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Public Interest News: Telcom complaints / Bell Canada rebate hustle / Whitelisting / Le courtage hypothécaire

All telcos must fund the Commissioner for Complaints

(PIAC 7/Dec/2010) “For the first time, the CRTC has issued a ruling from the bench at the end of a regulatory hearing, rather than after the usual 120 days, mandating that all telecom providers in Canada must become members of the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services (CCTS),” Iain Marlow reported for the Globe and Mail on Dec. 1, 2010. “Citizens’ groups, such as the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, asked the regulator to increase the scope of the complaint agency’s powers, and also pushed for mandatory membership,” the Globe and Mail reported.

In a story earlier in the week the Globe reported PIAC counsel John Lawford “said the work done by the CCTS would never be done by individual companies; the number of Canadian consumers who are not happy with their providers is evidence of that, he added. He said the agency’s scope should be expanded, noting that it doesn’t handle complaints about cable TV or about a non-member company, or even complaints from home-phone customers in rural areas (high-cost areas where companies are required to provide service).”

Bell Canada rebate hustle: PIAC gains support in the call for a halt

(PIAC 7/Dec/2010) According to CRTC filings Rogers and Quebecor are supporting PIAC’s call for a halt to the Bell coupon campaign. “We hope for a quick resolution to this matter that meets the intent of the Commission’s rebate decision,” says Michael Janingan, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre. The Ottawa-based consumer group was a driving force behind the order to rebate customers who were overcharged for local phone services.

Bell rebate plan decried as a hustle

(PIAC 7/Dec/2010)”A new advertising campaign by Bell Canada is offensive to consumers, the Ottawa-based Public Interest Advocacy Centre has charged. The group wrote a letter of complaint to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission yesterday, saying Bell’s rebate campaign of $100 per home phone customer in urban areas, which the company says is in response to a court ruling, “offends consumers, violates the directives, and should be stopped,” Jason Madger reported for the Montreal Gazette on Nov. 30.

“The promotion should be halted,” Michael Janigan, the centre’s executive director, told The Gazette. “People should be given the money they’re entitled to, or offered something else. This is a bait and switch kind of tactic.” Janigan said it’s inappropriate for Bell to use its customers’ money to tie them in to long-term services,” the Gazette reported,

Whitelisting: What it means for consumers

(PIAC 7/Dec/2010) On Nov. 15 the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) released a report called “Whitelisting for Cyber Security: What It Means for Consumers”. It examines the technique of whitelisting and provides examples of how whitelisting is being deployed in Canada by security companies.

PIAC conducted interviews with industry and government stakeholders and found that the use of whitelisting has advantages for cyber security, such as preventative protection against zero day attacks. However, whitelisting is not a holistic cyber security solution and is particularly ineffective at dealing with grey areas such as spyware and adware. A centralized whitelist can slow efficiency and stifle innovation the report says.

“Whitelisting does not work for consumers yet because it requires a level of technical sophistication and time to set up and manage that most consumers do not have,” said Janet Lo, legal counsel for PIAC. “As whitelisting continues to develop in the enterprise space, pure-play vendors and holistic security vendors will likely look to innovate for deployment in the consumer space. The successful adoption of whitelisting will depend on innovation that makes it easier for consumers to implement and administer whitelisting.”

Eden Maher joins the Public Interest Advocacy Centre

(PIAC 7/Dec/2010) Eden Maher received her J.D. with Distinction from the University of Saskatchewan in 2010. She was Managing Editor of the Saskatchewan Law Review and active in the inner-city student legal clinic.

As recipient of the Borden Ladner Gervais Research Fellowship, she co-wrote a recent journal article on legal ethics curriculum in Canadian law schools. Prior to pursuing law, she taught English in Asia for four years and was a Social Worker in emergency housing and addiction services in BC and California. In her articling year at PIAC, she is primarily involved in researching consumer issues relating to wireless phone services and privacy, as well as assisting with hearings before the CRTC.

Air passenger rights: Define basic service PIAC says

(PIAC 7/Dec/2010) “Maryse Durette, a spokeswoman for Transport Canada, said the government supports consumer protection for air passengers but “seeks a balance between protecting the interests of consumers and the competitiveness of Canada’s air carriers.” Air passenger rights, she said, are enshrined in the Canada Transportation Act and were further enhanced when the government launched Flight Rights Canada in September 2008,” Tobi Cohen reported for Postmedia News on Nov. 24.

“Michael Janigan, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, said passenger dissatisfaction remains high and airlines are still trying to “winnow down the meaning of basic service,” with things like additional baggage charges. Quebec, he added, is also the only jurisdiction to move forward on a plan to crack down on “all-in” marketing in which airlines advertise flights at far less than the end price,” Postmedia News reported.

“He also wants Transport Canada to start collecting statistics on things like carrier delays, cancellations and lost baggage so consumers can make informed decisions about which airline they wish to fly with. “The airlines have not become suddenly consumer friendly organizations,” he said. “The fact of the mater is they’re in a difficult industry and if there are measures that can be put in place that are not necessarily friendly to consumers but will raise money they will do so,” the news agency reported.

Ellen Roseman talks consumer activism at PIAC Annual Dinner

(PIAC 7/Dec/2010) “FAIR Canada Director Ellen Roseman was the keynote speaker at the Nov. 5 Annual Dinner of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre. During her remarks, Ms. Roseman reviewed her role in consumer activism over the past decades, noting that there is now a “tiny consumer movement, underfinanced and struggling to make itself heard in the halls of power”.

The presentation reviewed recent developments in the US, including the creation of a Financial Consumer Protection Agency, and the positive roles that media and the internet are playing in helping consumers share information and raise awareness across Canada,” FAIR Canada reported on Nov. 11, 2010. Ellen Roseman’s presentation is on the Fair Canada website

Le courtage hypothécaire plus fréquent au Canada

(PIAC 7/Dec/2010) “Le courtage hypothécaire au Canada demeure une industrie en santé, contrairement à son pendant américain, selon une étude de la firme Deloitte rendue publique mercredi,” SRC a rapporté le 27 octobre.

“Selon Jean-François Vinet, analyste des services financiers à Option consommateurs … les courtiers achètent en gros auprès des banques, ce qui leur donne un bon pouvoir de négociation. Ils peuvent obtenir de meilleurs taux, ce qui peut aussi servir d’outil de négociation pour les emprunteurs dans le magasinage d’un prêt.

“Toutefois, selon M. Vinet, les emprunteurs potentiels doivent rester prudents, puisque les courtiers hypothécaires, autant que les banques, ne donnent pas toujours l’information nécessaire à l’emprunteur concernant sa capacité de rembourser et les restrictions à apporter à ses habitudes de consommation,” SRC a rapporté.

Bill C-36: Canada Consumer Product Safety Act

(PIAC 7/Dec/2010) In Parliament, on Oct. 29, MP Megan Leslie cited Public Interest Advocacy Centre testimony: “It is particularly disheartening to find the oppositional posture to this Bill presented as a matter of protection of the civil rights of business and property owners engaged in the sale and distribution of the consumer products that are the subject matter of this bill. Such individuals are amply protected by the provisions in the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and possible civil remedies for government behaviour that exceeds the ambit of its protective statutory mandate. Monetary loss, embarrassment and hurt feelings are regrettable, but nonetheless compensable in the event of improper government conduct.

“On the other hand, harm caused to public health and citizen livelihood may only be imperfectly remedied. What will be the explanation given to a parent grieving the loss or permanent injury of a child caused by the use of a product irresponsibly brought to market, when the reason is the lack of, or delay in application, of proper enforcement tools by the responsible authority caused by these amendments?” PIAC testified Hansard reported on Oct. 29.

CRTC needs new legislation to impose administrative penalties

(PIAC 7/Dec/2010) “CRTC officials appeared before the House Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage Tuesday where they called for the power to impose administrative monetary penalties across all of its regulated sectors,” Jonathan Migneault wrote for the Wire Report on Nov. 3. “Michael Janigan, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), said in an interview that government would need to amend the Telecommunications Act and the Broadcasting Act to allow the CRTC to impose administrative monetary penalties across the board,” the Wire Report story said.

Regulate financial planners: No rules enable fraudsters

(PIAC 7/Dec/2010) “There’s too little regulation of financial planning in Canada, which is confusing investors about which advisors are qualified and enabling fraudsters to profit, according to John Lawford, counsel with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre,” Megan Harman reported for Investment Executive on Nov. 22. “PIAC is calling for more regulation in Canada since under the current system, anyone can call himself or herself a financial planner, and so investors often have no way of determining whether an advisor is qualified. This is making it easy for fraud artists to profit, and the confusion that this creates among investors may retard growth of the industry, according to Lawford.

“PIAC suggests establishing a professional self-regulatory body for financial planners in Canada, and setting out specific requirements that individuals must meet in order to identify themselves as financial planners. Quebec’s financial planning regulations could be used as a model for the rest of the country, the advocacy centre suggests,” Investment Executive reported.

Bill C-29: Anti-privacy privacy bill condemned

(PIAC 7/Dec/2010) Bill C-29, which amends PIPEDA, Canada’s federal privacy legislation, does much to undermine Canadians’ privacy rights and not enough to protect them, say privacy advocates,” p2pnet reported on Nov. 19. “Where Bill C-29 seeks to protect privacy, it fails. Worse, the Bill would greatly expand the ways in which private organizations can be used in investigations against their customers,” says David Fewer, director of the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC).

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre, British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, British Columbia Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, Canadian Civil Liberties Association and CIPPIC wrote the chairman of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics about the failure to insure consumers are notified when their personal information is lost or stolen,” p2pnet reported.

Consumers and global institutions: Consumers International

(PIAC 7/Dec/2010) Consumer organisations worldwide, including PIAC, work together in an organization called Consumers International (CI). CI is pressuring the G20 for financial protection for “real people”. The organizations including Option consommateurs, Proconsumer Argentina, Consumidores Argentinos, Choice Australia, Proteste Brazil, Hong Kong Consumer Council, The European Consumers Organisation, CLCV France, UFC-QUE France, CUTS International India, Consumers Association of India, Yayasan Lembarga Konsumen Indonesia and others want the G20 to get beyond the banks when considering global financial issues.

Google Street View broke Canadian law: “Blaming a rogue employee doesn’t cut it”

(PIAC 7/Dec/2010) The company is at fault for failing failure to follow procedure, says the privacy czar, who set a deadline for Google to meet her recommendations. A careless engineer and failure to follow procedure are to blame for private e-mails being read by Google Street View cars driving through Canadian neighbourhoods, the federal Privacy Commissioner says,” Brian Jackson wrote for IT World Canada on Oct. 20.

“The commissioner was right to find fault with Google, says John Lawford, a lawyer with Ottawa-based Public Interest Advocacy Centre. But she should have gone further with her response. “We don’t think the response is sufficient given the seriousness of the breach,” he says. “It’s serious as it gets, driving around literally looking inside people’s private e-mails from the street. If that cannot be stopped, and by a private party, then what chance have we of any privacy in electronic communications from other companies, or the state?” IT World Canada reported.

“Blaming a “rogue employee” for the breach doesn’t cut it, Lawford adds. Google should have procedures in place to ensure the law is followed in any circumstance. The office has set a deadline of Feb. 1, 2011 for Google to respond to the recommendations,” IT World Canada reported.

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