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Public Interest News: OEB acts / Second Life / Net throttling / Produits hypothécaires / Competition Bureau works / Competition Act amendments / Aviation safety / Big Brother

Ontario Energy Board takes action for low-income consumers

(PIAC-19/03/09) A province-wide program to help low-income households cope with high gas and hydro costs was announced by the Ontario Energy Board on March 10. The Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP) will provide emergency financial support, require energy utilities to be flexible with customers and increase access to conservation programs. LEAP will cost about about $5 million, the Toronto Star reported.

“But the energy board has so far only offered up a framework document, said Michael Buonaguro, a lawyer with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Ottawa who represents a group called the Vulnerable Energy Consumers Coalition.

”’The question is going to be how we implement it,’ he said. Still, added Buonaguro, the document touches on everything the coalition advocated for and shows significant promise,” the Star’s Tyler Hamilton reported.

Second Life pose real-life privacy risks: Janet Lo

(PIAC-19/03/09) “You can shop, date and commit crimes virtually in online fantasy worlds like Second Life, but you may jeopardize your privacy in the real world, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada says,” CBC News reported on March 11.

“What sets such worlds apart from mere games is the fact that they involve real money and real personal information, said Janet Lo, the author of the study released late last week by the Privacy Commissioner. The rules and agreements concerning privacy, however, were sometimes “missing, or just a bit unclear or vague,” Lo added. That information could include data to verify the participant’s age and credit card information that is necessary to participate in business in Second Life, Lo said. “Always keep in mind that things … or facts or whatever you post or discuss or do could come out later.”

“Lo conducted the study last spring while she was a University of Ottawa law student. She has since graduated and is currently articling at the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Ottawa,” CBC News reported.

Les produits hypothécaires: Option consommateurs

(PIAC-19/03/09) “Les faibles taux d’intérêt actuels sont de bon augure pour les propriétaires qui doivent renouveler leur hypothèque. Les autres sont sans doute tentés de rompre leur engagement pour en renégocier un nouveau et ainsi profiter des bas taux d’intérêt, et ce, malgré les pénalités. C’est que les taux d’intérêt des prêts hypothécaires “sont historiquement bas”, soutient Jean-François Vinet, analyste des services financiers pour l’organisme Option consommateurs” a rapporté Métro Montréal.

“Il faut avoir en tête que les banques veulent vendre des produits financiers, souligne M. Vinet. Avant de se déplacer pour rencontrer une institution financière, il est préférable de consulter des sources d’information indépendantes, tel le site internet de l’Agence de la consommation en matière financière du Canada [www.fcac-acfc.gc.ca].”

“Il peut s’avérer payant de bien s’informer et magasiner les produits hypothécaires. “N’hésitez pas à souligner à votre institution financière que la concurrence vous offre de meilleurs taux d’intérêt”, conseille Option consommateurs,” Gabriel Delisle a écrit le 10 mars.

Net neutrality: Throttling is unnecessary and violates the Telecommunications Act

(PIAC-19/03/09) On Feb. 23 PIAC submitted comments to the CRTC on behalf of the Consumers’ Association of Canada, the National Anti-Poverty Organization and Option consommateurs. The comments note Internet Service Providers’ stated reason for undertaking such measures as application specific traffic throttling is increased traffic growth and estimates of future growth that will overwhelm their networks as they struggle to provide basic electronic mail and web browsing services to the large majority of their customers.

The Consumer Groups submitted: “this concern is vastly overstated and even if there is a risk of “exponential” Internet traffic increase over Canadian ISP networks, that the measures taken thus far to attempt to manage the network are contrary to the Telecommunications Act, discriminatory and not prudent, resilient nor sustainable network management policies. The groups submit that a large portion of bandwidth problems are of the ISPs own making or that it lies within their present and future power to manage this bandwidth more effectively.”

The 94-page brief includes reviews of trends, key questions like traffic management notification and disclosure requirements, and global trends and solutions. The document is at:

Competition Bureau works with consumers groups

(PIAC-19/03/09) “Anu Bose, head of the Ottawa office of Option Consommateurs, suggests consumers protect themselves from savvy con artists. Shred your personal documents, ask for call-back numbers, be wary of sweepstakes, too-good-to-be-true vacation packages, e-mails from your bank (banks rarely e-mail their clients) and ignore all e-mails from exiled princes or long-lost relatives asking for cash in return for part of a trust fund,” Sun media reported on March 3.

Sun Media’s Beth Johnston quoted Bose: “Fraud is a grave violation of a person’s rights. Consumers need to be even more vigilant in hard times.”

Aviation Safety News: Transport 2000 and Public Interest Advocacy Centre

(PIAC-19/03/09) Aviation Safety News is a project of Transport 2000 Canada and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre. The latest issues covers: Dryden, March 10, 1989, SkyNorth cleared, No muzzle on inspectors, Sault airport, Lasered , ANS cuts, Perimeter Aviation, 2008-49 dead in 24 crashes, Sonicblue, Air Canada liquidity, Flight 3407, SkyNorth Air, Flight attendant regulations, Passenger bill of rights, Sarvair Aviation, Transwest Air, FAA OpSpec A332 and US Airways Flight 1549.

Transport 2000 and PIAC support airline passenger rights. PIAC and Transport 2000 oppose the Aeronautics Act amendments to transfer primary responsibility for safety to the airlines. The amendments mandate safety management systems but have not been passed by Parliament. The Aviation Safety News readers’ group includes six top aviation safety authorities and a number of industry and civil service professionals.

PIAC supports Competition Act amendments in Bill C-10

(PIAC-19/03/09) In testimony to the Finance Committee on Feb. 24 PIAC’s Michael Janigan said: “We would first note that while the proposed amendments are quite comprehensive, they have certainly been the subject of considerable past discussion among stakeholders and represent a fairly balanced take on necessary refinements to the Act.

“For example, of the amendments complete the reform of misleading advertising or deceptive marketing that has been the consensus for over two decades. These amendments help the Competition authorities address this abuse in an economic and administrative fashion. By so doing, the intent of the provisions will be more efficiently enforced, and sanction meted out, where necessary, that is appropriate to the conduct of the offending advertiser,” PIAC’s General Counsel and Executive Director testified.

“Naturally, there has been an effort to bolster the effectiveness of the non-criminal enforcement procedure to encourage compliance, including more realistic maximums on administrative monetary penalties, and some new rights for complainants. It is essential that the Committee understand that these amendments are designed to make markets work better, and to protect the legitimate interests of consumers and suppliers in open markets. The practices that are being deterred involve conduct that subverts the operation of a competitive market and prevents the existence of an informed market of customers, as well as the ability of suppliers to challenge dominant players with new products and services,” Janigan said.

Aviation Safety: The ‘precautionary principle’ or the `risk approach`

(PIAC-19/03/09) On Feb. 24 the Association of Flight Attendants’ Candace K. Kolander testified before the U.S. House of Representative’s Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation. Her testimony emphasized the safety function of flight attendants and addressed Flammability Standards, Emergency Floor Lighting Systems, 16g Seats, Exit Row Seating, Crew Resource Management (CRM) and September 11 Security Measures. AFA’s Kolander pointed to training, fatigue and contaminated air as areas where the government needs to do a better job.

She summed up the concerns of U.S. Flight attendants by quoting from PIAC’s 2001 report High Hopes and Low Standards! The Life and Times of Airline Travel in Canada: “Part of the problem in dealing with the safety issue and airline travel is the conceptual framework that the industry and to a degree, government, has adopted for safety. … [T]hese differences are exemplified in how safety is dealt [with] through the choices in the industry between the ‘precautionary principle’ or the `risk approach` (also referred to as risk analysis or cost benefit analysis).

The PIAC report said: “In a precautionary approach, standards are created, and investments and initiatives are undertaken to prevent, or greatly reduce the potential for, a possible occurrence, and to provide resources to appropriately deal with an occurrence. In a risk approach, it is calculated that the likelihood of an event occurring is minimal or a low probability. As such, it is then considered more financially effective and efficient to not pursue certain undertakings. In this framework, when an incident does occur, the cost will still be less than that of the proactive precautionary approach, up to a certain level.”

Lawful Access or Big Brother?

(PIAC-19/03/09) “The Conservative government is preparing sweeping new eavesdropping legislation that will force Internet service providers to let police tap exchanges on their systems,” the Globe and Mail reported on Feb. 12. In a panel discussion the next day on CHCH-TV PIAC’s John Lawford said the initiative may allow police to ask for information about personal e-mails and web surfing habits.

To date no bill has been introduced but Lawford says possible “safeguards” proposed in a 2007 consultation document are not subject to the level of public scrutiny that one would expect in Canada. Lawford is concerned new legislation will allow police to fish through everyone’s cyber-life using key words.
He says police can always go to a judge and ask for a warrant.

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