Astronomical Ontario payday loan cost cap: PIAC

(PIAC-10/02/09) “Ontario should cap the cost of payday loans at $21 for every $100 borrowed and review that limit in two years, an independent advisory board has concluded,” the Canadian Press reported on Feb. 6.
“The $21 proposal is “astronomically high” and a “gift to payday lenders,” said the Public Interest Advocacy Centre. “Ontario consumers are feeling the economic downturn in record numbers, and if they turn to payday loans at this rate, they will never recover,” John Lawford, counsel at the non-profit group, said,” CP’s Maria Babbage wrote.
Canadians borrow an estimated $2 billion a year through payday loans, with Ontario home to more than half of the 1,350 such businesses operating across the country.

Do-not-call registry: Junk phone calls are down

(PIAC-10/02/09) “Our exclusive investigation found that by signing up for the do-not-call list, you’re actually handing your phone number over to the telemarketers, even fraud artists you are trying to avoid,” Global TV reported on Jan. 14. “It took us less than ten minutes on the do not call website to register as a telemarketer using a phoney name. After paying a $50 fee, we were able to access the list for area code 416. That’s 600,000 working phone numbers, a gold mine of information,” Global Ontario’s Jackson Proskow reported.
In the Global report PIAC counsel John Lawford confirmed: “An unscrupulous telemarketer could use it as an actual telemarketing list. The rogue telemarketers can make 100,000, 200,000, 500,000 calls a day.”
On Feb. 9, Lawford noted “There are problems but the Do-not-call registry has reduced telemarketing calls. The CRTC needs to hit rogue operators hard. We need an agreement with the United States. There are too many exemptions, but the model we are working with is the best we are going to get.”

Switch to digital TV could leave 1.25 million Canadians in the dark

(PIAC-10/02/09) The Obama administration is working to delay this month’s planned switch from analogue to digital TV because of concern for the millions of lower income Americans who rely on rabbit-ears.
“In the U.S., the government is issuing two digital-converter coupons, each worth US$40, to households that request them, underwritten with the proceeds from the broadcast-spectrum auctions. Unfortunately, the program ran out of funding earlier this month,” the Georgia Straight reported on Jan. 22.
“With no (Canadian) government movement toward a U.S.–style voucher system, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre proposed low-cost basic cable as a solution in its May 2008 CRTC submission. In a telephone interview, executive director Michael Janigan described the organization’s proposal as “a limited basic-service package available at a reasonable price which would include the existing local channels plus the must-carry stations that they currently have, and that it would be price-capped,” the Straight’s Doug Sarti reported.
The Straight noted 1.25 million (9.6%) households use rabbit ears, including 7% in Vancouver, 15.3% of Francophone Montrealers.

Maple Leaf Foods settles Option Consommateurs class-action

(PIAC-10/02/09) Option Consommateurs and Maple Leaf Foods announced the settlement of a class-action suit brought on behalf of Quebec listeriosis victims, Le Devoir reported on Feb. 3. Normand Painchaud, the lawyer who made the case, told Le Devoir the agreement was very good both in terms of the total $25 million payout and the timeline.
Nearly 5,000 victims of tainted meat from Maple Leaf’s 97B factory in Toronto are eligible. The class-action was jointly pursued in three jurisdictions. The settlement requires the approval of the Superior Court of Quebec on March 20 and in Ontario and Saskatchewan, Le Devoir’s Fabien Deglise reported.

Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote: Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

(PIAC-10/02/09) “A B.C. supreme court judge has agreed to hear a constitutional challenge of the federal government’s voter ID requirements … in June,” Monday Magazine reported on Jan. 29.
“BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre lawyer Jim Quail, who will represent the plaintiffs in the case, says the challenge to the ID requirements will be undertaken citing Section 3 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms wherein, “Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein,” Monday Magazine’s Jason Youmans wrote.
BC PIAC argues the new voter ID law disenfranchises the homeless, the poor, students, the elderly, first-time voters, people with disabilities and people living in parts of rural Canada. Jim Quail is a member of the Board of Directors of PIAC.

Quick to help banks, not so quick to help jobless

(PIAC-10/02/09) “Canada’s reluctance to institute a full stimulus package in the recent federal government budget has international parallels,” says Armine Yalnizyan, a senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. “Many of the governments that were very quick to act to restore credit to the system have been much slower to roll out money to respond to the need to replace the jobs that are being shed,” she told International Press Service on Feb 4.
IPS’s Paul Weinberg reported: “The longer time that governments take to implement a full stimulus package to create jobs and encourage citizens to spend money in their respective countries, the greater the likelihood of “something that is far worse than it needs to be” in the world economy, Yalnizyan said. Armine Yalnizyan is a member of PIAC’s Board of Directors.

Food safety probe and the rebranding of Safety Management Systems

(PIAC-10/02/09) On Jan. 20 the federal government appointed Sheila Weatherill the former Edmonton health chief to hold an arms-length investigation of the listeriosis out break last summer. The next day Canadian Press reported Weatherill is on the Prime Minister’s committee to rebrand “the public service as a trusted and innovative institution of national importance.”
On Feb. 5 the Toronto Star reported veterinarians working for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency are challenging new rules that would let slaughterhouses monitor themselves.
“The government’s promotion of safety management systems is an attempt to rebrand deregulation,” says Michael Janigan, general counsel of PIAC. “We are concerned by the plans to reduce the power and resources of the civil servants with independent mandates for safety. The government safety strategy of relying on industry-run SMS is not in the interest of consumers.” Option Consommateurs and PIAC note the trend is evident across government including Transport Canada’s Aeronautics Act amendments which would see airlines assume the role of main safety watchdog for their own industry.

Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services Inc. plans public awareness campaign

(PIAC-10/02/09) “Anecdotal evidence shows people don’t really know that this thing exists,” says John Lawford, a research analyst with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Ottawa (PIAC). “They probably don’t want 100,000 hits on this, so they’re holding back a bit. It’s not in the phone book,” reported on Jan. 26.
Set up in 2007, the CCTS is funded by the industry. In its first full year of operation, the office heard some 3,300 complaints but was getting 1,500 a month in November and December.
Advertising for the CCTS should also be added at the bottom of every phone bill from member companies, Lawford says. “It would be simple to print it at the bottom of each bill,” he says. “But that space is used for advertising, so there might be some resistance,” reported.

PIAC calls for an independent review of airline passenger rights

(PIAC-10/02/09) “The recent history of the air passenger experience in Canada, particularly over the recent holiday period, suggests that there remains much to be done in order to provide Canadian airline passengers with a travel experience that falls in line with their reasonable expectations and that required by emerging international standards,” PIAC executive director Michael Janigan wrote in a Jan. 21 letter to Transport Minister John Baird.
“Currently, recognized air passenger rights, as summarized by the document Flight Rights Canada, issued by your department in September of this year, go only part way towards establishing a regime of fairness. There are obvious defects in the mandatory conditions of travel and the regime of consumer protection,” Janigan wrote. He raises six areas of concern: Advertising; Conditions of Travel; Financial monitoring; Performance Monitoring; Airline Rewards (frequent flyer) programs and Lack of Consumer Contact on the part of Transport Canada.
In his letter Janigan calls for an independent review of consumer concerns.

Bank Wal-Mart: No public hearings needed OSFI determines

(PIAC-22/1/09) In an email to a journalist the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions announced it would not hold public hearings into Wal-Mart’s application for bank status. “The issues raised were carefully reviewed and OSFI determined that public hearings would not bring forward any new information that is relevant to its prudential review of the application based on criteria in the Bank Act,” Dow Jones newswires reported on Jan. 17.
“Do you wish to convey that requirements to have independent directors, and for bank directors to carry out their duties in good faith, obviate the need for a public inquiry into the fitness of the Wal-Mart group to operate a bank in Canada? In that case, there would surely never arise the need for public inquiry whatever the character of the applicant,” Janigan wrote in response to the OSFI decision. PIAC was among the organizations raising objections based on Wal-Mart’s reputation (the character and integrity provision of the Bank Act) and on concerns over letting the world’s biggest retailer own a bank.
Dow Jones’ Andy Georgiades quoted the OFSI: “OSFI’s decision not to hold a public inquiry pursuant to the receipt of objections to an incorporation implies no judgment on its part about the merits of the objections or of the application.” In the U.S. Wal-Mart withdrew a similar application after strong protests from consumers, unions and banks.

Credit card payment holidays: Tell consumers about the interest rates

(PIAC-22/1/09) Option Consommateurs warned consumers that taking a credit card payment holiday means paying big interest rates on outstanding balances and everything purchased on credit while on “holiday” la Presse Canadienne reported on Jan. 19.
Option Consommateurs Anu Bose said: “Visa, Mastercard and the rest should be required to tell consumers taking a payment holiday means paying interest rates in the neighbourhood of 20% on the outstanding balance and new charges. There are many consumers who misunderstand the offer.”

Check your credit rating for mistakes: Files on 20 million consumers

(PIAC-22/1/09) “In an era of tightening credit, a credit expert is reminding Canadians to check with credit-rating agencies to make sure their files are mistake-free and up to date,” CBC News reported on Jan. 16.
“The country’s two largest agencies, Equifax Canada and TransUnion Canada, keep files assessing the credit-worthiness of more than 20 million consumers. A 2005 study by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre showed that only 4.2 million Canadians, of 17 per cent of the population, had checked their credit ratings in the previous three years. Of those Canadians, 18 per cent uncovered inaccuracies. The vast majority of those people asked the agencies to correct the errors but it took, on average, four hours to get a problem-free credit report,” CBC News reported.

Fuel levy on Aeroplan reward flights: Subjective and arbitrary

(PIAC-15/1/09) Aeroplan customers booking “free” Air Canada flights face a lingering fuel surcharge, even though the levy was dropped by the airline four months ago on tickets sold for North American flights,” the Globe and Mail reported on Jan. 13.
“The fuel surcharge for reward flights is subjective and arbitrary,” said Michael Janigan, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre.
“Consumer advocates complain that Aeroplan rewards have been eroded over the years, including a move in 2006 to strip members of their miles if their accounts are inactive for one year and placing a “date stamp” on points so that they expire after seven years,” the Globe’s Brent Jang reported.

Governments must govern
By Anu Bose and Michael Janigan

(PIAC — 9/12/08) Governments of the past two decades eagerly tore down the fabric of regulation built in the sixty years before to safeguard, health, safety, environmental and pocketbook concerns of ordinary Canadians. In its place, deregulation, reliance on market forces and promotion of industry self-regulation, became unassailable doctrines.
The problem with seeing deregulation as an objective, and not a means to objectives is that we have to rely on markets acting to benefit all, rather than simply the biggest players. In many key industries, such as banking, the biggest customers get the best deals. Without rules to ensure fairness, smaller customers lack the clout to compel reasonable terms of service.
Competition is a tool that can provide incentives for efficiency, innovation and consumer benefits. But the players in any market want to win the competition not simply compete. As in a hockey game, the government must act like referees in the market, enforcing rules that protect competitors and consumers from conduct that runs afoul of competition law, or consumer protection, environmental, health and safety standards.
Instead of committing themselves to becoming irrelevant in important markets such as airlines, telecommunications, energy, drugs or food, governments must look first to see if they are meeting the objectives of legislation and the expectations of Canadian producers and consumers in relation to what is being bought and sold in Canadian markets.

Airline fuel surcharges: Independent of price of fuel

(PIAC — 9/12/08) “In April, when it cost more than $1.20 a litre to fill up at the gas pumps, there was a fuel surcharge of $224 on Air Canada’s round-trip tickets from Toronto to London. Now that prices have slid below 80 cents? The Toronto-London surcharge has risen to $320,” the Globe and Mail reported.
“Like most international carriers, [we] maintain a separate fuel surcharge on international flights and this has been the case for years,” Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick says. “It is based, among other things, upon market conditions, competitions and our costs and we do adjust these from time to time.
“Michael Janigan, executive director of the Ottawa-based Public Interest Advocacy Centre, argues fuel surcharges are “entirely arbitrary” and have no direct relation to extra fuel costs at any given time. Airlines are misleading travellers, he says, by isolating this one aspect of overhead and elevating it to major status,” the Globe reported on Dec. 3.

Broadcasting Act: CRTC needs the power to award costs

(PIAC — 9/12/08) In a letter to the Honourable James Moore, Minister of Canadian Heritage PIAC is calling for amendments to the Broadcasting Act to give the Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) the power to award costs to deserving public interest interveners, following the same procedure that exists for such interventions in the CRTC under the Telecommunications Act.
Last year, there were over 630 CRTC Telecommunications decisions made on applications made by carriers, service providers and industry stakeholders. Of that number, 21 had interventions that required the assistance of the cost award. The total of all awards paid by a handful of applicants was approximately $284,000.00.
This is not only because the vast majority of applications involve matters of technical or operational concern only, but also because the CRTC has been diligent in the application of the criteria for eligibility to receive such awards. There is little reason to believe that the experience will be significantly different if cost awards were extended to broadcasting applications.
In his Dec. 5 letter to Minister Moore, PIAC Executive Director Michael Janigan asked the Minister to re-introduce Bill S-8 be as a government bill. Bill S-8, which was passed by the Senate in April 2003 during the second session of the 37th Parliament, would give the CRTC the power to award costs to people who represent telecommunications consumers.

CIBC loses data on 470,752 clients: Treat it like money

(PIAC — 9/12/08) “Nearly half a million Canadians will likely never know whether fraudsters had access to their personal information because of inadequate security procedures at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, the office of the federal privacy commissioner said” on Nov. 27 Canwest News Service reported.
“The investigation, launched 23 months ago after the disappearance of a hard drive containing the personal information and financial data of 470,752 clients, revealed the bank could not confirm whether that personal information was ever transferred to a hard drive in the first place.
“John Lawford’s assessment of the report isn’t so positive. The identity theft specialist and lawyer at the Public Interest Advocacy Centre said it exposes how CIBC treated personal information in a far more cavalier fashion than the cash it handled. “They should be treating it like money, and they weren’t treating it like money, even though personal information can be turned into money,” Canwest’s Sarah Schmidt reported.

Option Consommateurs rolls out a list of best and worst toys

(PIAC — 9/12/08) “With Christmas just around the corner, the Quebec consumer association, Option Consommateurs, yesterday released the results of its annual toy-testing survey. This year, 300 toys were tested for quality, playability, safety and overall value, including 252 new toys. Organizers said there are a number of good toys on the market this year. Of the 252 new toys, 186 were deemed “recommended” or “very good”,” the Montreal Gazette reported on Oct. 22.
The Gazette reported Option Consommateurs recommends: – Mont-a-Mots Pictos, a memory and association game by Lampiste, $25, 3 1/2 years and up – A make-it yourself colouring kit by Djeco, $25, 7 and up – Six, a strategy game from Fox Mind Games, $20, 7 and up
“Among this year’s worst toys: – The Kiddieland Light’n Sound Turtle, $22, 1 1/2 years and up – Crayola Beginnings Creativity Central, $22, 2 years and up – KidKleen Mold ‘n Play Soap, $6, 3 years and up – Crayola Model Magic Fusion, $10, 6 years and up – Kid Galaxy Bump ‘n Chuck remote-control Bumper Cars, $35, 6 years and up,” the Gazette reported.

Children’s privacy threatened by play websites

(PIAC — 9/12/08) A new PIAC report: “All in the Data Family: Children’s Privacy Online”, calls for amendments to the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) that would prohibit collection, use, and disclosure of the personal information of children under 13 in Canada.
PIAC counsel John Lawford notes many apparently kid-friendly websites and social networking sites routinely use personal information of even young children for behavioural marketing and market research: “There quite simply are no special rules for use of kids’ personal information in Canada. Right now, Internet play websites like Neopets, Webkinz and social networking sites like Facebook use kids’ personal information for profit but are not making it clear that this is their business model.” The report concludes that such personal information collection, use and disclosure for children under 13 violates privacy in all cases and should be explicitly made illegal under Canada’s privacy laws.
The report also calls for prohibition of disclosure of personal information of children aged 13 to 15 to any other entity, including marketers. The report goes on to recommend that disclosure of personal information collected by websites only be allowed for information collected from children aged 16-18, and then only with the opt-in consent of the teenager and the explicit consent of the teen’s parent or guardian.

Bank Wal-Mart: Objection letter filed with OSFI

(PIAC — 9/12/08) “Wal-Mart Canada has been working on obtaining a Canadian banking licence for about two years, and global credit tightening is now expected to bolster its arguments with the federal government in Ottawa,” the Hill Times reported on Oct. 13.
“Sources say Wal-Mart has been active on the file in Ottawa for about two years, primarily trying to gauge reaction to its business plan with the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions — Canada’s bank regulator. Although the minister of Finance approves the licence, the bureaucratic work and recommendations are done by OSFI.
Michael Janigan, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Ottawa, acknowledged that that new entrants into Canada’s banking system are usually welcome, but said there is concern about potential “vertical dominance,” in which Wal-Mart could be involved in all aspects of consumer transactions, from financing to consumer spending to mortgages, inside and outside of Wal-Mart stores,” Hill Times’ Simon Doyle reported.
“In an objection letter filed by PIAC, the Ottawa-based consumer group focused on two of the eight criteria OSFI reviews in processing bank licences, one pertaining to Wal-Mart itself, the other to the industry. The first relates to “the general character of Wal-Mart.” The letter cited investigations and lawsuits faced by Wal-Mart in the U.S., while also noting the closure of a unionized store and unionized auto garage in Canada,” Dow Jones Newswire reported on Nov. 12.
“In general terms, we’re not particularly enthusiastic about the model that has banking services as part of the retailing services,” said Michael Janigan, PIAC’s executive director and general counsel, in an interview. “It smacks too much of the old ‘company store’ arrangement.” He said his organization didn’t oppose other retailers from starting banks. In fairness to Wal-Mart, Janigan said his group’s objection is more about eliciting a public discussion of the matter, and the only way to do that is by submitting an objection letter,” wrote Andy Georgiades, Dow Jones Newswire.

Making online banking and purchasing safer

(PIAC — 9/12/08) A new PIAC report: ’Are You Sure You Want to Continue?’: Consumer Authentication at the Crossroads,” calls for a major overhaul to Industry Canada’s “Authentication Principles”. The report laments the Authentication Principles’ failure to provide Canadian consumers with adequate protection when using the Internet to conduct business transactions such as online banking. The report offers a host of recommendations aimed at protecting the security and privacy of consumers who use electronic authentication to access finances or to shop online.
“Banks and retailers are not adequately protecting consumers who use their services online,” says John Lawford, Counsel for PIAC. “There is more they can do to reduce fraud and increase online security with little effort by upgrading their customer authentication systems but they have not been held to any real standard by these voluntary principles.”
The report notes that consumers are becoming increasingly wary of growing security and privacy risks, such as phishing, that are threatening the way they conduct online retail and banking transactions. In order to ensure consumer safety and confidence in online commerce, the report urges a greater role in the regulatory process be played by both the federal and provincial governments, and recommends that much stricter authentication regulations be applied to financial institutions under the Bank Act and other federal financial legislation.
To adequately protect consumers’ privacy while online, PIAC suggests the Authentication Principles be amended to include direct references to the standards of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) and that consumers be given more choice in how to protect their privacy, such as the ability to decide which personal information will be used for authenticating them during an online transaction.

Barbara Cram and Janet Lo join PIAC

(PIAC — 9/12/08) Lawyer and consumer activist Barbara Cram was elected to the Board of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre on Nov. 1. She is from Regina and practiced law in Saskatchewan for in more than 18 years, most recently with the law firm Gauley & Co. From 1998 to 2007 Cram was as Regional CRTC Commissioner for Manitoba/Saskatchewan. Barbara Cram is an Honourary Life Member of the Western Association of Broadcasters.
Janet Lo has joined the Public Interest Advocacy Centre as the articling student for 2008/09. Lo is from Edmonton and has a LL.B. with a specialization in Law & Technology from the University of Ottawa. Prior to articling, she interned at the Canadian Internet Policy Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) under the mentorship of Philippa Lawson and David Fewer, working on issues in privacy law, competition law, identity theft, copyright and e-commerce. She also interned at the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, examining privacy on virtual worlds such as Second Life. She is keen to expand her understanding of telecommunications and regulatory law during her time with PIAC and grateful to the Law Foundation of Ontario for this opportunity.

National Do Not Call List: Make registration permanent

(PIAC — 9/12/08) The National Do Not Call List (specifically, the Unsolicited Telecommunications Rules) that govern telemarketing calls in Canada, can be improved. The term of registration for a phone number on the DNCL is three years. The Public Interest Advocacy Centre says, in the best interests of consumers, the registration period of a phone number should be made permanent.
This would remove the burden placed on consumers of having to re-register their phone number(s) every three (3) years, and place the onus on the companies making the telemarketing calls to update their lists according to re-assigned phone numbers.
CRTC has asked for public comments on these issues. PIAC is making submissions in these proceedings on behalf of the public as a whole. Individuals who want to add their voice can make a direct submission to:

Bell TV Fee scam

(PIAC — 9/12/08) “Bell Canada Inc. says it is raising the price of its satellite television service in the new year to match rivals and pay for satellite upgrades. Bell’s television customers are receiving bills informing them of the increase, typically about $4 a month,” CBC News reported on Nov. 24.
“Bell, however, introduced a $3-a-month “digital service fee” at the beginning of 2008 to help pay for that same investment and maintenance. “It’s not fair, they’re both for the same service,” said John Lawford, legal counsel for the Public Interest Advocacy Centre. “How can you split off one fee and say, ‘We’re just using this fee to improve this part of our business?’ Overhead is overhead. The more you split fees, the more you can raise them because they look like they’re for different things.”
Lawford said there isn’t much consumers can do to avoid the rate hikes, given that both the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission and the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services do not deal with television pricing. As with cellphone and other telecommunications services, Lawford warned consumers to avoid signing long-term contracts or opting for the up-front bundle discounts that are offered for multiple services. Contracts are often worded in a way that gives the service provider the ability to change prices at any time, which potentially negates in the long term any discounts that may be gained in the short term,” CBC News reported.

PIAC Supports Rogers on text messaging spam: But CRTC doesn’t

(PIAC — 9/12/08) PIAC and Rogers Wireless is calling on the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to permit Canadian wireless customers to block unsolicited, unwanted text messages (SMS) through the Do Not Call List.
“Technology moves rapidly in Canada and innovative telemarketers will find a way to use available tools to their advantage,” said Ken Engelhart, Senior Vice President, Regulatory, Rogers Communications Inc. “Since an SMS is sent to a customer’s phone number, the National Do Not Call List is a clear opportunity for the CRTC to act now to protect consumers from unwelcome interruptions to their wireless service.”
On Nov. 3, Rogers applied to the CRTC requesting that text messages be covered by the Do Not Call List in the same manner as voice calls. Despite support on the matter from the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, on November 13, the CRTC formally declined Rogers’ request. ‘SMS’ stands for Short Message Service and is commonly referred to as ‘text messaging’. Canadians send 54.1 million text messages per day. Rogers does not charge customers for incoming text messages.
PIAC is urging consumers who have concerns regarding the exclusion of text messaging under DNCL rules to pass along their comments to the CRTC through the following link:

CRTC BDU decision ignores many consumer issues

(PIAC — 9/12/08) “Deregulation of basic service in cable broadcasting is not working. Cable fees have risen beyond the rate of inflation but in its decision the CRTC addresses only the lack of competition between distribution undertakings for acquiring broadcasting rights,” Michael Janigan, general counsel and executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) said on Oct. 30.
“Who is looking out for the interests of the ordinary consumer of television services who despite the billions earned by cable and satellite companies, can’t be guaranteed a basic package of television services for a reasonable price,” Janigan said.
“That would be “unnecessary regulation” It’s a double standard. When it comes to the feeding of the cable and broadcasting industry, there are plenty of rules and regulations to make sure they get fed and fed well. When it comes to the Canadian customers who pay the freight, they are on their own,” he said.
The BDU decision nixed the networks demand for “fee for carriage” where CTV and Global would charge cable systems for carrying their signal. Most of the changes won’t take effect until Aug. 31, 2011, when the broadcasting system switches over to digital.

Bye-bye to cellphone system access fees?

(PIAC — 9/12/08) The cellphone system access fee may be heading toward extinction with reports that Rogers Communications Inc. is relaunching its Fido discount brand without the hated charge. Industry observers said the company’s move is likely to spell the end of the system access fee, which is thoroughly hated by consumers,” CBC News reported on Nov. 3.
“It’s the number one complaint about cellphones,” said John Lawford, counsel for the Public Interest Advocacy Centre. “People are getting a little more traction with their pushback in a lot of telecom issues now. … We just might see the end of it. We’ll see them slowly disappear.
“Lawford warned, however, that the removal of the fee may not necessarily translate into lower monthly bills. At the very least, he said, the bills will be more transparent and easier to understand. “If their bill isn’t split into a thousand pieces, people will be able to see that,” he said. The relaunch would be an effort to head off increased competition from new cellphone providers that are starting up across Canada next year,” CBC News’ Peter Nowak reported.

Canadian Transportation Agency okays Air Canada fee

(PIAC — 9/12/08) The Canadian Transportation Agency ruled Tuesday that Air Canada is charging a just and reasonable fee to customers who want an extra level of service in the event of flight disruptions. Earlier this year, the airline introduced fees of $25 for one-way flights of up to 1,069 kilometres and $35 for longer flights.
The “On My Way” service provides a designated customer service line to take complaints, book and cover the cost of accommodation, meals and transportation for 48 hours, Canwest News Service reported on Nov. 4.
The Public Interest Advocacy Centre had filed a complaint arguing that Air Canada was trying to turn a carrier obligation into a revenue source. But the federal regulatory agency said PIAC failed “to provide compelling evidence to substantiate its allegations.”
However, it told Air Canada to ensure that its tariffs and communications clearly distinguish between the rights of passengers who purchase On My Way and others. All passengers must have equal access to the airline’s call centres and customer service agents to rebook passengers for next available flights, the transportation agency added.

$650 million phone bill: Supreme Court hearing next spring

(PIAC — 9/12/08) “The Supreme Court of Canada ruled (Sept . 25) that consumer and anti-poverty groups will be allowed to appeal an earlier decision by the country’s communications regulator on how an estimated $650 million held in deferral accounts will be spent,” Canwest News Service reported.
“The Consumer Association of Canada and the National Anti-Poverty Organization argued that now that the price cap is over, the extra money should go back to the consumers. But in 2006, the CRTC ruled that $350 million should be used to pay for broadband Internet service in rural areas of the country, while the remaining $300 million would be rebated to customers,” Canwest reported.
PIAC’s Michael Janigan represents the groups. If successful about 10 million local phone bill payers will be eligible for a $65 rebate.

High-interest borrowing pitfalls

(PIAC — 9/12/08) A new PIAC Report “Not Ready for Prime Time”, sets out some key findings of its research in the field of high-interest lending which includes payday loans and subprime mortgages. Among others, it pinpoints the early misuse of credit in consumers’ financial lives as a main factor in causing them to resort to high cost borrowing later in life, as evidenced by the outcome of focus groups conducted in Edmonton, Toronto and Vancouver. Somewhat surprisingly, one of the chief credit problems for focus group participants arose with student loans, particularly when the education for which it was undertaken was not finished.
“We have a program designed to better the life prospects of Canadians that, if the focus group results are borne out in the general population, may be a contributing factor to low financial status. That result would be exactly the opposite of what is intended,” says Esteban Uribe, the PIAC researcher who wrote the report.
The report notes the accepted view that the differences in the Canadian and American mortgage markets make a repetition of the recent events in the United States unlikely. At the same time, the report sets out concerns that, through financial vehicles such as securitization, risks of default appear to be increasingly transferred to investors and borrower households, possibly without their full understanding of the same.
The report makes specific recommendations for early consumer education, and stresses the need for transparency and better consumer awareness of the consequences of high cost transactions. It suggests that each province should independently review lending practices and control interest rates through public hearings not only to accord with the intent of the federal government reform to decriminalize usury in these transactions, but also with a view to protect the interests of users from onerous and abusive terms.

Cabinet Minister for Consumer Protection

(PIAC — 9/12/08) “The government must give consumers a voice in matters that concern them, for example, food safety, banking, privacy laws, telecommunications and copyright law,” says Anu Bose of Option Consommateurs. “It can do so by increasing opportunities for consumers to be heard at tables where only government and industry now sit.”
According to the Nanos Research poll, support for a new Cabinet level position for consumer protection is strong across demographic, regional and party preference lines with 45.3% of Canadians overall saying such an appointment should be a high priority, 36.6% saying it should be a medium priority, 11.6% saying it should be a low priority and 6.4% unsure. That support is highest among males (46.3% saying it is a high priority), Atlantic Canadians (58.1% saying it is a high priority) Canadians over 60 years old (51.2% for whom it is a high priority) and Bloc Quebecois supporters (50.8% saying it is a high priority).
The poll was conducted Sept. 20-22, for the Canadian Consumer Initiative (CCI) a coalition of six major consumer organizations: 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. CCI provides advice and assistance to enable the federal government to safeguard consumer interests.