A two-decade staple of Canadian consumer awareness has come to an end.
The Canadian Consumer Handbook, which provided basic information about a suite of consumer issues as a book and more recently as an online resource as consumerhandbook.ca, now redirects to the Office of Consumer Affairs (OCA) consumer site, under Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (now recast as Innovation, Science and Industry Canada).
According to provincial consumer protection officials, the OCA stopped supporting it November 29, 2019. They informed the provinces in advance that they would "redirect visitors to more up-to-date pages managed by either OCA or other government departments."
The Handbook was a federal-provincial initiative of the Consumer Measures Committee, and was first published in 1999, and updated periodically through 2016. Its publication was part of a larger CMC initiative that brought numerous provincial consumer protection rules closer together.
Much of the Handbook materials appears to be now incorporated in the OCA site. However, there are many, many hyperlinks at other sites that now likely direct consumers incorrectly.
The Public Health Agency of Canada is investigating nearly 100 cases of Salmonella in six provinces believed to be related to snakes and rodents.
“Many of the individuals who became sick report having direct or indirect contact with snakes, pet rats and feeder rodents (used as reptile food) before their illnesses occurred," the release noted. The release instructs Canadians to practice good hygiene and safe handling of snakes, rodents, their food and their environments. It notes that reptiles and rodents can carry Salmonella while still appearing healthy. Children, elderly, pregnant and those with weakened immune systems are at higher risk.
Six of the salmonella victims required hospitalization, but no deaths have resulted.
Apart from the immediate salmonella warning, the agency included a more general warning about how to reduce illness from contact with reptiles, rodents and their environments. This includes immediate hand washing after all contact, feedings or even being in the same area, regular cleaning with soapy water and sanitizers of any surfaces, and not letting children put reptiles and rodents near their food or drinks.
There are risks to more traditional pet foods as well, particularly with the recent trend towards feeding raw foods. Dogs are not particularly discretionary eaters, but raw food adds some risks.
As some recently published examples have highlighted Canadian pet foods are not regulated by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Safety and hygiene of the nearly $1 billion industry are left to the manufacturers.
Hungry Via Rail travellers need to either pack their credit card or their own snack when travelling on most major routes.
Effective October 29, VIA Rail only accepts credit cards from Visa, MasterCard and American Express for its onboard services on trains in the Quebec City - Windsor corridor and some regional trains. It will also accept VIA Rail gift cards, but not cash or debit. Cash payment is still possible on some regional routes.
A VIA Rail media representative said eliminating cash would make its onboard transactions more efficient and allow employees to spend more time serving passengers. The new onboard payment solution would “optimize frontline operations all while streamlining our back-end food management systems," according to an email query response.
The system cannot accept debit card transactions because it relies on cellular network connection and “cellular coverage is inconsistent across VIA Rail’s network”. Credit card transactions can be completed while offline.
The change brings VIA Rail policies in line with air carriers such as Air Canada and WestJet. The former allows only the three major credit cards and pre-purchased Air Canada vouchers, while the latter allows the same credit cards as well as Diners Club and Discover.
The VIA Rail prepaid cards can only be purchased in stations before boarding trains from manned, open stations.
One common concern with prepaid cards is that they can result in trapped value, when the amount placed on the card exceeds the amount used. This could easily be done by any train traveller unfamiliar with VIA Rail food prices.
Parents should consult another list when holiday shopping for children – the Health Canada list of items subject to recalls.
Toys and clothes are common gifts, but both pose common problems, based on a review of the most recent entries on the Health Canada list of banned products. Numerous toys have small items that detach easily (either on purpose, or by accident) and the fragments pose choking hazards. Drawstrings on children’s clothing are frequently cited because of the risks they could accidentally get caught on equipment, fences and possibly even result in strangulation or a child being dragged by a moving car.
TVOntario’s flagship public affairs program The Agenda Tuesday (8 pm EST) will examine how the rise of online shopping has also led to greater sales and distribution of counterfeit products – a topic also the focus of recent Consumers Council of Canada research.
The episode is titled Amazon’s Counterfeit Problem and pledges to explore why it is getting harder to tell what’s real and what’s fake online, as Canadians are on track to spend $64.5 billion online this year. The Consumers Council report Consumer Attitudes and Their Role in Reducing the Impact of Counterfeit and Pirated Goods and Services concluded that consumers find it difficult to identify the perils of buying counterfeit goods and pirated media, and industry intellectual property protection campaigns don’t help them.
The research included a 2,000 person national web survey and focus groups. It noted that consumers do not have the same ability to examine the goods, packaging and labelling that could help them determine authenticity. It noted that problematic goods pose serious risks to consumers, such as fake pharmaceuticals and forged safety certifications. Among the report’s recommendations:
• A single body to co-ordinate anti-fraud initiatives by governments across Canada.
• Business, government and consumer organization joint engagement to address marketplace risks born by consumers and facilitate consumer education.
• Governments and business should provide sustainable funding to consumer organizations to play an independent role in curbing marketplace fraud.
The report also urged stronger enforcement by governments of general consumer protections.
That theme was also an important part of a second 2019 Consumers Council research report. Super Complainers: Greater Public Inclusiveness in Government Consumer Complaint Handling noted the trend of Canadian regulators to reduce or even withdraw from pro-active inspections. In that report’s survey of 2,000 Canadian consumers, public confidence was low (84%) that government complaint handling would be helpful in distant transactions. Consumers supported measures that would reduce their risk in distant transactions such as a national consumer complaint data bank, international cooperative agreements and frequent issuance of consumer complaint trends.
A third Consumers Council of Canada report examined another element of consumer protection in online transactions. Consumer Redress, Chargebacks and Merchant Responses in Distant Transactions examined how remedies to different problems in distant (online or telephone) transactions can differ by how the consumer chose to pay for the purchase. It discussed how the protections offered by credit card chargeback programs compare to online dispute resolution choices, and how poorly chargeback protection is disclosed to consumers.
The program will be rebroadcast at 11 pm, and then available through TVO’s online archives.