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Consumer rights: 7 issues currently under the magnifying glass

By : Dominique Lamy

March 15 is World Consumer Rights Day. Here’s a review of the unique situation we all faced in 2021 and a look at the challenges to come in 2022.

Some issues stick around, year in, year out. The complaints of consumers about telecommunications services are just one example. “Another classic is retailers respecting guarantees when a defect in a product occurs early on. All consumers benefit from a traditional manufacturer’s guarantee, but also from having a legal guarantee,” states Sylvie De Bellefeuille, a lawyer and legal and budget advisor for Option Consommateurs.

And there’s no need to pay extra for a longer guarantee! This means that a refrigerator that breaks a few months after the expiration of the one-year manufacturer’s guarantee is still covered by the legal guarantee. “A good must be able to perform its normal functions under normal use for a reasonable length of time.”

The pandemic and its effects

The growth of online business

The first trend related to the pandemic that has revolutionized the habits of consumers is the phenomenal explosion of online business. It was natural that people would resort more to online purchasing. “Receiving damaged goods and the theft of packages left on the doorstep were two other notable complaints in 2021,” says Alexandre Plourde, lawyer and analyst for Option Consommateurs.

And there are also all the logistics issues related to the supply chain that tested consumers’ patience, whether they affected online or in-store purchases. Stories about home appliances delivered several months late also made headlines.

The inability to travel

But the award for the biggest issue of 2021 must go to the travel sector, which experienced policy issues that had the media often requesting comments from Option Consommateurs. The Canadian Transportation Agency decreed that travel vouchers were an acceptable solution to cancelled travel plans due to border closings. Air Passenger Protection Regulations did not provide for the possibility of refunds due to an uncontrollable event or force majeure.

“Option Consommateurs disagreed with this situation. Other resources could be put forwards to ensure refunds. It seemed like consumers were up for barter when it came to this issue,” explains De Bellefeuille. Since that time, a refund process has been instigated, “though it’s far from perfect.” Some regulations have also been proposed to amend the Air Passenger Protection Regulations, though they have still not been put into effect.

Badly designed contracts

“Restrictions related to COVID-19 have disrupted many kinds of contracts that were formerly in use,” notes Plourde. The cancellation of memberships to gyms, forced to close under the circumstances, or the desire to have a deposit refunded for wedding services that would need to be pushed back given public health measures are just two such examples.

The pandemic revealed that our laws in effect at that time had failed to provide for a number of scenarios.

“The regulatory framework wasn’t designed to cover exceptional cases—a pandemic or natural catastrophe—which do sometimes arise and are likely to repeat themselves in the future”, Alexandre Plourde, lawyer and analyst for Option consommateurs

Going on a case-by-case basis to settle refund issues for hundred of thousands of people is not exactly ideal. “The law should bring clarity and some certainty to the treatment of these particular cases,” he said.

Some issues being studied

No to programmed obsolescence

Stronger regulation will also be required to promote greater repairability of goods and to take a legislative stand against programmed obsolescence. “By extending the service life of certain devices, we can combine better consumer protection with environmental protection,” he says. Things are definitely starting to move on this front. “Apple recently announced they wanted to provide better access to repair for their devices,” illustrates Plourde.

Door-to-door sales: Watch out!

You have ten days to cancel a contract you signed with a door-to-door salesperson without having to provide any justification whatsoever. “Door-to-door sales isn’t just encyclopedias anymore. They’re promoting costly appliances (such as heat pumps or solar panels) which are installed the next day,” explains De Bellefeuille. Prohibiting door-to-door sales for this type of good and requiring installation after a 10-day waiting period might be two measures legislators could look at to deal with this nuisance.

Price increases

Another important issue in early 2022 is inflation, which is affecting many products. In the food industry, the phenomenon of shrinkflation has emerged: the price of the item remains unchanged, but the format is smaller. “It’s important to be a knowledgeable consumer in 2022, to make a budget and stick to it,” recommend both experts.

New financing plans

Companies such as PayBright and Sezzle are offering a whole new type of online financing. You now have the possibility of paying for a pair of shoes or item of clothing in four equal payments, interest-free.

“Make sure you’re really able to make the payments and keep track of your payments made to these new providers. Many small payments add up to a larger expense.”, Sylvie De Bellefeuille, lawyer and legal and budget advisor for Option Consommateurs.

Plus, sometimes it’s better to wait to buy something if your financial situation isn’t the best. De Bellefeuille suggests you think twice before you buy and ask yourself, “Do you really need it?”