The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) review into banks’ external complaint-handling has been submitted to the government and should become public in early 2020.
FCAC was asked to review banks’ complaints-handling processes and the effectiveness of the external complaints bodies by Finance Minister Bill Morneau in the 2018 Fall Economic Statement. In a recently published article in the Financial Post, new FCAC commissioner Judith Robertson confirmed the report’s completion and its early 2020 release.
Canadian banks have been allowed to choose third-party firms to provide dispute resolution rather than require them to use the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments, which was originally established to serve that purpose. Royal Bank (2008), TD Bank (2011) and Scotiabank (2018) have all opted to use a different dispute resolution provider approved by FCAC.
Consumers Council of Canada has published a number of papers on the issue, including a discussion paper in 2018 that favoured making OBSI a single dispute resolution provider, and called the policy that allowed firms to select their own arbiters “a flawed policy that has led to an uneven playing field among banking competitors and between banks and consumers.” In a release from that year, Council chairman Don Mercer said “the federal government needs to protect bank customers by mandating a single impartial, non-profit external complaints body – a right that should be restored to them promptly.” An early 2012 publication adds additional historical detail.
Robertson also told the Financial Post that FCAC is looking forward to working with the new Canadian Consumer Advocate, whenever details of that office emerge. That position was an element in the Liberals’ fall election campaign platform and included in the list of priorities given to Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry Navdeep Bains in mandate letters released December 13.
While that mandate letter said the new authority would “ensure a single point of contact for people who need help with federally regulated banking, telecom or transportation-related complaints,” Robertson indicated that “it’s understood that the FCAC has the regulatory responsibility over banks with regard to complaint handling, so we will continue our efforts there.”
The study gathered information through multiple means, including six telephone focus groups across Canada. In these focus group discussions, consumers were presented with a number of reliably-sourced statistics on the monetary, job loss, health and safety issues, involvement of organized crime and terrorist organizations on counterfeit goods. These included estimates that the worldwide value of counterfeit goods trade could reach $991 billion by 2020, and that worldwide sales of counterfeit medicines could top US$75 billion this year.
Participants commonly disputed many of the presented facts. This response left researchers “somewhat surprised by the degree of skepticism from focus group members who questioned the motives for and accuracy of, the information.”
Among the commonly cited responses from the focus group participants were:
• the statistics were likely exaggerated to provide shock effect
• doubt that the stated job losses were real, or whether it was simply a switch among low-skilled labour jobs
• counterclaims that “non-counterfeit” manufacturers did not have sterling records for providing quality jobs or avoiding child labour.
• stating that connections between terrorists and counterfeits was an unsubstantiated “pile on” to instill fear
• noting that organized crime is gaining a foothold in legitimate businesses as well, and that many legitimate businesses also sideline in selling counterfeit and printed goods
The report evaluated many attitudes and assumptions consumers have about counterfeit and pirated goods, their expectations of government and business to solve the problem, and what they think they need as tools to protect themselves in an environment that is difficult to police. It concluded that Canadian consumers find it difficult to identify the perils of counterfeit goods and pirated media, and that industry intellectual property protection campaigns don’t help them.
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.
Following through on a campaign promise, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has charged Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry Navdeep Bains with creating a new Canadian Consumer Advocate.
The pledge was included in the mandate letters released December 13. Trudeau’s letter to Bains includes working “to ensure a single point of contact for people who need help with federally regulated banking, telecom or transportation-related complaints. Ensure that complaints are reviewed and, if founded, that appropriate remedies and penalties can be imposed.”
The letter adds that Bains should use the support of other cabinet members, including the Minister of Middle Class Prosperity and Associate Minister of Finance Mona Fortier and Minister of Seniors Deb Schulte.
The Canadian Consumer Advocate position was part of the Liberal campaign platform. Bains represents the Mississauga-Malton riding. In the new cabinet, Bains retains the innovation and science responsibility, but his ministry's name has been altered to include "industry".
The mandate letter contains 22 enumerated priorities for the ministry, including a 25 per cent reduction in the cost of cellular phone bills, making internet access universal by 2030 and revising the Copyright Act.
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.