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New law clamps down on e-business, negative-option billing (09/05)

By KRIS HARRIS Ontario consumers, have no fear.


Ontario consumers, have no fear.

The province has radically ratified its Consumer Protection Act for the first time in more than 30 years, extending it to cover a vast array of new business practices such as Internet shopping and negative-option billing.

“We believe that this new act makes Ontario a world leader in consumer protection,” says Jay Okamura, spokesperson for the Ministry of Government Services.

The act, which came into effect on July 30, was the result of extensive consultation with 90 business and consumer groups. It consolidates six of the pre-existing consumer protection laws to create one comprehensive piece of legislation.

“There was a very thorough consultation period that involved dozens of different stakeholders and we took all of their feedback into account,” Okamura says. “The bill is also designed to be adaptable, so that there’s the possibility of updating it as we go along.”

The new legislation includes the doubling of enforcement fines, to a maximum of $50,000 for individuals and $250,000 for corporations. It even allows for the possibility of jail time for heinous offenders.

“Ultimately, we believe that the vast majority of businesses are run by honest, law-abiding people,” Okamura says. “Unfortunately, there are some out there who choose to make a quick buck with their bad business practices and the new maximum penalties are a suitable punishment and deterrent.”

Okamura admits this law may make things more complicated for the small business owner, but he maintains that the new act benefits both consumers and businesses.

“Small business owners were consulted in drafting this bill and the regulations that go with it,” Okamura says. “What we’ve heard from a lot of businesses is that these are standards that many of them abide by already.

“There are clearly going to be some areas where they may have a greater onus put on them, but we think that is a reasonable balance between ensuring a fair marketplace and protecting consumers. What we’ve heard is that these are actually things that businesses welcome because it helps get rid of some of the bad dealers.”

However, some people in the business do not feel that the legislation changes will really have such a great impact on the business world.

“Personally, I don’t think that they (the changes) are that drastic,” says Richard Diotte, manager of Barne Builders & Construction of Sudbury. “I think that reasonable people on either side are going to abide by it. It’s too bad that we need it, but there are too many people that earn their living by skimming people.”

Diotte says he doesn’t think that the new law will stop crooked businessmen from ripping off their customers. He believes that the only way to prevent this from happening is for consumers to do their homework, research contractors thoroughly before hiring them. He also warns against paying deposits before the work begins, adding that unscrupulous operators will sometimes quote impossibly low estimates, take the deposit and run with the money.

“You can’t legislate common sense,” Diotte says. “You can try to make it tougher on the crooks, but crooks don’t abide by the rules anyway. They could make the fine a million dollars and we’ll cut your hands off, and people are still going to steal money.”

Phone 1-800-889-9768 or watch for a ministry brochure in eight languages for more information.