Rogers asks CRTC for regulations to help collect unpaid bills

(PIAC 27/Jan/2010) “Customers porting out mid-contract with unpaid balances are costing Rogers, and most probably other wireless carriers as well, millions of dollars each year,” the company said in its letter. “The task of collecting these unpaid balances is made much more difficult once a customer ports their number to a new carrier as the relationship has been terminated,” CBC News reported on Jan. 21.
“Michael Janigan, executive director at the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, a consumer watchdog, said Rogers’s move is a clear attempt to stem the loss of market share. New cellphone companies such as Wind Mobile, as well as improved offerings from traditional rivals Bell and Telus, are chipping away at market leader Rogers’s subscriber base. “This is the clear downside of long-term contracts for a supplier and now they want regulation to solve a problem brought about by market forces,” (Janigan) said,” CBC’s Peter Nowak wrote. On Jan. 26 the Globe and Mail reported: “Rogers Communications Inc. withdrew (the) application to the CRTC after other wireless carriers refused to support it.” CBC News Jan. 21

Il y a un mauvais service à la clientèle chez Bell Canada : Option consommateurs

(PIAC 27/Jan/2010) « Dans un geste juridiquement rare, la Cour supérieure du Québec vient de casser un jugement de la Cour des petites créances qui, l’an dernier, a condamné Bell Canada à indemniser un consommateur harcelé à tort au téléphone pendant des semaines pour un compte impayé auquel il n’était aucunement lié. … Option consommateurs a déploré ce recours par Bell à une procédure exceptionnelle. Elle estime toutefois que les petites créances sont peut-être allées un peu loin dans le jugement rendu l’an dernier en faveur de (le consommateur) M. Crevier » Le Devoir a rapporté le 23 janvier 2010.
« Les plaintes que nous recevons confirment qu’il y a un mauvais service à la clientèle chez Bell Canada, a indiqué au Devoir l’avocate de l’organisme consumériste, Élise Thériault. On sait aussi que les agences de recouvrement ne sont pas réputées pour être gentilles, mais de là à présumer que le harcèlement dont a été victime M. Crevier relève de la mauvaise foi, il y a une marche», que la Cour supérieure a décidé de ne pas gravir » Fabien Deglise a écrit. Le Devoir le 23 janvier

Teen site Nexopia’s user profiles are googleable: PIAC files complaint

(PIAC 27/Jan/2010) “The Ottawa-based Public Interest Advocacy Centre filed a complaint with privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart Monday about the “unnecessary and non-consensual use and disclosure of personal information” by Nexopia, an Edmonton-based social-networking site aimed at teens. labels itself “the place to be for teens looking to express themselves to the world,” and boasts more than 1.2 million registered members — mostly from Western Canada — with more than one billion page views monthly,” Canwest News Service reported on Jan. 19.
“The complaint outlines six ways that Nexopia violates Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, known as PIPEDA. The most worrisome of these, said (PIAC’s John) Lawford, is that profiles can searched by any Internet user and show up in Google queries. Nexopia users can upload a variety of information from age and interests, to e-mail addresses and photos, all of which then becomes searchable. Privacy settings can later be set to hide personal information, however, four details — username, sex, location and age — can never be changed or deleted,” Canwest’s Amy Husser wrote. Canwest News Service Jan. 19

Voluntary policy for credit, debit industry will clash with rights of consumers

(PIAC 27/Jan/2010) “Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s draft code of conduct for the credit- and debit-card industry will drive up transaction costs for consumers while eroding their rights with respect to electronic payments, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre warned Tuesday. The non-profit research group says the code, as proposed, is a poor substitute for true regulation. In addition to harming consumers, the group said, its provisions lack heft to resolve merchants’ grievances with card companies, payment processors and banks,” the Toronto Star reported on Jan. 20.
“Unfortunately, implementation of some of the draft’s provisions would significantly increase consumer search and transaction costs and clash with consumer rights as legislatively implemented, without providing consumers any compensatory benefit,” the group wrote in its report,” the Star’s Rita Trichur wrote. Toronto Star, Jan. 20

Ontario’s Motor Vehicle Dealers Act: Fees kicked out of the fine print

(PIAC 27/Jan/2010) “Extra charges are everywhere. You pay system-access fees for telephone service and account opening or closing fees for financial services. Airlines are notorious for advertising low prices that double up once the add-on fees are included. “The preferable solution for consumers would be an outright ban on the practice,” says the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Ottawa. In its report last September on extra charges in Canada’s marketplace, PIAC proposes that companies use “all-in prices” in ads as the next best option,” the Toronto Star’s Ellen Roseman wrote on Jan. 20
“In a victory for those who want bundled pricing, Ontario car dealers now have to move fees out of the fine print. More meaningful disclosure is part of the new Motor Vehicle Dealers Act, 2002, which came into force Jan. 1,” the Star columnist wrote. Toronto Star Jan. 20

Code of conduct governing credit and debit cards: Consumer pays but has no control

(PIAC 27/Jan/2010) “Some companies, such as Visa and Moneris, are warning the government it could delay or even kill competition in the debit card market, now largely run by the Interac Association, if it forges ahead with the nine-point code. … A number of consumer groups, such as the Montreal-based Option Consommateurs, say the code does not do enough to protect consumers and are calling on Ottawa to create a law that governs electronic payments,” the Globe and Mail reported on Jan. 18.
“John Lawford, a spokesman for the Ottawa-based Public Interest Advocacy Centre, said the code does not tackle the issue of fees. “Our overall concern is that consumers are stuck between the two sides,” he said. “At the end of the day, we do have trouble with any system where the consumer is the one who is paying and doesn’t have control over which account or network it’s going through.” This is one of those rare markets where more competition will like mean the price goes up, he said,” the Globe’s Tara Perkins reported. Globe and Mail Jan. 18

Globalive approval challenged: PIAC says more wireless competition is needed

(PIAC 27/Jan/2010) “Upstart wireless company Globalive is facing another legal challenge after another new player in the mobile phone market asked for a court review of the government’s decision to approve Globalive’s ownership structure. … In doing so, federal Industry Minister Tony Clement set aside an earlier ruling from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, which found Globalive did not meet Canadian ownership and control requirements,” CBC News reported on Jan. 8.
“We believe Cabinet’s decision is unfair to other wireless carriers, especially new entrants like Public Mobile that have played by the rules and secured substantial Canadian investment,” Public Mobile CEO Alek Krstajic said in a statement. … Consumer advocates cheered the government’s decision as a big win for cellphone customers, since the addition of new players is expected to lower prices. “More competition should elevate Canada’s market to that approaching what exists in the rest of the world,” said Michael Janigan,” CBC News reported. CBC News Jan. 8

Canadian law should protect airline passengers: Michael Janigan

(PIAC 27/Jan/2010) “American air carriers could be fined as much as 27,000 dollars per seat if stranded passengers aren’t returned to the airport after three hours. But a private member’s bill designed to protect passengers here has hit stormy political weather and is now stalled in committee by procedural wrangling,” CBC National reported on Dec. 22.
“Instead airlines are now following new guidelines which say airlines should provide meal vouchers for delays and schedule departures of over four hours. If you get stuck on the tarmac, airlines offer drinks and snacks if it’s safe to do so, and if delays exceed 90 minutes, offer the option of disembarking but only if circumstances permit. Consumer advocates say it’s not enough,” CBC’s Reg Sherren reported. Public Interest Advocacy Centre’s Michael Janigan told the National: “It’s not just simply the airlines’ fault, it’s also the government’s fault for failing to protect the citizens that are supposed to be protected.”

Ontario payday loan caps: Astronomically high

(PIAC 21/Dec/09) “The new law, which came into effect Tuesday, sets a maximum charge for payday loans. Now consumers cannot be charged more than $21 for every $100 borrowed. … an Ottawa-based advocacy group said the laws governing payday loan establishments were still not stringent enough. The Public Interest Advocacy Centre said the changes will end up protecting payday loan companies more than consumers. A spokesman for the payday companies disagrees with the criticism,” the Woodstock Sentinel-Review reported on Dec. 17
“It’s more the big businesses that have been protected (and) the little guys can operate at that rate, because it’s so high, and probably not go out of business,” said John Lawford, a spokesman for the advocacy group. “It’s astronomically higher than a bank or credit card company (could charge). It’s not even in the same league,” Michelle Sommer wrote for the Sentinel-Review. Sentinel Review Dec. 17

La loi 60 est adoptée à Québec

(PIAC 21/Dec/09) « Beau cadeau de Noël pour les consommateurs: l’Assemblée nationale a adopté, hier après-midi, le projet de loi 60 qui renforcera la Loi sur la protection du consommateur (LPC). Les mesures entreront en vigueur le 30 juin prochain. … Les organismes de défense des consommateurs se réjouissent de ce nouveau cadre législatif qui couvrira “divers domaines qui n’étaient pas spécifiquement encadrés par la loi, adoptée en 1971”, a rappelé Michel Arnold, directeur général d’Option consommateurs. “Il faut poursuivre le travail afin, notamment, de mieux encadrer les nouvelles formes de crédit” » Stéphanie Grammond a rapporté dans La Presse le 3 décembre. La Presse le 3 décembre

PIAC calls on provinces to regulate financial planning

(PIAC 21/Dec/09) “Canada’s provinces should regulate financial planning, suggests a report released Monday by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre. … It notes that consumers face an “alphabet soup” of financial planning titles, and that “These groups and designations are not clear to Canadian financial consumers and are largely ignored in the decision to use a financial planner’,” Investment Executive reported on Dec. 14.
“PIAC concludes that “the time appears ripe for the provinces to regulate financial planning in the public interest.” It says that the model used in Quebec, with some minor adjustments, “appears to be the best way forward to protect Canadian financial consumers.” It may be in studying the fee-only model that potential regulatory requirements such as separation of financial planners from ownership of, or employment by, financial companies or particular investments (including prohibition on related parties owning or being employed by these entities) may be appropriate and necessary in the future,” IE’s James Langton wrote, Investment Executive Dec. 14=

PIAC opposes Senate amendments to consumer product safety bill (C-6)

(PIAC 21/Dec/09) “We very much regret the decision of your Committee to approve amendments that severely hamper the ability of the government to pursue the public interest in relation to matters of health and public safety. The net effect of the amendments is to potentially frustrate the efforts of Health Canada to swiftly deal with the imminent danger posed by consumer products that may be untested, misrepresented, and released into the marketplace with minimal warning,” PIAC’s Michael Janigan wrote to Senator Art Eggleton Chair, Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology on Dec. 7.
“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 the Bill. Such individuals are amply protected by the provisions of 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,” Janigan wrote.

Rogers charges for texts contract said were free

(PIAC 21/Dec/09) “In July of this year, Rogers introduced a new fee of 15 cents per incoming text message for all customers who did not have a specific plan or bundle for text messaging. Those charges were applied to von Sacken’s account, despite her contract — which says incoming texts are free. … John Lawford of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) in Ottawa said court decisions have upheld the carriers’ right to change services and fees after contracts are signed. “Unfortunately, Canadian courts have said yes, that is binding,” said Lawford. PIAC has been fighting for better consumer protection from cellphone company practices. He pointed out that Bell and Telus also charge the 15-cent fee for incoming texts, a fee those companies brought in a year earlier than Rogers,” CBC News reported on Dec. 15. .
“Lawford hopes the introduction of new competitors into the marketplace — such as the newly-approved carrier Globalive — will be the real catalyst for change. “Until now, we’ve been going backwards,” said Lawford. “In other countries we have no charges for incoming calls and we have charges for incoming calls in Canada and the same things for texts now. It’s largely because we have three big carriers and not a lot of competition.” Lawford said experts have estimated the 15-cent text messaging charge is hugely profitable for Canada’s three big carriers,” Kathy Tomlinson reported for CBC News.CBC News Dec. 15

Democratization of credit: What about low income consumers?

(PIAC 21/Dec/09) “Banks and credit card companies often argue the popularity of credit cards represents a “democratization of credit.” Yet, some experts suggest the current system is fundamentally rigged against the consumer and the merchant. … “For low-income consumers who don’t have access to a conventional credit card, the costs go up much higher,” said Michael De Santis, a researcher at the Public Interest Advocacy Centre. Low-income consumers, those with spotty credit scores and new immigrants are often encouraged to get secured credit cards to build or repair their credit histories. But many consumers lack sufficient funds to pay the required lump sum. That upfront cost is usually equivalent to or higher than the card’s credit limit. The bank collects that money as security but the funds do not earn the customer any interest, even if the sum remains tied up for years,” the Toronto Star reported on Dec. 14. Toronto Star Dec. 14

PIAC says broadband rulings at odds with same-day Globalive decision

(PIAC 21/Dec/09) “A Canadian consumer watchdog agency says the Canadian Cabinet’s decision to allow Globalive Communications Corp. (GLC.YY) to enter the wireless market is at odds with two other rulings it handed down Friday. Industry Minister Tony Clement said Friday that the federal Cabinet is allowing Globalive to enter the market, overturning a controversial ruling by the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission that barred the company from entering the wireless market,” Dow Jones Newswires reported on Dec. 11.
“The two other decisions relate to ongoing feuds in the internet broadband sphere. Winnipeg-based MTS Allstream appealed a 2008 CRTC ruling that the company said denied proper access to the incumbents’ broadband ethernet infrastructures. Here, the federal Cabinet sided with the CRTC. In its other decision, the Cabinet overturned a CRTC ruling that ordered the incumbents to provide small Internet service providers with the same speeds their customers enjoy. “I don’t understand how the government can say we need more than three competitors in the wireless market and then turn around and effectively limit broadband Internet providers to the incumbent telephone and cable companies,” said Michael Janigan, executive director at Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Ottawa,” Caroline Van Hasselt wrote for Dow Jones Newswires. Dow Jones Newswires, Dec. 11

Most Canadians support creation of “Do Not Track List” for Internet, PIAC report says

(PIAC 21/Dec/09) A majority of Canadians are concerned enough about being tracked on-line that they would support the creation of a national “Do Not Track List”, a new report has found. A “Do Not Track List” for Canada?, written by Janet Lo, legal counsel for the Ottawa-based Public Interest Advocacy Centre, notes that people who signed up for such a list would not have data about their on-line activities “collected, used, or disclosed,” Georgia Straight reported on Dec. 4.
“The majority of respondents (54%) strongly supported the creation of a “Do Not Track List”, and an additional 27% of respondents somewhat supported a “Do Not Track List”, compared to 8% who somewhat opposed and 10% who strongly opposed the List,” the report states. The report notes that 49 percent of consumers are “not at all comfortable” and 25 percent are “not very comfortable” with on-line tracking for the purposes of targeted advertising,” the Straight’s Stephen Hui wrote. Georgia Straight, Dec. 4

Net neutrality is a consumer right: PIAC report

(PIAC 21/Dec/09) On Dec. 1 the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) called for more consideration of consumer rights to “net neutrality” in a report entitled “Staying Neutral: Canadian Consumers and the Fight for Net Neutrality.” PIAC’s report called on federal legislators and policymakers to protect consumers’ rights to “use their Internet connection to access the lawful content, applications or services of their choice without discrimination, modification, interruption, or delay of their internet transmissions by any party, subject to law”, among others. PIAC counsel and report co-author John Lawford noted that consumers in focus groups appeared unaware of the definition of “net neutrality” but had strong and clear views on throttling of their traffic by Internet service providers such Bell Canada, Rogers and other Internet service providers. The report is at

Ontario car rental agency under fire for extra fees

(PIAC 21/Dec/09) “A Vancouver man is speaking out about his experience with a Toronto car rental company after he was charged hundreds of dollars in fees he said he didn’t expect to pay. “I was flabbergasted, to put it mildly,” said David Carman. “I thought this is ridiculous. This can’t happen. They can’t fleece me for this much money,” CBC News reported on Nov. 30.
“Michael Janigan of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, a non-profit consumer law firm in Ottawa, wrote a report recently about what he calls hidden charges in the marketplace. He said online bookings are where rental car customers often get tripped up. “We think it’s getting worse,” said Janigan. “Frankly, it’s a way where you can advertise a lower fee and get a higher amount.” “Companies aren’t competing with each other on the basis of transparent pricing. They are effectively advertising one price and charging another,” CBC’s Kathy Tomlinson reported. CBC News, Nov. 30

Option Consommateurs: Leon’s targeted in ‘buy now’ class-action suit

(PIAC 21/Dec/09) “First there was Brault & Martineau Inc., then The Brick Warehouse LP and now Leon’s Furniture Ltd. – major retail chains legally taken to task for “buy now, pay later” promotions. Consumer-advocacy group Option Consommateurs yesterday sought Quebec Superior Court permission to launch a class-action lawsuit against Leon’s, less than three weeks after doing the same with The Brick,” the Montreal Gazette reported on Nov. 25.
“If allowed to proceed with the class actions, they are demanding that Leon’s and The Brick pay group members the equivalent to the amounts billed as annual membership fees, a refund of $100 each and punitive damages totalling $5 million,” Gazette reporter Mike King wrote. Montreal Gazette, Nov. 25

Flaherty propose un code de conduite pour les émetteurs de cartes

(PIAC 21/Dec/09) « Le ministre des Finances Jim Flaherty a proposé jeudi un code de conduite pour les sociétés émettrices de cartes débit et de crédit qui devrait aider à protéger à la fois les consommateurs et les petites entreprises – mais pas avant la saison du magasinage des Fêtes »lLa Presse Canadienne a rapporté le 19 novembre.
« Mais ce code ne répond pas à une des principales complaintes des consommateurs ces dernières années, au sujet des taux d’intérêts imposés par les sociétés émettrices de cartes de crédit. … chez Option consommateurs, qui juge que le code proposé jeudi s’adresse davantage aux commerçants et ne contribuera en rien à la protection des consommateurs. “Malheureusement, notre expérience des codes de conduite nous démontre que ça ne fonctionne pas. (…) M. Flaherty a bien identifié les problèmes, mais la solution est inadéquate, a affirmé dans un communiqué de presse le directeur général d’Options consommateurs, Michel Arnold » Stephen Thorne a rapporté pour la Presse Canadienne.

Define basic TV service, PIAC urges

(PIAC 21/Dec/09) “The current spectacle of Canada’s television networks engaged in a pie-throwing contest with the cable and satellite industry seems as confusing to the viewer as an episode of “Lost”. For one thing, the mantle of “consumer champion” sits uneasily on the shoulders of the distributors – the cable and satellite companies, whose offerings are crammed with services owned by them that hoover up ever-increasing subscriber fees. In turn, some Canadians are startled to learn that there still is significant local broadcasting, after over two decades of damaging cuts to such programming,” Michael Janigan, PIAC executive director wrote for on Oct. 30.
“If a review (from the perspective of real consumers) does occur, its first priority must be to make basic service basic and affordable. It should contain only those channels that are required to meet the minimum needs of Canadians to access television programming. This would include local broadcasting channels, coupled with services deemed essential to fulfilling the national objectives and consumer demand. It would be priced to ensure access, and all services carried would be treated the same in terms of carriage fees paid to channels from the basic service rate.
“That rate, preferably less than $15 per month, would be set by regulatory review and capped by the CRTC in a similar fashion as basic service is capped in local service telephony. Together with controlling the content of basic service, these new practices would ensure that most Canadians can afford a television distribution service and halt the pattern of rates skyrocketing beyond the rate of inflation. This is particularly important when over 4 million Canadians are facing the loss of over the air analog broadcasting in 2011. Such measures would also bring some competitive pressure on the rest of the offerings of cable and satellite distributors,” Janigan wrote.