PIAC barks: Feed the watchdog!

(PIAC 15/Oct/09) The Ottawa-based watchdog has been out there hounding the phone companies, snarling at the airlines, snapping at big bro and reading the fine print of interprovincial trade agreements. The dog is hungry! Help feed the Ottawa-based consumer protection group by making a charitable contribution at:
Or mail a cheque to: ONE Nicholas, Suite 1204, Ottawa, ON K1N 7B7. The Public Interest Advocacy Centre – Le centre pour la défense de intéret publique is a registered charity BN: 130592405RR0001.

Option consommateurs: L’Accord sur le commerce intérieur

(PIAC 15/Oct/09) L’empressement de Québec à signer les nouvelles dispositions agricoles de l’Accord sur le commerce intérieur (ACI), demain, à Whitehorse, est déconcertant. Le gouvernement possède plusieurs avis lui démontrant qu’il s’apprête à vendre son âme agroalimentaire aux grands industriels canadiens. Les nouvelles dispositions, identiques à celles refusées par Québec en juillet 2008, laissent à l’abandon toutes les mesures favorisant la spécificité des aliments produits au Québec, les règles d’étiquetage, les normes de composition des aliments, la mise en marché collective et ordonnée, ainsi que la gestion de l’offre. En vertu du projet, toute province ou entreprise souhaitant commercialiser ses produits dans une autre province pourrait dorénavant se plaindre à l’ACI, dès qu’une mesure provinciale ou fédérale entraînerait un coût additionnel ou donnerait l’impression d’entraver ou de restreindre les occasions de commerce » François Décary-Gilardeau a écrit, avec autres, dans le Quotidien le 14 octobre.

Consumer protection: More than marketplace manners

(PIAC 15/Oct/09) “Consumer protection is not simply something nice to do if the industry says it can afford to do so. It is not simply requesting marketplace manners,” Michael Janigan said in testimony before the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications on Oct. 7.
“Protecting consumers protects competition and efficiency in industry by eliminating conduct that is destructive of the objective of open markets through informed and empowered consumer choice. When we allow misleading or sharp practices to flourish, we reward flabby and inefficient providers,” Janigan said in an examination of Canada’s wireless sector.
“Tougher laws that curb identify theft, protect children from mobile marketers and promote greater competition among wireless providers are among the recommendations tabled by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre,” Tech News reported on Oct. 14.

Wanted: A cellphone cost calculator aimed to help people on a budget

(PIAC 15/Oct/09) “It’s been more than two months since Industry Canada killed the cellphone cost calculator that never saw the light of day. But that doesn’t mean Canadians are deprived of handy tools to let them find the right plans for them,” the Montreal Gazette reported on Oct. 9. The story identified four sites: Cell Plan Expert, Cellphones Etc., My Cell My Terms (currently only in Ontario) and Compare Cellular.
“John Lawford, lawyer for the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, said: (The sites) are not geared to comparing on price for basic features as the killed government one was – it was clearly aimed to help people on a budget. I have doubts they will be able to get enough data in the system quickly enough to keep even their own limited searches up to date. I don’t see how they are funded except advertising – they would have to reveal prominently if they get endorsements or freebies from the companies. I don’t expect either will last, but if they do, they are partial tools again, not there to assist low income or vulnerable consumers as the other government one clearly was,” the Gazette’s Roberto Rocha reported.

Blogger payola getting a pass in Canada

(PIAC 15/Oct/09) “U.S. authorities are using the threat of big fines to force bloggers to disclose their relationships with the companies they write about, but jurisidictional confusion means no similar mechanisms exist or are under consideration in Canada. The Federal Trade Commission on (Oct. 5.) announced new rules that require bloggers in the United States to disclose “material connections” — or “connections that consumers would not expect” — with the subjects they write about. The connections can take the form of outright payments, advertisements or free products given to the blogger by the subject,” CBC News reported.
“John Lawford, counsel for the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, a consumer watchdog group, said that any existing rules are designed to only go after the advertisers themselves, and not middlemen such as bloggers. ”[The FTC] is trying to put liability on the blogger, which I think might scare the heck out of a bunch of individuals,” he said. While he hopes the new rules don’t cast a pall on genuine conversation online, Lawford said they should help to root out bloggers who are trying to dupe consumers — a situation that is definitely happening in Canada,” CBC’s Peter Nowak reported on Oct. 5.

Workplace surveillance rules and privacy rights: Hazy

(PIAC 15/Oct/09) On Oct. 4. the Ottawa Citizen reported: “Hidden cameras like the one put in an Ottawa ambulance should be a last resort in checking up on an employee’s conduct, but they aren’t absolutely banned, says an Ottawa privacy law expert. “I hate to tell you this, but it’s one of those hazy areas,” said John Lawford.
“Some uses of cameras in the workplace are definitely not allowed, said Lawford, a lawyer with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Ottawa. For instance, an employer can’t use video surveillance to measure an employee’s productivity. Other uses have been allowed, he said. For instance, a company that is suffering from thefts can install surveillance cameras in the area where thefts are occurring,” the Citizen’s Tom Spears reported.
“But he said isolating a single employee on camera is a greater privacy issue than setting up a camera to watch an area like the entrance to a building which many employees use. Rules can vary depending on whether a workplace is under federal or provincial jurisdiction,” the Citizen reported.

Community Leadership in Justice Fellow: Michael Janigan

(PIAC 16/Oct/09) On Sept. 29 the Law Foundation of Ontario announced three individuals have been selected as Community Leadership in Justice Fellows for the 2009/2010 academic term. They are Richard Elliott, Executive Director, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network; Michael Janigan, Executive Director, Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC); and Allan McChesney, Senior Legal Researcher, Reach Canada.
“Michael Janigan will partner with Carleton University’s Department of Law. He will lecture and prepare course material that will engage students to do outreach work with citizen groups in the area of protecting the vulnerable consumer in the Canadian marketplace. His work will cover the principles of competition, regulation and general rules of consumer protection and involve practical involvement with issues arising in specific industries. Mr. Janigan will also liaise with other faculties at Carleton to share information that will be of assistance to his organization (PIAC) in the advancement of consumer advocacy,” the Law Foundation said.

Maple Leaf reçoit des milliers de demandes d’indemnisation: Option consommateurs

(PIAC 15/Oct/09) « Plus de 3 000 victimes des aliments contaminés de Maple Leaf, en 2008, auraient déjà déposé une réclamation, estime Option consommateurs, qui pense que d’autres personnes pourraient le faire si elles étaient mieux informées » Métro Montréal a rapporté le 22 septembre.
« Faire une réclamation n’est pas si difficile, d’après Stéphanie Poulin, responsable du service juridique à Option consommateurs. Les victimes n’ont pas forcément besoin de preuve d’achat ou d’emballage pour faire valoir leurs droits. Pour les symptômes, un formulaire de réclamation sous serment suffit pour réclamer jusqu’à 750 $. Attention toutefois, soumettre une fausse déclaration est un acte criminel » Mathias Marchal a rapporté.

Supreme Court of Canada rules on $650 million overpayment of local phone bills

(PIAC 15/Oct/09) “Customers of Bell Canada and Telus Corp. may be getting refunds after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that about $300 million in overpayments by landline customers has to be reimbursed. But anti-poverty groups arguing for the rebate said that amount still isn’t enough. … Consumer groups including the National Anti-Poverty Organization appealed that ruling, saying all of the $650 million overpayment should be returned to customers,” the Vancouver Sun reported.
“On (Sept. 18) Canada’s top court upheld the CRTC’s decision, ruling unanimously that the country’s telecommunications regulator did not overstep its powers when it decided how telephone companies must spend the money. The consumer groups, represented by Michael Janigan, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, were disappointed,” the Sun’s Fiona Anderson wrote.
“Our [complaint] is [that the companies] collected the money from local telephone service [and] broadband internet is an entirely separate and unregulated service that just happens to be carried on by the same companies,” Janigan said. Through their decision, the CRTC is acting like a government, taxing one service to subsidize another, he said. … Janigan predicted about 15 million current customers could receive one-time rebates of a few dollars to about $20,” the Sun reported.

Supreme Court decision: Amend CRTC’s power under Telecommunications Act

(PIAC 15/Oct/09) “(On Sept. 18) the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the broad objectives of the Telecommunications Act that include fostering competition and development of the Canadian telecommunications system, allow the CRTC to overcome the historical regulatory presumption that the price of a service should be just and reasonable based on the costs to provide that service. The remarkable set of CRTC decisions that gave rise to the case was ruled permissible. In furtherance of such objectives, the Commission is now, in effect, free of judicial restraint to set rates and craft regulatory policies that may benefit some stakeholders and burden others, independent of service parameters,” Michael Janigan wrote in the Hill Times on Sept. 28
“From long experience, regulatory flexibility inevitably favours big industry players. Stripping long standing consumer rights from telecommunications customers reverses much of the public accountability efforts of the last century. The unforeseen carte blanche given to the CRTC by the Supreme Court of Canada must, in future, be addressed in the anticipated reform of the Telecommunications Act,” PIAC’s executive director wrote in the Hill Times.

TV Alliance promotes a better broadcasting system

(PIAC 15/Oct/09) The TV Alliance, a new ad hoc non partisan grass roots initiative was launched on Sept. 18. The mission is to promote a better and more transparent TV broadcasting and distribution system for Canadians. “The time has come to listen to Canadians” said alliance advisor Ian Morrison. “It’s a privilege to operate in Canada and those that benefit most have the greatest obligations to make the biggest returns for viewers.”
“The downloading on Canadians has to stop,” said alliance advisor Michael Janigan. “Legislators and regulators alike have to protect viewers from unfair billing practices.” Alliance advisor Anu Bose said, “We welcome the CRTC’s request to Heritage Canada for funding to facilitate consumer participation. A transparent process and funding are essential for a level playing field and meaningful consumer input.”

Ontario energy rate hikes would ‘enrich’ investors: PIAC

(PIAC 16/Oct/09) On Sept. 23 the Toronto Star reported: “Utilities in Ontario want to charge you more for the energy they deliver so they can guarantee higher returns to their investors, and they’re asking the province’s energy regulator to make it so. Collectively, it could result in up to $400 million more a year being drawn from the pockets of electricity and natural gas consumers, according to the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, an Ottawa-based consumer protection group. “This is a bad, bad time to be looking at these increases,” executive director Michael Janigan said.
“ …Janigan said the industry needs to roll with the punches, just as homeowners, businesses and large industrial energy consumers are expected to do. He said the regulated energy companies weren’t complaining two or three years ago when capital was cheap and the energy board could have just as easily adjusted returns downward. “These utilities are earning what they should be earning,” he said in an interview. “We don’t see the necessity for change that might levy further hardship on businesses and homeowners,” the Star’s Tyler Hamilton wrote.

Aviation Safety News: Watchdogs keep watch

(PIAC 15/Oct/09) On Oct. 8 Aviation Safety News reported on tougher rules for fatigue, airline emissions, FAA debris spotters, Who is in charge of aviation safety, TSB raises concerns about aging pilots, Airports cut back on security and poisoned by fumes. Aviation Safety News is a project of Transport 2000 Canada and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre. Public Interest Advocacy Centre monitors aviation legislation. PIAC has standing before the Canadian Transportation Agency and the courts. Transport 2000 Canada is represented on the Canadian Aviation Regulation Advisory Council. The Aviation Safety News readers’ group includes top aviation safety authorities, industry and civil service professionals.