cabinet to reverse the CRTC ruling.

“An agency helping impoverished Hamiltonians find affordable housing is taking on Ma Bell over its recent 100 per cent rate hike for a call at a pay phone,” the Hamilton Spectator reported on Aug. 23.

“Hamilton LINKS Voice Mail Project has provided cheap voice mail for a decade now to homeless and jobless Steeltown residents who can’t improve their lot without a phone. But to get access to that voice mail, LINKS clients now have to pony up 50 cents per call since Bell doubled the old rate on June 2,” the Spec’s Sharon Boase wrote.

“Michael Janigan thinks the rate hike is all wrong. As head of the Ottawa-based Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), he says it’s hurting low-income Canadians disproportionately by limiting what he deems to be an important and valuable public service,” the newpaper reported.

Aeroplan members need defined benefits

(PIAC – 5/9/07) “Air Canada is halving the number of Aeroplan miles that it awards to buyers of discounted Tango fares, the latest in a series of moves that critics say devalue the popular points plan,” the Globe and Mail reported on Aug. 1.

“Michael Janigan, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Ottawa, said he understands the need for Air Canada to streamline where possible, but he questioned the need to dilute Aeroplan rewards,” the Globe’s Brent Jang wrote.

“When you come aboard and decide to give your business to airlines and collect reward points, there should be some assurance that they’re not going to change the rules midstream,” Mr. Janigan said. “There should be some basic package of expectations that should be part of any airline ticket,” the newspaper reported.

Other recent cuts to Aeroplan include a seven-year limit on points earned and an annual usage requirement.

Phone giants set up a complaints agency

(PIAC – 5/9/07)—On July 23 CP’s Juliane Beltrane reported: “A new telephone complaints commission opened its offices for the first time Monday morning and began hearing static before the end of the day from consumer groups that say the phone and cable companies that will fund the agency are jumping the gun.”

“The office is now up and running and the new commissioner for complaints for Telecommunications Service (CCTS) is, at least on an interim basis, David McKendry. In addition to the commissioner, there will be a seven-member board, three from the industry and four consumer advocates. The founding companies of the office are Bell Aliant, Bell Canada, SaskTel, Telus, MTS Allstream, Rogers, Virgin Mobile, Cogeco, Videotron and Vonage,” the Ottawa Citizen’s Deidre McMurdy reported.

“The CCTS created by industry players falls well short of providing the minimal consumer protection guarantees recommended by the TPRP, notably the power to adequately compensate consumers,” said John Lawford, PIAC counsel.

Lawford said the haste with which the telecommunications providers put in place a flawed organization which effectively serves only the interests of the industry and the strategy of the large telecommunications companies that, while appearing to respond to the government’s requirements for such an agency, uses the creation of the CCTS as a green light for deregulation of local telephone service while painting the CRTC and its public process into a corner.

Top court deals blow to online shoppers

(PIAC – 5/9/07)—On July 14 the Montreal Gazette reported: “Internet shoppers beware: the fine print on an online bill could be located a hyperlink away. A ruling yesterday by Canada’s highest court says online shoppers are expected to hunt down the terms of a sale, even if they’re linked externally.

PIAC was an intervenor in the class-action lawsuit against Dell Computer.

“The Supreme Court is going against the trend in European law, which is to list the conditions with the order. The Supreme Court is woefully out of touch with the reality of electronic commerce” said John Lawford, lawyer for the Ottawa-based Public Interest Advocacy Centre. “It’s a dark day for online shoppers in Canada, he concluded,” the Gazette’s Allison Lampert wrote.

C-11: Not enough truth in airline advertising

(PIAC – 5/9/07)—“Sick and tired of airlines advertising low prices, only to be walloped over the head with a much costlier fare when you pay for all the add-ons? Too bad. Things aren’t likely to change any time soon,” the Edmonton Sun reported on July 4,

“By the time Bill C-11 made its way through the committee stage, into the Senate, and back to the House, it was a pretty limp piece of legislation. One would have hoped that airlines would immediately be required to advertise the full cost of a ticket. Alas, that particular clause of the bill won’t come into effect until cabinet decides it’s time. In other words, prepare for a lot more so-called stakeholder consultation,” the Sun’s Mindelle Jacobs wrote.

“From our previous dealings with Transport Canada, it’s likely to be a fairly lengthy … process,” says a peeved Michael Janigan, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre. “It’s an effort to … frustrate the intent of the legislation and give some kind of bonus to Air Canada and WestJet,” he charges. “I don’t see how it’s politically a good idea to allow the airlines to mislead customers.”

Call for Do-not-call proposals

(PIAC – 5/9/07)—On July 2 the CRTC announced a call for proposals to establish the do-not-call list. The law which gives consumers an option to slamming the phone on telemarketers was passed in the dying days of the Martin government. During the legislative process a number of consumer friendly elements were discarded including exempting pollsters, politicians and charities.

PIAC criticized the long delay but welcomed the announcement. On July 3 Canadian Press reported: “These rules are a reasonable compromise between consumers’ right to be left alone and businesses’ desires to sell services over the telephone,’ said John Lawford, counsel with PIAC.”

“Rules for enforcement, including a fining power of up to $15,000 per violation by a telemarketing company, should help to ensure the do-not-call list is respected,” CP quoted Lawford.

Airline passengers press for consumer protection legislation in the U.S.

(PIAC – 5/9/07)—From high prices, to misleading advertising and lost luggage Canadian airline passengers have a lot to complain about. In the U.S. the Coalition for Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights has brought legislation to the floors of both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. The bill calls for airlines to meet standards in their service in several categories, including notifying passengers about delays and adhering to rules for compensating wronged customers, the Globe and Mail reported on July 11.

“We don’t have any, first of all, assembly of consumer information upon which [consumers] can make a choice of airlines by the government, and secondly not a great deal of [industry] interest in ensuring that there are fair and adequate consumer standards,” says Michael Janigan, executive director of the PIAC,” the Globe’s Geoff Nixon wrote

“I think, by and large, customers would welcome having a set of clearly defined, explicable standards which would … codify reasonable expectations when you purchase a ticket,” the newspaper reported.

Belus belly up

(PIAC – 5/9/07) – – The Telus vision of an all-Canadian monopoly on local phone and wireless service crashed after a consumer backlash. On June 21 Telus outlined a cash and stock bid for BCE including its local telephone and wireless arms.

CTV News clipped PIAC’s Michael Janigan: “I don’t think it’s good for consumers, and I think it’s a direct result of the government interfering in the regulatory process earlier in this year to try to lower the bar for regulation and remove most of the consumer protection associated with local telephone service.

“Certainly their merger would reduce competition across the board in Canada, and would make it very unlikely that you would see other entrants to compete against this mega entity,” Janigan told CTV’s David Akin.

 

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