The trend of Canadian regulators to reduce or even withdraw from proactive inspections and enquiries leaves them more reliant on consumer complaints to observe and regulate marketplace behaviour.
A Consumers Council of Canada report released earlier this year examined consumer attitudes and policy developments in government handling of complaints. One of the report’s key segments described showed how apparent reduction of Competition Bureau monitoring at inspections in consumer packaging, textile labelling and precious metals marketing make it difficult for consumers to know if a consumer product is short weight, made of potentially allergenic fills or fibres of if an 18K gold wedding band is actually gold-plated brass.
The report also notes evidence of a reduction of inspections and inspection staff in areas such as food safety, commercial vehicle safety and aircraft safety.
The movement to more “risk-based” or responsive enforcement programs where actions are determined by complaint data and trend analysis runs contrary to OECD that “complaints should never be taken as the primary driver for targeting inspections,” the report notes. It also examines the folly of regulation that is not accompanied by some level of enforcement.
The report gathered consumer views directly through an online survey of 2,000 consumers. It also explored some international innovations such as U.K. “Super Complaints” legislation that has shown some promising results for consumers there, and the U.S Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s interactive public complaints database.
Canada’s Competition Bureau has responsibility for the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act, Textile Labelling Act and Precious Metals Marking Act. However, its enforcement action can depend on complaints about possible offences by consumers and business competitiors.
Consumers who suspect they are victims of fraud in the purchase of goods can also consult the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
Consumers should be careful of their contact with both agencies and to establish clear preferences for how return-contact concerning complaints should be initiated with them by these agencies. Sharing a secret word to help authenticate subsequent communications may help. Both agencies have been plagued recently by telephone scammers who present to call recipients as calling from these agencies, and their sender e-mail addresses could be spoofed.