Transcription, Audience du 23 octobre 2018
Volume : 2
Endroit : Gatineau (Québec)
Date : 23 octobre 2018
© Droits réservés
Offrir un contenu dans les deux langues officielles
Prière de noter que la Loi sur les langues officielles exige que toutes publications gouvernementales soient disponibles dans les deux langues officielles.
Afin de rencontrer certaines des exigences de cette loi, les procès-verbaux du Conseil seront dorénavant bilingues en ce qui a trait à la page couverture, la liste des membres et du personnel du CRTC participant à l'audience et la table des matières.
Toutefois, la publication susmentionnée est un compte rendu textuel des délibérations et, en tant que tel, est transcrite dans l'une ou l'autre des deux langues officielles, compte tenu de la langue utilisée par le participant à l'audience.
Les participants et l'endroit
Tenue à :
Centre des conférences
140 Promenade du Portage
- Président: Ian Scott
- Vice-présidente, Radiodiffusion: Caroline J. Simard
- Vice-présidente, Télécommunications: Christianne Laizner
- Conseillers(ères): Joanne T. Levy, Monique Lafontaine, Linda Vennard, Christopher MacDonald, Yves Dupras,
- Conseillers Juridique: William Abbott, Yael Wexler
- Secrétaire: Jade Roy
- Gérant de l’audience: Guillaume Leclerc
--- L’audience débute mardi, le 23 octobre 2018 à 8h58
1523 THE CHAIRPERSON : Good morning.
1524 Madame la secrétaire.
1525 LA SECRÉTAIRE: Merci.
1526 Nous commencerons ce matin avec la présentation d’Union des consommateurs. S'il vous plaît vous présenter et présenter votre collègue, et vous avez 10 minutes pour votre présentation.
1527 Mme BEAULIEU-LAPORTE: Bonjour à tous. Donc je m’appelle Anaïs Beaulieu-Laporte, je suis analyse en télécommunications, radiodiffusion et vie privée à l’Union des consommateurs. Mon collègue à droite, Maître Marcel Boucher, pardon, qui est responsable de la recherche et des affaires juridiques à Union des consommateurs également.
1528 Dans le temps qui nous est alloué, je propose de faire un bref survol de la position d’Union des consommateurs sur les différentes questions qui ont été abordées dans la présente consultation, et de traiter… et de faire quelques commentaires plus spécifiques en réponse aux arguments avancés par certains fournisseurs.
1529 D'abord, à la lecture du dossier public, il nous semble que tous reconnaissent que plusieurs consommateurs ont été victimes de pratiques de vente abusives de la part d’un fournisseur par le passé. Toutefois, les opinions varient grandement sur l’ampleur du problème. Pour Union des consommateurs, il ne fait aucun doute que l’emploi de pratiques de vente abusives, agressives et trompeuses par les fournisseurs est malheureusement largement répandu sur le marché.
1530 Dans leur réponse, plusieurs fournisseurs font plutôt valoir qu’il ne s’agit que de cas isolés, et ils s’appuient sur ce qu’ils jugent être une faible participation à la présente consultation pour minimiser le problème. On compte pourtant au dossier public plus de 1 200 interventions de consommateurs, et les commentaires additionnels de plusieurs centaines d’autres consommateurs déposés par Open Media. Ce nombre devrait en soi suffire pour écarter l'hypothèse qu’il ne s’agit que de cas isolés.
1531 Qui plus est, le nombre d’interventions déposées par des consommateurs dans la présente instance doit être mis en contexte. Une multitude de facteurs expliquent pourquoi des consommateurs qui auraient été victimes de pratiques de vente abusives ne l’auraient pas fait savoir au Conseil. Sont-ils au courant de la présente consultation? Sont-ils en mesure d’y participer? Même plus fondamentalement, savent-ils même qu’ils ont été victimes d’une vente abusive? Bien des consommateurs l’ignorent, et ce, même s’ils en paient les frais tous les mois.
1532 Pensons par exemple au consommateur à qui l’on offre un forfait internet dont les vitesses et la capacité de téléchargement est bien au-delà de ses besoins. Ses connaissances technologiques limitées rendent ce type d'abus difficilement identifiable par le consommateur.
1533 Qualifier de cas isolés ceux qui ont été rapportés au CRTC, est encore moins plausible à la lumière des résultats du récent sondage d’opinion publique commandé par le CRTC. C'est pas moins de 40 pour cent des consommateurs sondés qui affirment avoir vécu une situation de vente trompeuse et/ou agressive, dont la majorité au courant de la dernière année.
1534 Dans leur réplique, certains fournisseurs ont également contesté le caractère systémique des pratiques de vente abusives qu’on leur reproche, puisque ces pratiques n'auraient lieu que lors de vente en porte-à-porte par les grands fournisseurs. Là encore, Union des consommateurs ne partage pas cet avis.
1535 Bien que la présente consultation ait vraisemblablement été déclenchée suite aux reportages de la CBC sur la vente… sur des cas de ventes à domicile, le Conseil ne devrait pas pour autant limiter son analyse à ce seul type de représentations, selon Union des consommateurs.
1536 En fait, les interventions qui ont été déposées par des consommateurs et des groupes font également référence à des cas de ventes abusives, agressives et trompeuses au téléphone, en magasin, en ligne, et également la publicité trompeuse de certains fournisseurs.
1537 En fait, comme nous l’avons mentionné dans nos observations initiales, nous sommes d’avis que l’emploi de pratiques de vente trompeuses et abusives relève davantage d’une stratégie globale des fournisseurs que de manœuvres de quelques employés peu scrupuleux.
1538 Nous constatons en effet que des représentations trompeuses sont faites par des fournisseurs à toutes les étapes de leurs communications avec les consommateurs, tous modes confondus. Plusieurs des pratiques abusives qui ont été identifiées par les consommateurs dans leurs interactions avec des représentants des fournisseurs, sont également observables ou ont leur pendant dans la documentation écrite de ces mêmes fournisseurs et dans la publicité également.
1539 Pensons par exemple à la présentation de prix inexacts ou aux fausses garanties de prix et/ou de rabais que nous avons spécialement identifiées comme des problèmes récurrents dans la documentation en ligne de plusieurs fournisseurs dans le cadre de notre récente étude sur le sujet.
1540 Des fournisseurs vous ont également fait valoir que, même si vous reconnaissiez qu’il existe un problème — ce qui nous semble indéniable — il n’est pas nécessaire d’agir, puisque l’encadrement actuel serait suffisant. Il existe effectivement certaines protections contre les représentations trompeuses dans les lois provinciales de protection des consommateurs et dans la Loi sur la concurrence.
1541 Toutefois, à la lumière de ce que l'on observe sur le terrain, il me semble clair que l’encadrement actuel, de portée générale, ne suffit pas. Il n'offre pas aux consommateurs de recours individuels simples, rapides, peu coûteux du type de ceux que propose la CPRST.
1542 Les recours collectifs que les lois existantes permettent d'entreprendre, aussi bénéfiques soient-ils, permettent rarement de faire changer une pratique problématique rapidement, vu la longueur des procédures que ce type de recours entraîne. Les interventions des organismes chargés de l’application de ces différentes lois sont malheureusement cruellement rares, vraisemblablement par manque de ressources ou en raison du fardeau de preuve élevé qu'exige les recours pénaux.
1543 Il y a donc définitivement un vide à combler, selon nous, et le Conseil nous semble le mieux placé pour agir en l’espèce. Nous préconisions une intervention large, qui couvre l'ensemble des pratiques de vente qui sont susceptibles de tromper le consommateur dans le secteur des services de communications. L’adoption de quelques mesures ciblées, que les fournisseurs pourraient malheureusement être tentés de contourner, ne pourra suffire, selon nous.
1544 Cela pourrait se concrétiser par l’élaboration d’un code sur les pratiques de vente et sur la publicité des fournisseurs de services de communication; un code qui s’appliquerait à tous les services et qui couvrirait les différents modes et les diverses pratiques de représentations des fournisseurs. On peut penser aux représentations de leurs vendeurs, à la présentation de leurs offres en ligne, à leur publicité et autres.
1545 S’agissant d’un encadrement propre au marché des services de communication, il serait possible – et même souhaitable – pour le Conseil d’y prévoir des règles qui tiennent compte des particularités du secteur des télécommunications, et qui répondent aux problèmes liés à la divulgation d’information qui auront - on l’espère - été identifiés dans la présente consultation.
1546 Comme d’autres intervenants, nous vous référons au Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code, code australien qui a adopté cette approche et qui encadre notamment la vente et la publicité des fournisseurs. Il s’agit, selon nous, d’un exemple à suivre en la matière.
1547 Enfin, le nouveau code doit impérativement s’accompagner de mesures sérieuses pour en assurer le respect. Le Conseil devrait bien sûr élargir le mandat de la CPRST afin d’y inclure l'application du nouveau code, mais il ne devrait pas hésiter non plus à lui confier un mandat plus strict de surveillance du marché, par le biais de l’entremise de sa collecte de plaintes.
1548 Le Conseil devrait également prévoir de lourdes pénalités pour les fournisseurs fautifs, et ce, afin de rétablir la confiance des consommateurs canadiens dans le marché.
1549 Ceci conclut nos commentaires. Merci pour votre attention.
1550 LE PRÉSIDENT: Merci beaucoup.
1551 Madame Simard.
1552 CONSEILLER SIMARD: Merci, Monsieur le président.
1553 Alors, bonjour, merci pour votre présentation, merci pour votre participation au processus.
1554 J’ai préparé quelques questions, je me rendais compte qu’au fur et à mesure de votre présentation vous avez répondu à une bonne partie de celles-ci. Alors on va prendre le temps dont on dispose pour peut-être creuser davantage ces points-là, ces questions-là ensemble. Alors, vous avez commencé, dans votre présentation, puis ça apparaît entre autres choses au paragraphe 4 de votre présentation. Vous parlez donc de ces divergences-là d’opinions qui existent quant à l’ampleur de la problématique des pratiques de vente trompeuses ou agressives.
1555 Alors, j’aimerais peut-être vous entendre un peu plus sur ce sujet-là, quant à cette ampleur du phénomène. Et il va y avoir une sous-question, évidemment, et vous y faites allusion également dans votre présentation, lorsque vous faites référence au sondage qui fait état, donc, d’un pourcentage de 40 % des Canadiens qui se disent avoir été trouvés dans une situation où une entreprise aurait pratiqué… aurait donc fait ces pratiques-là, trompeuses ou agressives, et ce, au courant de la dernière année.
1556 Alors, je vous écoute. Merci.
1557 MME BEAULIEU-LAPORTE: Donc, en fait, il y a une différence importante où nous, on comprenait, à la lecture des mémoires de plusieurs fournisseurs, qu’ils le voyaient vraiment comme des cas isolés et ils justifiaient notamment cette position-là en faisant un peu des pourcentages, en disant : « Regardez, il y a tant d’interventions, alors qu’il y a tant de consommateurs canadiens. » Le pourcentage que ça donne, évidemment, si on divise, est minuscule. On n’était pas du tout d’accord avec cette analyse-là, parce qu’il faut mettre en contexte la participation à des instances du CRTC comme il y a aujourd’hui.
1558 Donc, il y a beaucoup de gens… nous, on considère à la base que la quantité de commentaires qui a été déposée auprès du Conseil est importante. C’est quand même… on demandait à des gens de raconter leur histoire, ce n’est pas facile à faire, mais en plus, il faut le mettre dans un contexte plus large où, d’abord, il y a beaucoup de gens qui ignorent qu’ils sont victimes de pratiques de vente abusives, donc c’est impossible pour eux de les rapporter au Conseil. Et si on pense à la vente de services qui ne correspondent pas à leurs besoins, la grande majorité des gens ne seront probablement pas en mesure d’identifier qu’ils ont été victimes. Donc, tous ces gens-là ne peuvent pas déposer d’intervention au Conseil.
1559 Il y a également des gens qui, si c’est une différence de prix, par exemple… souvent, ce qui est en jeu, ce sont des différences de prix, si la différence de prix est minime, on sait très bien, par expérience que beaucoup de gens ne consultent pas leur facture. Là encore, ils n’auront pas encore réalisé que le prix qu’on leur avait annoncé, divulgué, n’était pas exactement le prix qu’il y a sur la facture. Ils n’en sont pas pour autant moins victimes d’une pratique de vente abusive, mais là encore, ils ne pourront pas l’avoir rapporté au CRTC. Donc ça, ce sont vraiment des gens qui ne seraient même pas au courant qu’ils ont été victimes.
1560 Après ça, il y a tous les gens qui ne sont pas au courant de la présente consultation. On faisait référence aux observations… je pense, en réplique ou dans les observations initiales à un sondage qui avait été commandé par le CRTC il y a quelques années, où la majorité des Canadiens qui avaient été sondés affirmaient être peu ou pas informés du rôle et du mandat du CRTC. On aurait l’impression qu’ils ne sont pas nécessairement beaucoup plus informés de la présente consultation, et ce, même s’il y a eu un peu de battage médiatique autour, ça demeure quand même modeste.
1561 On partage également l’avis du groupe Aging Communication Technologies, qui faisait remarquer que les choix de promotion du CRTC, qui semblent s’être davantage concentrés sur le web et donc, qui allaient avoir Twitter, avec Facebook, des publicités par Google. C’est très bien, mais ça peut… ça ne permet pas nécessairement de rejoindre toutes les catégories de consommateurs. Ce n’est pas tout le monde qui est sur internet, ce n’est pas tout le monde qui est sur les réseaux sociaux encore moins, donc notamment peut-être des consommateurs plus âgés qui ont pu très bien être victimes de ventes abusives et peut-être même en raison de leur vulnérabilité particulière qui serait liée à leur âge ou à leurs faibles connaissances technologiques qui, là encore, ne seraient pas au courant de la présente consultation.
1562 Et même s’ils étaient au courant, le processus quand même pour déposer des commentaires n’est pas… est assez laborieux ou, du moins, est imposant. Quand on rentre sur le site du CRTC, pour rentrer des commentaires, il y a un long énoncé de confidentialité qu’il faut lire et ça peut avoir l’air… c’est un peu comme un contrat que personne ne va lire. Donc, on regarde la page puis où est-ce que je signe, puis on passe à autre chose. Donc, ça peut inquiéter des gens.
1563 Après ça, dans ce processus-là, il faut également donner beaucoup d’informations personnelles. Donc, on voulait juste aussi soulever qu’il y a certaines personnes qui pourraient très bien avoir été victimes de ventes abusives et avoir choisi de ne pas le dire au CRTC pour toutes ces raisons-là.
1564 Et même, de manière encore plus générale, on faisait référence, dans notre mémoire, à une étude qui a été menée en 2006, qui concluait que 6 % des consommateurs faisaient des démarches lorsqu’ils avaient un problème avec un bien ou un service, 6 % seulement faisaient des démarches auprès d’un commerçant, par la suite, pour se plaindre, alors que dans ces cas-là, ils peuvent s’attendre à avoir peut-être un retour ou à avoir une baisse ou un crédit ou peu importe, il y en avait juste 6 % qui prenaient la peine de faire des démarches.
1565 Dans le cadre du CRTC, les visées sont différentes : personne ne peut s’attendre à avoir quoi que ce soit en échange, à court terme, sur le plan individuel. Donc là encore, ça diminue les gens qui sont intéressés ou qui vont faire des démarches pour déposer des interventions.
1566 CONSEILLER SIMARD : Ce que je retiens, donc, c’est que selon votre position, on ne verrait que la pointe de l’iceberg…
1567 MME BEAULIEU-LAPORTE : Exactement.
1568 CONSEILLER SIMARD : … et l’ampleur du problème serait plus grande ou, à tout le moins, considérable, c’est ça?
1569 MME BEAULIEU-LAPORTE : Exactement, c’est vraiment juste la pointe de l’iceberg.
1570 CONSEILLER SIMARD : Merci. Alors, on va plonger encore un peu plus en profondeur et on va s’attaquer à deux définitions. On a en parlé lors de la journée d’audience d’hier : les définitions des notions qui sont les notions clés de ce processus-là, donc de vente trompeuse et vente abusive. Est-ce que vous avez travaillé ces définitions-là? Puis êtes-vous en mesure de nous éclairer à ce sujet-là?
1571 MME BEAULIEU-LAPORTE : On les a travaillées un peu, mais en fait, nous, on aurait tendance à vous proposer trois définitions. Donc, on avait tendance à séparer des pratiques de vente qui sont trompeuses, des pratiques de vente qui sont agressives et des pratiques de vente qui sont abusives.
1572 Donc, je vais commencer par ventes trompeuses. Nous, on l’associait à l’offre ou à la divulgation de renseignements qui sont faux, qui sont incomplets ou qui sont hautement ambigus et donc, très susceptibles d’induire le consommateur en erreur et également, l’omission de renseignements importants. Ça, pour nous, c’était vraiment la catégorie « ventes trompeuses ».
1573 Pour la vente agressive, on y voyait une vente où il y aurait un élément de pression excessive, donc pression faite sur les consommateurs pour qu’ils retiennent un service ou un bien qu’ils ne désirent pas et pour lesquels ils ont déjà mentionné qu’ils n’étaient pas intéressés. Donc, ça peut être dans le cadre, évidemment, du porte-à-porte où, parfois, les gens se sentent intimidés un peu par la personne dans la porte, mais ça peut être également en ligne, un représentant qui est très insistant ou également des cas dont on nous parle à l’occasion où des gens appellent parce que le service est défectueux ou n’importe quoi et au lieu de les aider, on va rapidement essayer de leur vendre d’autres services, et ce, même s’ils mentionnent ne pas être intéressés. Pour nous, ça, c’est une vente qui est agressive.
1574 À cela, on a ajouté un élément qui n’est pas un élément de vente, mais qui est tellement lié, qui était celui des difficultés, des manœuvres qui semblent être entreprises par certains représentants pour limiter la capacité des consommateurs à mettre fin à leur contrat. Donc, ce qu’on a vu, des cas de gens qui se font raccrocher la ligne au nez, des gens à qui on dit : « Oui oui, votre résolution de contrat est enregistrée dans le système » alors que dans les faits, elle n’est jamais enregistrée, donc la personne continue à recevoir une facture. Des gens à qui on a dit : « On va vous envoyer la boîte postale pour envoyer un modem », alors qu’ils ne la reçoivent jamais, mais évidemment, la facture continue de rentrer. Ce n’est pas une pratique de vente, mais on le voit comme très lié à la vente et il y a certainement un caractère agressif ; c’est une pratique qui nous semble agressive.
1575 Troisième cas, ce sont les cas de pratiques de vente abusive. Là, on le voit plus comme la vente où on profite d’une vulnérabilité particulière des consommateurs où il y a, par exemple, la barrière linguistique, mais il y a également tout le cas des limites, des connaissances technologiques limitées des gens. Et je vous réfèrerais, par exemple, dans nos observations initiales, on a fait l’exercice avec Bell… je vais trouver la page!
1576 C’est à la page 31, où en fait, on a fait l’exercice avec Bell sur leur système de clavardage, où on leur demandait : « Bonjour, je ne sais pas trop comment fonctionne le service internet, de quoi ai-je besoin? » Et on nous proposait des forfaits, alors qu’on expliquait avoir une très faible consommation, qu’on lisait nos e-mails et les nouvelles et on nous proposait des forfaits qui seraient plus appropriés pour quelqu’un qui joue à des vidéos toute la journée.
1577 Pour nous, ça, c’est un abus des limites technologiques de consommateur, c’est une vulnérabilité et il faut être conscient que la très grande majorité des consommateurs sont vulnérables à cet égard-là sur le marché.
1578 Et pour les pratiques de vente abusive, on intègrerait également le cas de vente de services non désirés. On vous a fourni quelques exemples de cas où des gens ne savaient même pas qu’ils avaient été abonnés à un service ou on a abonné des gens à un service internet en leur disant que… il y avait un cas, par exemple, de la CBC où une dame s’était fait abonner à un service internet parce qu’on lui avait dit que le modem, c’était nécessaire pour la télévision, des cas comme ça. On a également un cas d’une dame qui s’est fait intégrer une assurance sur son téléphone alors qu’elle n’avait aucune idée, même, qu’elle payait pour ça. Ça, pour nous, c’est abusif.
1579 CONSEILLER SIMARD : Merci beaucoup.
1580 Vous avez fait référence à quelques reprises aux populations plus vulnérables, les personnes âgées… on a entendu hier des associations des personnes malentendantes, non voyantes également. Est-ce que, dans vos travaux, vous avez abordé cette question-là de façon plus précise?
1581 MME BEAULIEU-LAPORTE : Par rapport aux personnes malentendantes et non voyantes?
1582 CONSEILLER SIMARD : Oui ou les personnes âgées?
1583 MME BEAULIEU-LAPORTE : On n’a pas traité de ces catégories de consommateurs là de manière précise. On allait plus sur la vulnérabilité de, finalement, tous les consommateurs, notamment lorsqu’il est question des connaissances technologiques et des modalités de nombreux services, mais on n’a pas été précisément sur certaines catégories.
1584 CONSEILLER SIMARD : Parfait, merci beaucoup.
1585 Vous avez également fait allusion aux différentes techniques de vente. On parle évidemment… vous avez fait référence au porte-à-porte, il y a également, bon, les ventes au téléphone, ventes par internet, en magasin. Est-ce que vous avez noté des différences quant à l’utilisation de certaines techniques plutôt que d’autres quant à cette problématique-là, quant au fait de créer et d’alimenter cette problématique-là?
1586 MME BEAULIEU-LAPORTE : Pas vraiment, parce qu’en fait, nous, notre opinion, c’est davantage que c’est une stratégie globale qui, justement, se reflète dans toutes les formes de représentation. Et on fait les parallèles dans nos observations initiales entre ce qui est reproché lors d’interactions en personne, que ce soit porte-à-porte ou au téléphone et ce qu’on retrouve dans la documentation écrite.
1587 Donc, on n’a pas l’impression que certains types de représentation sont plus visés; on a l’impression que malheureusement, c’est répandu et tout ça émane, pour un fournisseur… c’est plus comme une pyramide, où toutes ses représentations vont être un peu victimes des mêmes problèmes.
1588 CONSEILLER SIMARD : Donc, si je comprends bien, ça comprend également les campagnes de mise en marché grand public. Est-ce que ça comprend également les dépliants et les autres moyens de mise en marché grand public?
1589 MME BEAULIEU-LAPORTE : Oui. Là, je ne peux pas vous parler de tous les fournisseurs, mais oui, ce qu’on observait… puis on a fait une étude, l’an dernier, sur la documentation promotionnelle des fournisseurs, où on a étudié huit fournisseurs.
1590 La documentation qui était disponible en ligne et ce qu’on constatait malheureusement, c’est vraiment deux problèmes qui étaient récurrents : c’était l’offre d’information qui était trompeuse ou, souvent, qui était très très ambiguë et qui aurait nécessité du consommateur d’aller lire toutes les notes de bas de page, de gratter, des hyperliens – donc, il y avait ce côté-là.
1591 Et il y avait également… on constatait que l’information qui était plus négative pour le consommateur – on pense par exemple à des frais d’installation, des frais de location –souvent, était noyée dans beaucoup d’autres renseignements qui sont moins importants pour le consommateur. Et ça, c’était assez présent dans la documentation qu’on a étudiée chez la majorité des fournisseurs.
1592 CONSEILLER SIMARD : Parfait. Puis pour ce qui est de l’utilisation de tierces parties pour procéder à la vente des services de communication, est-ce que vous vous êtes penchés sur cet aspect-là, également, des techniques de vente?
1593 Me BOUCHER: Bonjour. Non, on ne s’est pas penchés particulièrement sur cette question-là. Comme le mentionnait Anaïs, on regarde les pratiques de vente du point de vue qu’on peut le regarder, c’est-à-dire sur la documentation, les annonces en ligne, la présentation des produits, des services, les offres qu’on trouve en ligne et dans la documentation. Comme on n’a pas de contact avec les vendeurs, ce qu’on connaît, c’est ce qui a été rapporté dans les médias notamment.
1594 Mais comme le mentionnait Anaïs, on voit un parallèle; on voit une approche de la vente qui se reflète. On va trouver dans chaque mode de vente ou dans chaque mode de présentation différentes pratiques, différences façons de faire les choses, mais la pratique est la même : on essaie de ne pas tout dire au consommateur, de lui en dire le moins possible pour qu’il achète, de mettre de la pression, de jouer sur ses vulnérabilités. Comme le mentionnait encore une fois Anaïs, la vulnérabilité en matière de télécoms, les consommateurs l’ont presque tous ; ils sont extrêmement rares, les consommateurs qui vont savoir autant que le fournisseur sur les questions techniques qui peuvent l’intéresser.
1595 Donc, principalement sur la vente à domicile, non.
1596 CONSEILLER SIMARD : Parfait, merci.
1597 On a abordé, disons, la question de la problématique. Nous allons faire une transition vers les solutions, maintenant. Vous avez parlé du manque de clarté, notamment au niveau des contrats. Il y a, comme vous le savez probablement, le code sur les services sans fil et le code des fournisseurs de services de télévision qui ont des règles à ce sujet-là.
1598 Et j’aurais aimé vous entendre à savoir, si vous les connaissez, est-ce que vous croyez que des règles similaires pourraient s’appliquer pour les services internet?
1599 MME BEAULIEU-LAPORTE : Je ne suis pas sûre de comprendre. Les règles qui sont au code sur les services sans fil en matière de clarté des contrats, s’il y avait moyen de faire l’équivalent pour les services internet?
1600 CONSEILLER SIMARD : Oui, c’est ça; code qu’on appelle communément télécoms puis télévision. Alors, est-ce que des règles similaires pourraient se voir appliquer de façon plus large?
1601 MME BEAULIEU-LAPORTE : Pour la vente ou pour le contrat précisément?
1602 CONSEILLER SIMARD : Pour le contrat, la clarté du contrat.
1603 MME BEAULIEU-LAPORTE : Assurément, parce qu’effectivement, les services internet en ce moment n’ont pas de code, n’ont vraiment aucune règle particulière – bien, ont très peu de règles qui proviennent du CRTC. Assurément, les consommateurs seraient mieux protégés s’il y avait les règles similaires pour les services internet.
1604 CONSEILLER SIMARD : Parfait. Puis sinon, est-ce que vous êtes en mesure de proposer d’autres actions ou d’autres règles qui pourraient s’appliquer pour aider à solutionner ce problème de manque de clarté au niveau des contrats?
1605 Me BOUCHER : Je la prends au vol, celle-là. Anaïs disait que oui, il serait bien qu’il y ait un code semblable pour internet, comme il y en a pour la téléphonie sans fil et un peu pour la télédistribution, parce qu’il y a des zones grises qui pourraient être couvertes par un code.
1606 Ce à quoi on pense dans le cadre de la présente instance, c’est plus un code sur les pratiques de vente, donc pas ce qui va être reflété dans le contrat, mais ce qui est proposé au consommateur pour que tout ça soit le plus honnête, le plus clair possible, qu’il n’y ait pas d’ambiguïté, qu’il n’y ait pas de tromperie. Que le consommateur, quand… les expériences qu’a faites Anaïs lors de magasinage de services d’internet, c’était assez impressionnant.
1607 Le travail qu’elle a fait, elle a pris l’offre du fournisseur, c’est-à-dire le fournisseur dit : « Si vous faites tel, tel usage, vous avez besoin de ça. » On appelle le fournisseur par chat ou autrement, on appelle le fournisseur, on lui dit : « J’ai ce besoin-là; qu’est-ce que vous me vendriez? De quoi… à quoi devrais-je m’abonner? » et que le fournisseur lui dit : « Il faut que tu prennes le gros, gros service », c’est invraisemblable! Ça ne devrait pas exister… il est surprenant qu’avec le développement du marché des télécoms, que des choses comme ça se fasse encore, et pourtant!
1608 Et c'est un exemple frappant, mais c’est un exemple. Si on regarde les offres en ligne, c’est incroyable de voir que le fournisseur puisse impunément afficher ce service-là et 23 $, d’accord? « Je veux ce service-là à 23 $. » « Impossible. » « Comment, impossible? C’est indiqué que ce service-là est à 23 $. » « Ah oui, mais ce service-là est à 23 $ si vous en prenez deux autres, si vous payez… si vous ajoutez les frais mensuels pour le modem, si vous rajouter ci, si vous rajoutez ça… » Donc, 23 $, je ne peux pas avoir ce service-là au prix qu’il est annoncé – c’est invraisemblable!
1609 Le fait d’encadrer les contrats par un code ne règlera pas ce problème-là; c’est avant le contrat que ça se passe. C’est pour ça qu’on mentionnait, dans le mémoire et dans la présentation que vous a fait Anaïs tantôt que le… si un code semblable était envisagé, travaillé, élaboré et adopté, il faudrait que le pouvoir de la CPRST soit élargi. Le pouvoir qu’a présentement la CPRST c'est très, très utilise pour les consommateurs d’avoir un endroit où on peut avoir de l’aide pour ramener à l’ordre le fournisseur dans le cadre d'un contrat. C'est très pratique.
1610 Dans le cadre de ce qu'on étudie ici dans cette instance-ci, ce sont des représentations avant le contrat. Les gens qui vont par la suite conclure un contrat, le contrat sera pas conforme à ce qui a été fait comme représentations ou ce qui avaient compris ou ce qui voulaient ou quoi que ce soit. Le CPRST pourrait avoir ce pouvoir-là.
1611 Pour tous les gens qui n’ont pas de contrat, le CPRST devrait quand même avoir… avoir le pouvoir de faire quelque chose. Faire quelque chose serait par exemple de ramasser les plaintes et de les… de les classer de façon utile pour le CRTC. Et le CRTC aurait dont le pouvoir de rappeler à l'ordre les fournisseurs sur la base des conditions de service, et non pas de régler le problème du consommateur qui en aurait pas nécessairement eu, ce qui permettrait au CRTC d'avoir un portrait global du marché. Oui, les annonces de prix sont toutes fautives, défectueuses. Le CRTC intervient, appelle -- rappelle les fournisseurs et les rappelle à l'ordre, « Dorénavant, l’annonce de prix se fait comme ceci ou comme cela. »
1612 CONSEILLER SIMARD: Parfait, merci.
1613 Pour le dossier donc je comprends que le détail de ce code des pratiques de vente et de publicité se trouve au paragraphe 14 de votre présentation. Puis je comprends également que vous vous êtes inspiré de l’exemple du Code australien; c'est bien ça?
1614 Mme BEAULIEU-LAPORTE: Oui, exactement.
1615 CONSEILLER SIMARD: Parfait, merci.
1616 Je comprends donc également que vous suggérez de mettre le focus davantage sur l’offre de service. Est-ce que vous excluez complètement des mesures qui pourraient être prises pour des périodes d’essai par exemple qui viendraient après la vente?
1617 Mme BEAULIEU-LAPORTE: Non, pas du tout. Les périodes d’essai ont leur utilité, encore faut-il qu’elles soient suffisamment longues et surtout encore faut-il qu’elles soient connues des consommateurs. Donc le… c'est plus là où on remarque un problème où beaucoup de consommateurs sont pas du tout au courant de la période d'essai, ou sont pas au courant des limites d’utilisation qui sont associées à la période d'essai, et donc finalement on dépasse l’utilisation donnée et ont perdu leur période d'essai. C'est… mais assurément les périodes d'essai effectivement ça peut servir, mais c'est pas suffisant seul, selon nous.
1618 CONSEILLER SIMARD: Merci. Puis si on revient également à l’offre, ça été discuté également hier la possibilité donc d’y avoir un résumé clair, précis concernant le contrat de service. Est-ce que vous êtes en faveur avec une telle proposition?
1619 Mme BEAULIEU-LAPORTE: Assurément. En fait, y a un résumé des renseignements essentiels qui est prévu au Code sur les services sans fil, mais il doit être distribué au consommateur uniquement lorsqu’il conclut un contrat. Nous, on a toujours été d’avis qu’il aurait… il devrait être disponible sur demande ou autre, mais qu’il devrait être disponible pour un consommateur avant qu’il conclut un contrat, parce que justement c'est pour savoir ce qui a dans le contrat qu’il va conclure. Donc ça, parfaitement d'accord.
1620 CONSEILLER SIMARD: Puis je comprends donc de vos propos que vous suggérez que ces règles-là, s’il y a lieu, qu’elles soient obligatoires; c'est ça?
1621 Mme BEAULIEU-LAPORTE: Bien sûr, et pour tous les services.
1622 CONSEILLER SIMARD: Tous les services de communications?
1623 Mme BEAULIEU-LAPORTE: Oui.
1624 CONSEILLER SIMARD: Nous avons abordé la question du CPRST. Est-ce que… est-ce qu'une plus grande sensibilisation… ben en fait, je pose la question mais je comprends de votre présentation et de vos propos également que vous êtes en faveur d'une plus grande sensibilisation de ce que fait le CP… en français c'est CPRST, alors oui, je comprends donc que vous êtes en faveur d'une plus grande sensibilisation de l’existence, du rôle, du mandat de cet organisme?
1625 Mme BEAULIEU-LAPORTE: Oui, assurément. Nous on constate que c'est un beau recours pour les consommateurs, parce qu'on disait c'est simple, c'est peu coûteux, c'est plus rapide que par exemple les petites créances ou des recours comme ça. Mais oui, malheureusement, beaucoup de gens en ignore encore l’existence. Donc assurément, des campagnes de sensibilisation ou tout autre moyen de le faire connaître. Je sais que les articles dans la CBC dans les derniers mois ça, je crois, aidé un peu, mais tout de même y reste encore du chemin à faire.
1626 CONSEILLER SIMARD: Pis quelle action concrète pourrait être prise pour réaliser cet… c'est-à-dire de réaliser cet objectif-là de permettre de mieux connaître le CPRST?
1627 Me BOUCHER: Le fournisseur est probablement le meilleur… le meilleur accès puis le meilleur promoteur possible de la CPRST, parce que les gens vont avoir besoin de la CPRST quand ils ont un problème avec leur fournisseur. Le fournisseur le sait, il devrait lui revenir de dire… de dire clairement et dire systématiquement au consommateur que la CPRST existe et qu’il peut y avoir des recours. Y a probablement d’autres moyens, mais c'est le premier qui vient à l’esprit.
1628 CONSEILLER SIMARD: Merci. Alors, comme je vous expliquais d’entrée de jeu, vous avez fait une excellente présentation qui répondait à l’ensemble de mes questions. Nous avons fait ensemble le tour de l’essentiel quant aux… à la problématique et aussi différentes pistes de solution. Avez-vous d’autre chose à ajouter à ce sujet?
1629 Mme BEAULIEU-LAPORTE: Non, pas particulièrement.
1630 CONSEILLER SIMARD: Merci. Je vais laisser la parole à mes collègues. Merci. Merci beaucoup.
1631 THE CHAIRPERSON: Commissioner Lafontaine.
1632 CONSEILLER LAFONTAINE: Merci pour votre présentation. J'ai juste une question pour vous ce matin.
1633 Vous avez mentionné au paragraphe 13 de votre présentation et c'est aussi énoncé dans votre intervention écrite que vous proposez que des… les mesures s’appliquent à l’industrie entière et pas de façon ciblée. Est-ce que vous pouvez donner un peu plus de détails pourquoi vous proposez que ça soit pour l’industrie en tant que telle?
1634 Mme BEAULIEU-LAPORTE: Oui, c'est qu'en fait, comme j’expliquais, nous on constate qu’il y a des problèmes de représentations. La divulgation de l’infraction est problématique dans tous les modes de représentations. Et donc, on craindrait que le CRTC par exemple se concentre sur la vente en porte-à-porte ou très… ou finalement fasse un encadrement qui traite juste de la vente en porte-à-porte. Pour nous c'est passé à côté d'une bonne partie du problème, parce que y a des problèmes ailleurs dans l’offre… dans la manière dont les offres sont… dans la manière dont les fournisseurs offrent leurs services, dans les interactions au téléphone. Et donc, de traiter d'un seul problème qui aurait été identifié dans un seul type de… ou mode de représentations, on aurait vraiment peur que ça passe à côté et que ce soit facile à contourner pour un fournisseur. C'est à ça qu'on faisait référence.
1635 CONSEILLER LAFONTAINE: Merci.
1636 LE PRÉSIDENT: Monsieur Dupras.
1637 CONSEILLER DUPRAS: Et est-ce qui a des fournisseurs qui sont pires que d’autres ou… et est-ce que des mesures devraient être ciblées ou si ça devrait être des mesures applicables à toute l’industrie?
1638 Me BOUCHER: Je répondrai pas à votre première question si y en a qui sont pires que d’autres, c'est-à-dire je vais répondre oui, y a qui sont pires que d’autres, mais je vous dirais pas qui. On l’a identifié.
1639 Pourquoi… pourquoi l’appliquer à toute l’industrie? On se dit fréquemment, si quelqu'un a déjà des pratiques qui respecteraient ce qui pourrait se retrouver dans un code, y a aucun dommage à l’adoption du code. Y aura pas besoin de changer ses pratiques si ses pratiques sont déjà correctes. Donc, faut pas chercher celui-ci est terrible, on va encadrer celui-ci en parlant d'un fournisseur ou d’un autre. Faut adopter un code auquel tous se conforme, ce qui va permettre au marché aussi d'avoir une vision plus saine des pratiques de vente et de les… d’ajuster leurs pratiques en conséquence, le cas échéant.
1640 Est-ce que je réponds à votre question?
1641 CONSEILLER DUPRAS: Oui. Merci.
1642 THE CHAIRPERSON: Commissioner Vennard.
1643 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Good morning and thank you for your presentation.
1644 Yesterday -- I just have a couple of quick questions for you. Yesterday, in some of the interventions, the idea of a suitability assessment or requirement was brought up. I’m wondering if you could comment on that from your point of view. The example was drawn from the financial sector, where the sales person is required to know something about the person, but not to be able to take advantage of them, but rather to see whether the product that they're suggesting actually matches their needs and are suitable. Would you comment on that in a general sense? Thank you.
1645 MS. BEAULIEU-LAPORTE: Do you mind if I comment in French?
1646 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: No, not at all.
1647 Mme BEAULIEU-LAPORTE: O.k. Donc, sans traiter directement du critère de « suitability » qui est utilisé dans le milieu des finances, effectivement, nous on est d'accord qui devrait avoir des mesures ou un encadrement qui a trait à la notion de « suitability » des services qu'on propose et qu'on vend au consommateur. Les renseigne… les fournisseurs devraient au minimum avoir l’obligation de se renseigner sur les besoins de la personne avant de lui offrir un service qui peut-être répond aucunement à ses besoins. Il devrait logiquement en tenir compte une fois qui s'est renseigné.
1648 On pensait aussi à l’idée de fournir un outil… un outil qui permet au consommateur de lui-même aller identifier un peu ses besoins, notamment sur les modalités plus techniques des services. Mais là encore, si je reviens à nos observations initiales, il faut encore que les représentants suivent les outils qui sont fournis.
1649 Dans l’exercice qu'on a fait avec Bell, Bell avait un tableau qui expliquait en fonction de quel type puis d’activité en ligne, voici combien de gig vous avez besoin. Mais quand j'ai fait l’exercice avec des représentants lors d'une séance de clavardage, on m’a donné des chiffres complètement différents. Et donc, l’outil existe mais y est pas suivi par les représentants, donc là y a un problème. Mais l'idée d’offrir un outil de manière plus systématique par les fournisseurs serait assurément très, très utile pour les consommateurs.
1650 Et on pensait aussi à cette obligation pour les fournisseurs d’expliquer au consommateur quand ils offrent, quand ils proposent un service, en quoi ça répond à leurs besoins. Donc, pour que le consommateur comprenne qu’est-ce qu'on lui offre et quelle est l’utilité de ce qu'on lui offre. Donc, c'est pas nécessairement le critère de « suitability » qui est en finances, parce qu’évidemment les deux secteurs sont très différents, mais oui, on est d'accord avec… avec l’encadrement là de ça.
1651 Est-ce que ça répond?
1652 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Okay. Thank you for that.
1653 I have one other thing I’d like you to comment on. The idea has come up about -- with respect to door-to-door sales, something like -- equivalent to the “do not call list”, which is, you know, do not interact or do not contact. Would you like to comment on that with respect to door-to-door sales?
1654 Me BOUCHER: Si vous me permettez, je vais répondre en français aussi.
1655 Si je comprends bien, vous demandez si une liste comme la « do not call list » des… pour les appels téléphoniques serait… devrait être appliquée pour la vente porte-à-porte?
1656 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Yes. So I’m wondering if something like -- if from your point it would be helpful?
1657 Me BOUCHER: Ça serait probablement utile. On s'est jamais penché sur cette question-là. Je dois vous avouer que vous suggérez ça et ça m’interpelle. On rencontre parmi nos groupes membres qui sont un peu partout sur le territoire québécois, on retrouve plusieurs… plusieurs groupes qui ont des problèmes avec la vente itinérante, pas en matière de téléphonie ou de télécommunications. Et cette idée-là de « do not call list » pourrait peut-être régler certains de ces problèmes-là, mais ça règlerait pas l’ensemble des problèmes.
1658 Encore une fois, notre vision des problèmes de représentations de vente abusive, de vente… tous ces types-là, nous apparaît être une vision globale par les fournisseurs, une pratique, une approche qui est globale, régler les gens… régler le problème des gens qui s’inscriraient sur une liste et qui auraient pas… donc qui seraient pas soumis à ces pressions-là, serait certainement une bonne chose pour eux, mais ça règle pas le problème global.
1659 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Okay. Thank you. I don't have any more questions. Thank you.
1660 THE CHAIRPERSON: Counsel.
1661 Me WEXLER: Oui, Monsieur le président, j’ai une question.
1662 Vous avez mentionné aujourd'hui dans votre présentation et aussi dans votre mémoire une étude que vous avez effectuée, je pense que c'est en 2018. Est-ce que cette étude a déjà été publiée?
1663 Mme BEAULIEU-LAPORTE: Non, parce qu’en fait on attendait l’autorisation du Bureau de la consommation, c'est une étude qui était financée par Industrie Canada. On l’a eu dans les dernières… deux dernières semaines, donc si c'est… si vous voulez l’étude, on peut effectivement vous la fournir parce que maintenant on a l’autorisation de la publier.
1664 Me WEXLER: Très bien, oui. Est-ce que vous pouvez… prenez l’engagement…
1665 Mme BEAULIEU-LAPORTE: Oui.
1666 Me WEXLER: …de le faire au plus tard le 1er novembre 2018?
1667 Mme BEAULIEU-LAPORTE: Sans problème.
1669 Me WEXLER: Merci.
1670 LE PRÉSIDENT: C'est tout?
1671 Alors, merci beaucoup pour votre présentation.
1672 Madame la secrétaire.
1673 LA SECRÉTAIRE: Merci.
1674 I would now ask Ageing, Communication and Technologies to come to presentation table. Good morning.
1675 DR. SAWCHUK: Good morning. This here?
1676 THE SECRETARY: No, please, you need to -- yes, just push on the button, the big button, yeah, right there.
1677 DR. SAWCHUK: Can you hear us now?
1678 THE SECRETARY: Yes. Please introduce yourself and you have 10 minutes for your presentation. Thank you.
1679 DR. SAWCHUK: Excellent. Greetings. Good morning. My name is Kim Sawchuk, and I’m a professor in Communication Studies at Concordia University. And I am the Director of Ageing, Communication, Technologies, or ACT, and we’re an international research project based at Concordia. Our team examines what it means to age in a digital world and to develop strategies to rectify digital divides in collaboration with elders and we’re very happy to be here.
1680 MS. CAINES: Good morning. My name is Anne Caines. I am a Canadian senior and a member of ACT. I also coordinate Respecting Elders: Communities Against Abuse, or RECAA. RECAA works with linguistic and cultural minorities in Montreal, and we have been members of ACT since 2013.
1681 On behalf of ACT and the seniors we work with and know, we thank the CRTC for this inquiry. It is imperative to consider how seniors, people with disabilities and those whose first language is neither French nor English, are targeted and how their lives are impacted by current sales practices.
1682 DR. SAWCHUK: So, for 15 years and longer I’ve been researching the exclusion of Canadians over the age of 65 from data gathering practices within my own field as well. As a communications and age studies researcher, I spend time listening to older people -- I’m becoming an older person -- and I'm alarmed with what I’m hearing.
1683 Five years ago, we were invited to give digital literacy workshops to seniors living in low income housing buildings in Montreal. While we were showing them how to use email, connect to Wifi, something happened. Participants and their caregivers started bringing telecom bills to us and asking questions like, “Why has my bill gone up? What is this service?” And, “Why am I paying for this?” This past winter -- when the issue hit the media -- we realized the stories from these low-income seniors were not an anomaly.
1684 The report we submitted to the CRTC draws from individual and group interviews conducted as well with 53 Canadian seniors from 2017 to 2018. Three quarters of them, 75 percent, reported experiences of predatory sales practices in the telecom industry. The testimonies you will hear from us today are from people whose average age is 75, many older.
1685 Seniors spoke of services and devices that were unsuitable, more extensive, and more expensive than they required, or could afford.
1686 MS. CAINES: Is it right for a senior in his eighties, who does not own a computer, a tablet, or a Smartphone to be sold an expensive home Internet plan?
1687 DR. SAWCHUCK: We're sad to say that seniors, some of them, reported being lied to.
1688 MS. CAINES: Is it right for an 86‑year-old man looking for a landline to be told that his technology is outdated, and then pressured to buy a Smartphone that he does not know how to turn on?
1689 DR. SAWCHUCK: Our participants reported being misled, being pressured, being lured into contracts under false pretences. Three separate, but interrelated sales tactics.
1690 Here's another story we heard: an 82‑year old woman was approached by a sales representative at a Bell booth in Montreal. "I'm having a terrible day", she was told, "and·I just one more signature to end my shift to go home." He assured this woman that a signature was not a contractual obligation, but simply a confirmation of their conversation. She believed.
1691 Within a few days, Bell called this 82‑year-old woman to secure payment. She had been manipulated by someone she thought she could trust.
1692 MS. CAINES: Is it right to deliberately trick seniors to meet sales quotas?
1693 DR. SAWCHUCK: We know that seniors are not all the same. According to Statistics Canada, only 43 percent of Canadian seniors over the age of 75 are regular users of the Internet. Our research indicates that seniors' digital skills, and their ability to deal with high pressure sales people, are also connected to levels of income and education.
1694 MS. CAINES: I am fortunate to be educated and relatively tech-savvy. Still, I need to be on guard when it comes to interacting with this industry. But why should I? I am dealing with a well -- well-established Canadian companies. I'm not walking through a dark, isolated alley at night. I'm just trying to make sure I won't be ripped off by a deal too good to be true.
1695 Many seniors do not have adequate digital opportunities or experience. Many of us do not have family, friends, or social workers to help us understand contracts, or make sure we are getting the services we need at a fair price. What happens to those seniors who do not have family or friends?
1696 Remember, many of us first acquired telecom services in Canada at a time when prices were fixed and we knew governments had an interest in ensuring that all Canadians could afford communications. Many of us feel that we are being targeted because of our age, that you are preying upon us.
1697 Many seniors I know are hesitant to adjust their packages because they know any conversation with a sales agent may make them vulnerable to being taken advantage of, again, by agents who are under pressure to sell.
1698 Seniors living on or below the poverty can find themselves in a double bind: they are the most in need of fair prices, and yet, they can become the most vulnerable. A $20 increase in a telecom bill can mean no groceries that week.
1699 Telecom services are not a luxury. Phones, whether landline or wireless, are a life necessity. The Internet is not a luxury. It is the way we participate in politics, get information, and stay connected. They are essential part of citizenship in the digital age.
1700 We need this industry regulated, including the third-party companies that they contract, and we need fair prices.
1701 DR. SAWCHUCK: These are a sampling of the stories that our research team heard. Yet, Telus dismissed our report because it relied on interviews with 53 seniors. "Only 53 seniors", they wrote.
1702 This criticism of my position is a scandalous dismissal of the voices of these people. It is a misunderstanding of what qualitative research does, who we reach out to, and the significance of the data that we gather, the stories we hear. We hear them when we go to libraries, to community centres, to legions, to malls.
1703 These are the places frequented by low-income seniors, by cultural minorities, and those with low digital skills with nowhere else to go, those who over the of age of 75. These are the seniors who did not hear about this consultation, who will not show up in the data you collect and who may have given up on filling out your survey.
1704 Remember, only 43 percent of Canadian seniors over the age of 75 use the Internet on a regular basis and the CRTC's consultation was primarily online on a site that was difficult to navigate. This puts digital first, seniors last.
1705 When we interviewed seniors, they were not quick to disclose accounts of aggressive sales tactics immediately, but when we ask for the story behind the number, when trust is rebuilt -- because often they think we're market researchers or we're working for telecommunications companies, they don't want to talk to us -- we heard an outpouring of the emotional stress and financial duress as a result of interactions with companies that are -- like Bell, Telus, Videotron, and others. We heard the distress of a woman fighting to get out of her contract, after her husband had died.
1706 These stories are not readily captured by mass surveys or online consultations. So when we reported that 75 percent of the 53 seniors we listened to have been subjected to predatory sales practices by the telecom industry, we're fully confident that our findings are pointing to a very serious problem in Canada that is under-reported, but which is also unacceptable. Seventy-five (75) percent of 53 is 40 people too many. One misled elder, is one elder too many.
1707 MS. CAINES: In the work that I do with seniors, we say that elder abuse is the most hidden form of violence. We know that it's hard to talk about it in most places. It indicates the tip of the iceberg. No one wants to admit to being abused.
1708 But lying to seniors or pressuring seniors to get them to enter contracts or to purchase services they don't need is a form of elder abuse. Taking advantage of seniors because they don't have the same digital knowledge as younger Canadians do is a form of elder abuse.
1709 DR. SAWCHUCK: If you're not hearing from seniors about this topic, it's important to consider why.
1710 MS. CAINES: How many of you want to admit you've been pressured into buying something you didn't need? How many of you want to openly admit you don't understand complicated or technical language? We don't. How many of you want to admit you need help, or feel to embarrassed to ask for it, ashamed that you have been tricked?
1711 DR. SAWCHUCK: We wish this was just a few bad apples, but this is an issue of companies rewarding the mistreatment of elders by training employees and -- to adopt high pressure sales tactics. This is what we would define as a systemic problem. I'm sure you don't mean it. I'm sure it's not intended. I'm certain we can do better, and we have to, for both seniors and for the next generation. They're going to be old too.
1712 We want the CRTC to intervene and to fix this broken system. Our report makes seven recommendations, and three we think are absolutely urgent.
1713 First, please give customers a 60‑day, no penalty grace period to back out of a contract. Second, ban commissions-only sales practices. Third, please levy fines on telecom companies who are found to be using aggressive, misleading, or abusive practices.
1714 MS. CAINES: This would be a good start to making a difference in the lives of seniors. We hope you'll take our accounts of seniors' experiences and our recommendations seriously. Thank you.
1715 DR. SAWCHUCK: Yes. Thank you.
1716 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much. Thank you for taking the time to share your views with us. I believe Commissioner Vennard has some questions for you.
1717 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Good morning. Thank you for coming to talk to us, and it's nice to be interacting with people from a communications department. I'm from there myself at the University of Calgary formerly, so welcome.
1718 And your -- I've got a number of questions for you.
1719 DR. SAWCHUCK: Sure.
1720 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: And today, we have a similar type of intervention. So some of these I'll be referring to ---
1721 DR. SAWCHUCK: Sorry. Can you speak up a little? It's really hard to hear ---
1722 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Oh, sorry.
1723 DR. SAWCHUCK: --- in the room. Sorry.
1724 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: I'll hold this up here.
1725 DR. SAWCHUCK: Yeah.
1726 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: How's that?
1727 DR. SAWCHUCK: That's -- it's better. Thank you.
1728 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Okay. It's easier on my neck too.
1729 The first thing I'd like to do is start off by discussing the scope of the problem.
1730 DR. SAWCHUK: M'hm.
1731 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: You probably read the survey, the Ipsos survey that 40 per cent of Canadians feel like they have been subjected to an abusive or aggressive or misleading sales tactic practice. In your research you say three quarters at 75 per cent. The last group of interveners sort of indicated or got us all thinking that this could end up being the tip of the iceberg. Could you give us some comments or some insight, your viewpoints on how big is this problem?
1732 DR. SAWCHUK: Yes, thank you very much. Again, I do also qualitative and quantitative surveys and data collection. And as you know, depending on how you ask you a question you're going to get different responses. And, again, when we took this Commission very seriously and thought there's a lot of people not being reached and I sent my research assistants to the local mall to talk to older adults and we started off with just a survey. Is this misleading? Have you been -- encountered this? Yes or no. We saw around 40 per cent. And, again, we saw more detailed information, you know, depending -- around misleading or kind of aggressive or pressure tactics came out a lot, but we didn't know why.
1733 And then when we sort of asked, "Can you tell us what you mean by this" -- or specifically as well, when we were in focus groups, people started to recognise that the things that they had encountered, which they didn't recognise as misleading or abusive or aggressive, in fact, were.
1734 So I think there's a discrepancy between what people are willing to say and may understand by a question in the first instance or may also not want to tell you. And then when they start to tell a story of how they got their first contract, there's a kind of recognition of something they'd gone through that they didn't recognise because they haven't necessarily talked about it before. And this is what you find doing interviews where you talk to people and you spend time listening to them.
1735 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: M'hm.
1736 DR. SAWCHUK: Sometimes they diverge off ---
1737 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: M'hm.
1738 DR. SAWCHUK: --- but they come back and you bring them back and then they explain what has happened to them and that's where you get these different kinds of stories.
1739 So I think that's why we think it's the tip of the iceberg. So it was when we also did focus group discussions or discussion groups and people heard other people's stories that they began to acknowledge the validity and the truth of what they had gone through, and also began to think it's not just me, because there's also a tendency to sort of also blame your individual self for not knowing and not wanting to admit that in some ways maybe you've made a mistake and asking, well, why? I didn't know the right questions to ask. I didn't realise the language, you know, et cetera.
1740 So, again, yeah, we can talk a lot about data collection, but I hope that answers some of the question you have about that, why we think there's a discrepancy in the surveys and why there's many more stories behind those numbers. And we looked at the interviews. It was three quarters, not 40 per cent.
1741 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Yeah. I've done a lot of qualitative research myself and I know exactly what you're talking about there for sure.
1742 What I'd like to do is get -- one of the things that we're trying to do is work towards some common definitions ---
1743 DR. SAWCHUK: M'hm.
1744 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: --- so that we all have a sense of what it is that -- what that we're talking about. So how would you define a misleading sales practice?
1745 DR. SAWCHUK: A misleading sales practice. I'm glad you asked this question because actually we condensed that ---
1746 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Okay.
1747 DR. SAWCHUK: --- this 10 minutes. Misleading sales practices -- and I think the earlier group who was here talked about false information ---
1748 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: M'hm.
1749 DR. SAWCHUK: --- or when you're actually given information on the -- and they're interconnected and sometimes you'll experience all of them at once, but it's an informational error. You're told you're going to get one thing and then you find that you're getting something else. It can be tied to those kind of lures as well where you're told there's a promotion, but you're not given all the information, so you only know that it asked for this amount of time. So that, to me, is kind of the way misleading sales practices also work into communicational strategies of pulling people into a contract that they maybe -- is that they can't maybe necessarily afford or they don't know the consequences of or they don't know when it's going to end.
1750 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Okay. So would I be correct in saying, in summarising that as saying that the misleading, from your point of view, deals with the information?
1751 DR. SAWCHUK: Yes.
1752 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Contracts, information.
1753 DR. SAWCHUK: Transmission ---
1754 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Yeah.
1755 DR. SAWCHUK: --- of information.
1756 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: The information.
1757 DR. SAWCHUK: Clear information, transparency of information.
1758 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Okay. What about aggressive sales practices?
1759 DR. SAWCHUK: Aggressive sales practices are when people come around the house and put the foot in the door, as we heard about. Aggressive sale practices are related to the kinds of pressures as well that we heard about ---
1760 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Okay.
1761 DR. CHAWCHUK: --- where, again, you find -- I can speak of an experience I had recently where I wanted to sign up for a card and I was then told that you need to -- if you want to get the deal, then you need to do this. You need to give your credit card first or they're going to give you the information later. There's a kind of subtlety of kind of being pressured into the next stage and not being let off the phone or not being let -- somebody let the -- letting you out the door. So that kind of -- and also there can be other kinds of pressures and, you know, that are related to kind of the financial pressures that you then later feel because you've walked into a kind of a contractual situation that's then difficult for you to live with.
1762 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Yeah. The last few interveners suggested it was excessive pressure, insistent, intimidating behaviour and so on.
1763 DR. SAWCHUK: Yeah, exactly.
1764 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Pretty much what you're saying.
1765 Now, I notice that even in the name of your report, you go from misleading and aggressive to -- right into abusive. And would you like to give us a definition of what you would consider to be abusive?
1766 DR. SAWCHUK: Okay. I think that the story we told, for example, of the woman being directly lied to was also abusive. Now, when we think about abuse, we think about abuse as hitting and physical abuse.
1767 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: M'hm.
1768 DR. SAWCHUK: But -- and I'm going to let Anne speak to this because this is what she does and has done for many years, is that elder abuse runs a whole range of behaviours where you are manipulating people into giving up financial resources. And it can be through honey, not just through kind of tactics that are pressure tactics that are overt and hitting, but where you're actually setting into motion something where there's a systematic kind of way that people are being deprived in some economic way as well of resources they need to be able to live.
1769 So when people talk about elder abuse in the field, it runs the range from neglect to overt hitting. We're not accusing anybody here of hitting elders, of that kind of abuse. But we are saying -- and, again, this came because we work with older adults and with communities like RECAA where all of a sudden we realise we needed to reframe and rethink what we were hearing in a way that made us understand the grief and the distress of people where they were blaming themselves for the kind of financial situation they would find themselves in that they perhaps couldn't afford.
1770 So, again, I want to -- I'll make that clarity. Anne, do you want to maybe talk a little about elder abuse?
1771 MS. CAINES: Yeah. We do have a definition of abuse and in the context of abuse. The words that people do use now are mistreatment. Abuse they find has been abused. The word itself is used too loosely.
1772 But in this case we do have a definition. The definition for us is an action or actions that result in an elder being vulnerable and being capable of being exploited in financial areas, and we definitely think this is a financial abuse, because, in a way, it's so hidden. It's like all the other abuse. You don't really want to talk about it because, first of all, you haven't defined it for yourself.
1773 But I'll give you an example of how we came to talk about this particular issue, and that was we were part of a focus group and we were answering general questions about our relationship with programming and, you know, what we like, what we didn't like. But it was after that these stories came out. It's exactly what Kim had said. Over lunch we always talk about it. And this is where the real issues come out. And there wasn't a person there who didn't tell a tale. And we looked at each other and said, "Wait a minute. We're involved in raising awareness of elder abuse, of elder mistreatment. And here it is right experienced by all of us in some form or another."
1774 People have been asked to take a contract in a shopping mall where there's a kiosk. And they're told, "Don't worry about it." But then somebody else will call or they get a contract and they now say, "Do you think you could help me cancel this because I really don't understand what they're saying when I tried to change it or try to do something differently."
1775 So there has to be a grace period. There has to be more information that's not misleading, that's clear, and especially not one group of people working with companies or people, they don’t know where they’re coming from, right? You complain to the actual parent corporation, Bell, they’ll say, “Oh, well this is our policy. You must have had someone who didn’t understand it.” That gets you nowhere. So you don’t call again. You either don’t -- you pay a bill, if you can afford it, right? Or somebody helps you to get out of it.
1776 It’s -- this is why I’m here, because it’s a way of saying there are many ways -- we talk always about fraud, and families, and this is where we start with the family. But here is something that’s part of our structure, part of how citizens think are -- we are being protected, and somehow this is normal way that we should proceed. We don’t know how it works. You might as well be on iCloud, you know what I mean?
1777 In this sense, because we don’t know how to bring you down to communicate with those who are using the services and those who are buying services, that they don’t really need, and are not regulated enough.
1778 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Thank you for that.
1779 I’d like to look at possible solutions that you’ve suggested. The scope of the problem from your point of view, appears to be very large, and we’re hearing a lot about it. And we’re interested in how we address it. So I would like to just turn our focus on to that now.
1780 So many Canadians have intervened to describe their negative experiences with misleading or aggressive retail sales practices for the communication services. If any solutions were to be adopted, would it be more appropriate to take targeted, specific action, or are systemic actions needed?
1781 DR. SAWCHUK: When you say targeted specific actions, could you explain a little bit more what you mean by -- sorry.
1782 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: That would be targeted to particular companies, or particular practices.
1783 DR. SAWCHUK: Targeted -- actions targeted to particular companies and particular actions or regulation?
1784 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Yeah. Or systemic. Like, targeted or systemic.
1785 DR. SAWCHUK: Does it have to be both? Can it be both?
1786 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Sure. We’re looking for you ideas on it, so yeah, whatever you think.
1787 DR. SAWCHUK: I mean, I think I’m not sure what you quite -- what you’re suggesting by targeted actions toward particular companies. But I think there has to be, you know, more documentation that’s not just collected by those companies themselves about these kinds of, I would say, when abuses occur. And also documenting what kind they are, and maybe developing some kind of typology so we can actually have clarity around these issues.
1788 And also, work with companies and work with younger generations who are going to work in retail sales, whatever it may be, to understand how to communicate with different kinds of populations who they may be targeting as, you know, being -- having income but not having the services they like.
1789 So again, I think there needs to be, sort of, maybe targeted information that is examining the way different companies are outsourcing, for example, certain aspects of their industry and not being unaccountable. But there also needs to be, not just a code of conduct, but also ways that those things are enforced, and consequences for not living up to them.
1790 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Okay. Just to put a little bit more parameters around that for your comments, do you think that the misleading or aggressive sales practices are more of a problem for door to door, over the phone, over the internet, in-store sales? That would be a targeted -- an example of being targeted.
1791 DR. SAWCHUK: Well, we’ve seen it happen everywhere. So again, what happens ---
1792 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Okay. Where do you see the biggest problem?
1793 DR. SAWCHUK: It depends. I mean, again in Quebec it’s different, and the people we were dealing with primarily in Quebec live in apartments. So they don’t get the same kind of door to door practices that we heard about in places like Kamloops, or I’ve heard about it in suburbs, like, in Winnipeg with people who are still living in their own homes.
1794 So again, you see the way that the economics of different seniors’ groups works differently with the kind of targeting practices of sales towards them.
1795 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Yeah.
1796 DR. SAWCHUK: So again, I think there needs to be some kind of, you know, like just as for women, no may mean no. So somebody says no, like, how do these scripts work to make people stay in the doorway or on the phone, keep people on the phone until they agree to something that in fact, that they don’t want or need necessarily.
1797 So again, I think there’s different kinds of training for employees, but also a system where people are -- if they’re working only on commission, and this is where in discussions with older adults who study abuse -- again these are complicated situations. I mean, people acquiesce and don’t acknowledge for reasons, and people participate in behaviours they don’t themselves recognize as leading to situations of exploitation.
1798 So how do we create a system where people are not being rewarded financially for saying, “I can’t afford to not get this many sales this day, or I won’t be able to pay my bills. Therefore I’m willing to push, push, push as hard as I can.” So I think we need to examine as well, how younger generations who are employed in this industry, are also maybe put in a situation where they are -- have not choice but to engage in practices that are misleading or aggressive.
1799 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: And that would be your second recommend ---
1800 MS. CAINES: I don’t know if this adds anything, or it’s possible, but in one of our suggestions we say, ban commission sales. That’s very -- it may be difficult, but I think we have to be transparent when we’re dealing with a customer, to say, I am on commission. So that starts on a basis of honesty, or an honest approach rather than, in fact, making or having the possibility of manipulating someone into something that they don’t really need or want. Or somewhere along the line, companies should by out front that they are commission based.
1801 Because I think anyone on commission is vulnerable to abuse, to manipulate someone, because they have to make a livelihood too. We’re very aware of that. And some of these deals are good deals, but they may not be good for the people -- for the customers in front of them. And if companies, or an individual has to have a quota that they complete on a monthly basis, otherwise they may lose their jobs in six months time, this is pressure. This is pressure on both.
1802 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Thank you for that. It -- can you comment on what I raised earlier, and we heard about it yesterday, the idea of a suitability assessment, or requirement, or ---
1803 DR. SAWCHUK: Yes.
1804 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: --- not sure what to call it, or what you would call it. But to see, again yesterday we heard that that idea came out of the financial sector.
1805 DR. SAWCHUK: Having been recently subjected to a suitability assessment and filled out that form in the financial sector when changing something, often it’s just ticking off some boxes and you feel like it’s a proforma activity. So I think that if we’re going to talk about suitability, it also is about making people aware also of what we mean by suitability, and having people also understand what it is that -- how to assess their needs and come up with a match.
1806 So I would agree the suitability is a really important kind of dimension. But I also think that we -- because you know, internet services and increasingly more and more ways of participating in policy discussions or government actions like this one, requires you to be able to go online. That we also need to think about, “Well, I may only need a flip phone, and I may only need to -- may primarily only want to talk to people.” How do we make sure that people have access to other kinds of communication services that we know are now important and essential to be a member of society?
1807 So yes, I agree with suitability requirements, but I also think sometimes in the financial sector you’re just ticking off boxes and they’re just ticking off boxes, and nobody really knows what it means anymore. So how do we keep all of this real and how do we keep saying, because we’ve done it once, let’s -- how do we keep reassessing it as this digital and communicational landscape changes?
1808 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Would you like to go a little further on that one? Because that’s the question, right? Like, maybe answer your own question there, how do we do this?
1809 DR. SAWCHUK: Well, I think involving elders and people who are the most vulnerable in your processes of consultation and making sure not only that their voices are heard, but that your, kind of, means of reaching out are inclusive, is one way to do it.
1810 Having the populations who have the most to lose by being mislead participate and give you advice, and work from the ground up might be something to do. They’re the ones that have everything at stake. They’re the ones that if, you know, a bill goes up suddenly they don’t eat. We hear this.
1811 MS. CAINES: Well, we have to trust that anything that we’re sold is somehow -- there is a relationship of trust that you’re not being sold. I mean, we don’t start off assuming that somebody is going to trick us or manipulate us, and that’s the first. So we hope that that doesn’t happen. So one of the ways that we could -- or a possibility is the other suggestion that says there should be a longer period in which you can break the contract, or there is no contract but a trial period, especially where you don’t know what the actual suitability for that elder is going to be.
1812 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Okay.
1813 MS. CAINES: There should be no pressure to say 15 days is what you have, right, after that you’ve got to pay penalties for cancelling.
1814 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: I think you suggest 60 days.
1815 DR. SAWCHUK: Yeah, we do. No, but we’re saying the current situation.
1816 MS. CAINES: Yes, that’s what I’m saying.
1817 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Yeah.
1818 MS. CAINES: This is a way that you can work with whether it is suitable or not.
1819 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Okay. How do you see that, that that would help consumers, in particular seniors, the 60 day versus what there is now?
1820 DR. SAWCHUK: You’d see a bill, and you’d see what was on that bill, and also you would see what would happen after a longer period of time, and it would also give you time to consult with someone if you needed help. And also having like again places where you know you can go for advice, especially those people who are alone. I mean, they’re the ones who are in some ways some of the people we’re also talking about.
1821 So again our research has been to sort of say Canadians are living longer. They’re going to live till 82, 85. But once you hit sort of 75 it’s like you disappear into the grey zone where you’re all the same, you know.
1822 So how do we really ensure that again those kind of voices are both included but also there’s resources out there for them to know where to turn to for help and not just -- again, when I click onto my service provider and go on the live chat I’m now -- and this is new -- immediately targeted for sales first when I want service, and then I have to go through four steps before I actually -- make three or four steps before I speak to a person.
1823 So again there’s practices that put a barrier when even you want -- when you recognize something’s not correct, you want to change it, you want to be responsible and make a difference.
1824 So again there’s all kinds of ways -- there’s not just one thing happening, there’s a lot of very small ways -- it’s like -- it’s not death, but it’s like death from a thousand papercuts some days. There’s not one thing that really is maybe egregious but you look at the accumulation of stories and you look at how also older adults who are in the 80’s actually also feel in terms of how they’re being treated in a patronizing way by a salesperson. That also needs to be addressed.
1825 So it’s this -- it’s a kind of an accumulation of a lot of different kinds of factors and variables that come into play here.
1826 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Okay.
1827 DR. SAWCHUK: So one magic bullet solution I don’t know, but there are things that, you know, I think the CRTC can do, and hopefully will do, as a result of this to kind of make less impediments for especially older adults to get the services they need at a price that allows them to participate in society.
1828 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Okay. I’d like to talk a little bit about contract clarity and your viewpoints on that. Is that something that you found from your research and your participants that -- that would fall I would imagine into the misleading ---
1829 MS. CAINES: (Inaudible)
1830 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: The contract clarity.
1831 MS. CAINES: Oh, sorry.
1832 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: How could it -- does that need to be improved? Can you comment on that?
1833 MS. CAINES: I’m just a little hard of hearing.
1834 Well, I’m speaking from my experience working with elders who don’t always -- and myself as well. When I get a contract online -- and I’ve had several -- I really don’t understand it, and if I don’t take the time to call back and say what percentage is this and what percentage is that and why is it -- why is the bill different every time I got it, oh well because you -- this is some percentage we had to add on, or this comes in at this time, and I go but you know after a while you really do start off -- and I always start off saying all right I don’t really want a package, but then I’m always asked -- always told but a package is cheaper, if you want just one of our services it’ll cost you more, take the whole thing, right. It’s a little bit more but look at what you get, right. So you go through that. And some of them are appealing.
1835 And I must say that generally speaking I’m speaking about older adults who are raising awareness of elder mistreatment, but I think the general population is not on guard about how much they pay. If you can pay you will pay, you won’t worry about what the bill is and you won’t go through it, but some people need to go through that bill.
1836 And so contracts have to be not only clear but when you’re on the phone I always say is this what I’m going to get online, but how many of our elders really go online to question a contract. This is us having to be a group that protects each other whenever we want to change something, or we’ve actually we feel sold our soles to companies -- phone companies that will give us the better phone but we have to have a contract for two years, and if we break that contract that’s a penalty as well.
1837 And as they change, and as you’ve changed in positive ways, we don’t always get the information. So it’s so easy to not mention it that you have that right, the $25 or the one that’s a minimum is not often quoted, it’s the package that’s a better deal that’s quoted.
1838 DR. SAWCHUK: So, yeah, I think clear contract language.
1839 MS. CAINES: So you have to be clear. Yeah, you have to be clear. It has to be -- and I would really prefer that the contract is one that’s written clearly and which is the little percentages have to go -- will change over a course.
1840 And what happens in a contract too is they’ll say for these three months you have a promotion, or for six months you’ll have a promotion, and after that it’s changed, and how many people check that, and after the six months they get a bill -- a much higher bill and they go but we didn’t ask for this, they said you signed the contract, it says the six months is a period in which you get a reduction but after six months it’s raised.
1841 So clarity is really important, not only clarity but the ability to change the contract and to see how the contract works longer than a 15-day trial period.
1842 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Thank you for that.
1843 I just want to close up by talking a little bit about increasing awareness of the CCTS. Do you have any comments you’d like to make on that? Could improved awareness of the CCTS partly ---
1844 DR. SAWCHUK: Yes. I mean, I think again proactive outreach is needed. Multiple languages. French and English are important, but again we live in cosmopolitan cites that are -- where people speak multiple languages. And I know the translation is expensive so sometimes even getting information out in two languages is difficult, but there has to be some kind of -- again, we work with community groups who have no resources and they have no time. They’re volunteers. So also sometimes we find sort of expecting them to fill in the gap that kind of government I think needs to play, because we’re paying out taxes. I mean, we want these kinds of services. You know, so we need better outreach to populations who maybe aren’t going to find the information they need online.
1845 So how do you and how do we together kind of make that effort to go to where older adults are and not just older adults who are, you know, the tech savvy adults into their 70’s or 80’s because they’ve worked with machines all their lives but those who are speaking a second language, or leapfrogging into something else, or coming into a technology.
1846 And there’s always going to be a new technology, and that’s the other thing to remember. You know, right now it’s maybe, you know, Twitter, or social media, or Facebook, or -- as a kind of a platform, or particular kinds of smartphones, but it’s going to be something else in your future. And so there’s always going to be these gaps, but we can’t forget about those people, because they’re still significant parts of the population.
1847 And that’s why we say one instance of one of those people being misled, mistreated, lured into something they can’t afford, because they want to feel part of the society, because they want to be part of the society, it’s too much.
1848 And so I think we need to take these kinds of stories seriously and also look at that data and ask how that data is being given back to us.
1849 And again a concern I have as a researcher is that I’m accountable for my data and for its transparency. Well, are you again -- and when you’re doing your report, are we going to hear about what segments, is it the young old, is it the 70 to 75’s, is it the 75-pluses or the 80-pluses in the future? Where are the problems specifically as well?
1850 So, you know, these things for us are extraordinarily important to think about. So the CC -- the kind of commissions that kind of are there to kind of protect consumers really need to think about the consumers who have the most to lose and who are not part of these discussions typically.
1851 So we’re happy that you’re doing this and that Anne is here and others and we have to figure out how to make this something that's ongoing, I think.
1852 MS. CAINES: I think you have to make yourself more visible than online, because -- I mean, you are -- we are involved in telecommunications, and that's so important for all of us.
1853 But somehow to reach the larger audiences that you haven't reached within the older population, it has to be another means. It has to be much more personal, it can be focus groups, like I'm sure you've done, but it can be...
1854 As ACT, and we're very grateful to ACT because they have reached out to the community organizations, to the ethnic communities, and it can be done. Going through the communities that can speak to elders, allowing elders the safe space and the safe place in which to voice their relationship to the telecommunications community.
1855 DR. SAWCHUCK: They really love telecommunications companies, and they have felt a deep sense of loyalty to companies. And they want that loyalty rewarded, and they want to feel that faith restored.
1856 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Thank you very much for that, and good luck in your continued research. And I just want to -- I don't have any more questions for you, but I'd just like to offer you the opportunity if there's anything that -- else that you want to add in closing up, anything you wish you would have said and you didn't.
1857 MS. CAINES: Well, I just think that we're all in the -- as I see us both working to prevent elder mistreatment, I think this is a first step. That if we can work together, and that we can -- that you can see us too and the needs are really important.
1858 Because we do want -- the flip side to how we work is to say we're working towards a culture of respect, and that is what I think the CRTC needs to do right now with working with the telecommunications industry and in their relationship with us.
1859 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Thank you very much for coming to talk to us today.
1860 THE CHAIRPERSON: Oh. Can you hold on one second? We do have a couple of other questions for you.
1861 DR. SAWCHUCK: Oh, sorry.
1862 THE CHAIRPERSON: Not at all.
1863 DR. SAWCHUCK: I figured we were off the hook.
1864 --- (LAUGHTER)
1865 THE CHAIRPERSON: We are -- see, we're fully engaged.
1866 Commissioner Simard.
1867 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: Hello. I have actually I think two questions. The first one is in your presentation, you mentioned that 75 percent of the 53 Canadian seniors that were interviewed reported experience of predatory sales practices. How did you define predatory sale practices?
1868 DR. SAWCHUCK: Misleading information, pressure, or being lured into a situation of signing a contract that at the beginning seemed wonderful, but then it turned out not to be. So -- or tactics like, "Did you" -- you know, "Were you given the information you need -- needed?" So it was those kinds of examples we have.
1869 So again, they're described fully in our report. So that's how we defined it.
1870 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: Good. And you mentioned that 53 Canadian seniors were interviewed. So for you, in this case, seniors refer to people under 65 years?
1871 DR. SAWCHUCK: Sixty-five (65) plus.
1872 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: Plus. Good.
1873 DR. SAWCHUCK: And up to, I think 86, although I have interviewed people who are 101 in my work.
1874 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: And I was curious to know, it is mentioned that 43 percent of Canadian seniors over the age of 75 use the Internet on a regular basis. But do you have the number for 65 plus?
1875 DR. SAWCHUCK: We have the number for 65 plus in Québec by another research group called Sefio (ph).
1876 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: Yeah.
1877 DR. SAWCHUCK: And 75 plus, it actually -- the number of people who use the Internet dramatically decreases. And I think the number is -- I think it's 58 percent do not.
1878 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: Okay.
1879 DR. SAWCHUCK: But I would look up that data for you and send it to you happily. But the report is also quite good.
1880 And again, that's where I think we do need better data, all of us, including in my field, and we need to be aware of differences between the people who have just retired and those people who are in their seventies, eighties, and nineties. And again, we really do find that there are really big differences according to levels of income and education.
1881 And that is partially because of experience. The more money you have, the more you've been able to buy devices that you can play with and figure out how they work, or you can spend time online learning. So it's not just a question of age.
1882 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: M'hm. Yes. And my last question is based on your experience -- like -- because I was trying to figure out the needs, like whether seniors have specific needs. So based on your experience and on the research that you have conducted, can you say that they have special needs in terms of communication services?
1883 DR. SAWCHUCK: I think there's more -- I think those needs change as we change and as the environment changes.
1884 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: M'hm.
1885 DR. SAWCHUK: So for example, it never used to be a need that I needed to talk to my grandchildren on Skype, or if I'm a senior living in Québec who's Anglophone, it's more likely that my children will have found employment elsewhere. So my need is tied to wanting to maintain connections to my family circle.
1886 So again, needs are -- you know, need to be understood in those kinds of specific contexts, but we know, for example, there is that kind of need to use telecommunication services to maintain connection.
1887 We also know that at this point, one of the things that came up with older adults who are from other countries, or foreign born, you might say, is that they also needed the Internet to be able to maintain news with family -- not just connections with family abroad, but they wanted to be able to have access to the Internet so they could find out news from their home country because they had family abroad.
1888 So again, depending on who you are, your needs will be different. And so it takes time for people to understand what their needs are. I know when I bought a house, do I know what I need? Not off the bat.
1889 And so again, I think -- we know that there is -- increasingly telecommunications in health services are online. So we know that that's something that's also -- we need to see not only what is a need now but what's coming and what's going to be affordable. So we want people to engage in the digital world, and our needs do change as we age.
1890 And also if we live in a rural or remote region, well the download times are terrible, but we want to put telehealth into operation? You know, people don't also -- they need to also know how to maintain because when you're also aging, you're downsizing. So you are asking questions about, you know, what am I taking with me and how much telecommunication services do I want to manage.
1891 So these needs are complicated, and it's also related to desires. I desire to maintain a connection to my government, to municipal services, to my library because I can't go out because we live in a cold climate, but I still want to read.
1892 So it's also seeing what not only we need, but what we also think seniors can tell us because they're imagining our future with us.
1893 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: Thank you.
1894 THE CHAIRPERSON: Commissioner Laizner.
1895 COMMISSIONER LAIZNER: Hi. Thank you very much for your work. I think it's really important. We all have relatives that are aging, and so it speaks to everybody.
1896 One of the questions that I had was in your research where you've dealt with seniors that have indicated that they've had bad experiences or problems with their service provider, have you delved into whether they were willing to change service providers, and if not, why not?
1897 DR. SAWCHUCK: We've run into the gamut. We've run into some tech savvy seniors who are also -- have been more -- I guess active in municipal government themselves or tend to be well educated who told us they had changed service providers five times within the past, you know, so many years because –- five or six years because they were always looking for a better deal. And that's also different. What's also changed is for mobile phones, for example, being able to carry your number over to another provider. Like that was a really important thing.
1898 So we've run into that, and then we've run into others who feel like, "No, I've always dealt with Bell. I believe in them." You know, and so they're kind of unwilling, or they also feel like "I don't know if anybody else is going to be better. I don't even know how to negotiate a better deal. Or if they hear that I'm older, is this going to be an advantage or a disadvantage to me when I talk to somebody? Am I going to talk to somebody who understands what it means to be an older adult, and is -- you know, I might not want to reveal my income to you, and I don't want to feel ashamed about not having much money. So how do I say to somebody I don't think I can afford that?"
1899 So but -- so people do change service providers, but sometimes it's difficult because you just know you're going to be dealing with another company and you're not sure if they're any better. Anne, do you want to add anything?
1900 MS. CAINES: No, I think, Kim, you said it. And also that you never change a service provider without having someone who's more experienced come with you. It's really difficult because, first of all, to change and then to find something that's better for you. A lot of elders don't know they can negotiate prices too when they change their service providers. And I hadn't known that I could negotiate it or bargain with them; right? I just thought these prices were fixed and they didn't offer.
1901 COMMISSIONER LAIZNER: Also, in your conversations and your research, did you get a sense of whether there was a preference for addressing purchases online versus in person or on the phone as well as addressing complaints online versus in person or on the phone?
1902 DR. SAWCHUK: That's a ---
1903 COMMISSIONER LAIZNER: Is there a preferred way of dealing or you're -- the community that's elderly?
1904 DR. SAWCHUK: You know, it's a really great question. And honestly, it's not something that I can say that I've investigated and I -- but it makes me think I want to know more about that preference as well. I think it depends partially on mobility. You know, if you can get to the Atwater Mall near your place easily you might prefer dealing with somebody face to face because you might feel that you can suss out whether you're getting an honest person who's not just trying to sell you something because it's better for them, but better for you.
1905 On the other hand we do have -- we have testimony of someone who went to a local telecom place. And again, it was -- you know, again, figuring out is this a franchise? Is this in a radio -- what used to be called Radio Shack, but in the Source and they're selling the service? Like, who's selling it? People don't always distinguish or know who they're speaking to face to face, the company themselves or another provider who's selling the company's services.
1906 But we've also heard testimony of other customers intervening when they've heard somebody being sold something where they're saying, "I don't want that. I'm just here for a flip phone." "No, you got to buy a cable package too and it's a much better deal." You know, so we see other Canadians intervening on behalf of people they see being exploited face to face.
1907 Door to door, again, I think it's partially about knowing that no means no sometimes. And also, a kind of -- you know, it's about ethical sales practices no matter where they happen.
1908 But we haven't heard about a preference and I think it would depend on whether you're living in a rural or remote region, it's easy for you to get around, or, yeah. I don't know.
1909 MS. CAINES: Shopping malls. I mean, really, sometimes it's just happens that you're just walking through and you go, oh, this looks like a bright place, or somebody walks up to you and says, "Can we talk to you about a better deal than you're getting?" Or what is your phone or what is your -- and that has happened to me.
1910 And it was very fortunate -- although I did sign something, somebody did say -- I wanted a lot of things and they said, "We can do it." But I didn't have the time. Somebody will call you. And when somebody called me it was a completely different thing. They couldn't do any of the things that I wanted because I wanted them separate. It had to be by package. And then it was hard for me to get off the phone.
1911 COMMISSIONER LAIZNER: And in terms of using the complaint process of the service provider, going through the phone complaint process, what have been the experiences you've heard about?
1912 DR. SAWCHUK: Not good.
1913 COMMISSIONER LAIZNER: Can you elaborate just a little bit on that?
1914 DR. SAWCHUK: Well ---
1915 COMMISSIONER LAIZNER: Do they persist with the different layers or give up or ---
1916 DR. SAWCHUK: Give up. I can also tell you that, again, there's things people don't know. So someone like me where they maybe look at my age and my income or I persist, four people later, one hour being on the phone later and I don't have a doctor's appointment I'm rushing to get to either, you find out that, oh, I cannot just -- you know, I've been overcharged because I was too close to a border and my cell phone was on and I didn't even know that I was accidentally roaming. Who's heard of that? So suddenly it's -- I've gone from oh, we can only give you 20 per cent off, oh, if you wait for our manager, you wait long enough, suddenly it's accidental roaming and they can see it's two seconds on your bill that you've been charged for, but it's $60.
1917 But we also have had customers like -- we've had people say, you know, like, I will persist because I've got the time to persist. And then we also find that there's people who just say, I just give up now.
1918 We've -- you know, again, we have people writing about their customer loyalty on page 10 of our report feeling like you -- there's resentment. That if you are, again, quitting and starting again, that you may get a new deal. I mean, again, there's different value systems for people who are sometimes who are from another generation.
1919 So I think, you know, people are doing also things that they just -- they give up and they try and manage themselves. Like, so again, you know, we had one person in a focus group who talked about, well, I -- the only companies that I don't have automatic bill payments from are telecom companies, because I have to scrutinise my bill and I don't want to have paid out and given that money first without having had that chance because I'm more likely to get it back.
1920 So people are developing all these workarounds. It's a lot of work.
1921 COMMISSIONER LAIZNER: Right.
1922 DR. SAWCHUK: I mean, they've got a lot of other things to deal with.
1923 COMMISSIONER LAIZNER: Thank you. Those are my questions.
1924 MS. CAINES: A lot of money too that we pay.
1925 DR. SAWCHUK: And also, you know, again, $20 to a company ---
1926 COMMISSIONER LAIZNER: Yes.
1927 DR. SAWCHUK: --- and $20 to an individual, it's not the same $20.
1928 COMMISSIONER LAIZNER: Absolutely. Thank you very much.
1929 DR. SAWCHUK: Yeah.
1930 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much. Thank you, again, for taking the time to share your concerns with us and we do indeed take them seriously. Thank you.
1931 DR. SAWCHUK: We feel that.
1932 MS. CAINES: Thank you.
1933 THE CHAIRPERSON: We're going to have ---
1934 MS. CAINES: Thank you.
1935 THE CHAIRPERSON: --- oh, we have -- sorry, pardon me, one follow up on an undertaking.
1936 MS. WEXLER: Yes, it's just in response to a question from Commissioner Semard. You indicated that you could provide information from another research group that identifies the percentage of persons 65 plus who are regular internet users.
1937 DR. SAWCHUK: And what regular means.
1938 MS. WEXLER: Okay. So will you undertake to file that information and identify the source of the information by November 1st?
1939 DR. SAWCHUK: Yes.
1940 MS. WEXLER: Thank you.
1941 DR. SAWCHUK: Noted. Thank you.
1943 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much.
1944 DR. SAWCHUK: Thank you.
1945 MS. CAINES: Thank you.
1946 THE CHAIRPERSON: With that we'll take a 15-minute break returning at 11. Thank you.
--- L’audience est suspendue à 10h45
--- L’audience est reprise à 11h01
1947 THE CHAIRPERSON: Madam secretary.
1948 THE SECRETARY: Thank you. We'll now hear the presentation of the Fair Communications Sales Coalition consisting of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, ACORN Canada, National Pensioners Federation and Canadian Association of Retired Persons.
1949 Please introduce yourself and your colleagues and you have 10 minutes for your presentation.
1950 MR. LAWFORD: Mr. Chairman, Vice-Chairs, Commissioners, Commission staff and Madam Secretary, my name is John Lawford and I'm Executive Director and General Counsel at PIAC, and Counsel to the Fair Communications Sales Coalition.
1951 The Fair Communication Sales Coalition, or FCSC represents a range consumer interests from coast-to-coast, including low income Canadians and seniors. We are the largest public interest coalition participating in this proceeding.
1952 With me from your right to left are: Gisèle Bouvier, Leader, ACORN Canada; Trish McAuliffe, President National Pensioners Federation; myself; Wanda Morris, Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer at CARP; Jennifer Chow, Legal Counsel to PIAC; and directly behind me Chandler Buchanan, our Student-at-Law.
1953 The companies are in denial. They have major sales problems.
1954 The public record bears eloquent and angry witness to this. Fourteen hundred (1400) Canadians took the time and effort to write individual comments about misleading, aggressive and unsuitable sales. The companies may not gainsay the public with bafflegab figures such as comparing the number of sales complaints to total contacts their customers had with them for any reason whatsoever. That type of argument belittles the very real human stories of suffering at their hands.
1955 The CRTC own survey shows 24 per cent of Canadians having problems with misleading or aggressive sales just in the last year, which is astronomically high.
1956 Yet not one company in this proceeding has apologized to Canadians for how they sell. Not one company in this hearing recognizes that public trust has been lost.
1957 MS. CHOW: There are problems of misleading sales, aggressive sales and unsuitable sales.
1958 First, for misleading sales, the most common problem is pricing misrepresentations. Consumers feel they have been mislead by a material omission of the regular price, that is the non-promotional price for communication services.
1959 Another material omission is the company’s claimed ability under the written contract to raise prices, seemingly contradicting the promotional sales pitch price.
1960 A final example is the offer of a, quote, unquote, “free” device, such as an iPad, that comes with a monthly service contract. Consumers discover the item is not actually free upon reviewing their later bills or when they attempt to cancel service.
1961 Second, the record indicates that aggression is endemic to communications sales. The channel seems irrelevant. Door-to-door, phone, and retail all feature aggression.
1962 Aggression, like any verbal or physical assault, must stop if the subject feels uncomfortable. The test for aggression should be the fact the complaint was made. Companies not wishing to be accused of such tactics must build positive consent and interaction cues into their training and sales practices.
1963 Third, unsuitable sales, often a result of upselling, plague seniors and lower-income Canadians, but also annoy and frustrate all customers. Many employee comments document the effort to sell whatever services made the company money, or that met their targets, but not what the customer clearly wanted, needed, or could afford.
1964 MR. LAWFORD: Part of the reason for these problems is the companies’ extensive use of high-risk sales strategies.
1965 Third party sales are high risk. The companies have far fewer levers to control third party agents. Their only real remedy is to terminate a contract with a supplier, which is disruptive and costly. Door-to-door sales are high risk. Some provinces have flatly banned door-to-door sales of certain products and services. These sales operate on a one-to-one basis, without accountability for the information provided or omitted, and are often delivered by these less accountable third parties.
1966 Older Canadians are particularly vulnerable to door-to-door approaches because they often feel they are being rude and consequently are uncomfortable terminating a conversation that happens with a persistent salesperson. When persistence becomes aggression at the door, they may even sign a contract or agree to a purchase because they are fearful, rather than interested in the product.
1967 Call centre sales are the most frequently used channel and also can be high risk like door-to-door when there is undue pressure to sell placed on call agents.
1968 Negative discipline, and to a lesser degree, positive sales incentives, are the main source of these problems. KPI and similar systems dehumanize sales contacts. Unifor and former sales agents have clearly shown that such targets and disciplinary systems put consumers at risk.
1969 Retail store sales complaints are frequent and often stem from similar pressure on employees from managers with their own sales targets. Like door-to-door, retail employees then resort to half-truths and aggression to oversell customers’ unsuitable services.
1970 MS. MORRIS: As Canadians age we can have difficulties with our hearing, our memories, and our executive function. This puts older Canadians at particular risk of misselling and makes the need for protections against predatory practices even more urgent. CARP's over 300,000 members strongly support such protections.
1971 MS. McAULIFFE: The National Pensioners Federation believes that our seniors are being aggressively treated by sellers who often bully them into subscribing to or taking too large of a package or services.
1972 Seniors are particularly vulnerable to misleading sales pitches as they tend to be less tech-savvy. Seniors also may be more likely to be dealing with health problems and other difficulties that make them more distracted and prone to deception.
1973 Many of our members are on fixed incomes and must budget carefully. They cannot overspend on essentials like communication tools.
1974 MS. BOUVIER: ACORN Canada members and other low-income Canadians cannot afford upselling. They already pay too much of their budgets for unaffordable service. They cannot afford salespeople who do not listen and sell them more than they need.
1975 ACORN’s report of our members’ problems with sales are mostly about pricing. No one can budget for being misled into a bad deal. This kind of major mistake could mean cutting out other essentials, such as food, heat, or medicine. But going without communications services makes other parts of life too difficult.
1976 MS. CHOW: Certain of the companies here claim that competition alone can fix unfair sales practices. This is unlikely in practice. When a customer is duped into a sale, there are usually significant early cancellation costs that deter customers from leaving and this does not hurt the former company.
1977 Next, companies claim that internal practices, guidelines, and rules effectively prohibit misleading, aggressive and, in some cases, unsuitable sales.
1978 Former employees have provided evidence of the relentless pressure to sell from managers, the negative effects of key performance indicators and unrealistic sales targets. The companies’ sales practices operate emphatically at odds with the values that management purports to follow.
1979 Whether this situation is due to the companies’ loss of control of their salesforce, lack of audits or oversight, negligence, wilful blindness, or even intention is not relevant. The results are what matter to consumers, and the results are bad.
1980 MR. LAWFORD: Many of the companies in this hearing claim that there are present rules and that they are adequate. These rules are actually a patchwork of partial solutions which are not focused on sales.
1981 The Competition Act is not designed to address high volume, low-value complaints, nor to provide redress directly to consumers, even if the complaint technically satisfies the civil deceptive marketing section of the Competition Act.
1982 The CCTS only considers the question of whether a service contract exists and what the terms of that contract really are, depending on the evidence available. Since the customer often has only a recollection, especially for door-to-door sales, and the company usually has documentation, often sent afterwards by email, the customer often loses, but there is still a high possibility that the customer was misled into the deal, was aggressed into it, or was sold totally unsuitable services. CCTS does not specifically consider these sales issues.
1983 Other rules apply only partially to sales and only of certain services. The Wireless Code specifies the key terms of two year deals, thereby avoiding price misrepresentations but only on wireless, and the TV Service Provider Code requires disclosure of the trailing or undiscounted price in a promotional sale but only for TV services. However, the record shows that many of the complaints are about Internet and home phone service, which are not covered.
1984 The Commission should seriously consider recommending a comprehensive sales practices code to define and control behaviour that consumers find problematic with the present communications sales. The Commission should also suggest clear bright line rules for the worst sales problems, such as a potential door-to-door sales ban, or severe restrictions on free hardware offers. The CCTS can handle these complaints.
1985 The Commission can help change the present buyer beware sales culture by reporting, in detail, how bad sales practices are, how they happen, and what can be done about them. Hopefully that will help to restore the public’s trust.
1986 Thank you very much. We’re happy to take your questions.
1987 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much for your submission.
1988 Commissioner MacDonald?
1989 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Good morning.
1990 MR. LAWFORD: Good morning.
1991 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: And thank you very much for being here and for your words today and also your intervention.
1992 I’d also like to thank you, your submissions were very clear, and very concise, and I think we have a good understanding of what you would like to see. That said I do have a number of questions I’d like to put forward.
1993 And I asked this of other intevenors yesterday, and it comes around, you know, if there is a problem we need to be able to define the problem and that starts with defining what is a misleading sales practice, what is aggressive selling. And I think that perhaps it might be easier to identify what’s misleading than what is aggressive, because we all view interactions differently.
1994 So I was wondering if we could just start off by you trying to inform us what you think good definitions for those two terms would be.
1995 MR. LAWFORD: All right. If I may, I will start with misleading and then move to aggression. And with your permission, perhaps even go to suitability, but we’ll leave that ---
1996 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Yeah. Definitely.
1997 MR. LAWFORD: --- up to you.
1998 Okay. Misleading. We have in so many words, adopted the definition in the Competition Act. Now, the Competition Act basically says that it’s a reviewable practice to make a misrepresentation or a material omission. So you can both say something that inaccurate and not say something that needs to be said. The difficulty with defining it more widely is it’s hard to see where the edges are.
1999 That’s a legal definition that has had some interpretation in the Courts. There’s a leading case in the Supreme Court of Canada, Richard versus Time, that says it’s not a super well-informed customer’s understanding of what the representation is, it’s an average consumer who is in a hurry and maybe it a bit trusting. That’s the standard. So to us, misrepresentation has to be based on that kind of consumer and not some super-consumer who understands the way everything works, say, in telcom sales.
2000 So we’re sticking to a somewhat legalistic definition of misrepresentation. We certainly discussed whether it should be wider for the purposes of regulatory purposes. But we don’t think that’s necessary.
2001 Aggression. Aggression is not as hard as people are making it out to be. Consider the following, somewhat objective factors, we’ve heard some of them already from some previous intervenors. No means no, or when no is not taken for an answer. A customer says, stop calling, and calls continue. Not leaving physical space after the customer has asked them to leave, which is trespass. So unwanted physical presence, that would be an objective factor. Customer says they do not want that service offered, continuing to try to sell them that service.
2002 Another one would be threats or scare tactics. Your service is unreliable. You’re going to have your internet cut off if you don’t take this.
2003 Thirdly, verbal abuse. So this would be raising your voice, yelling, or profanity or other inappropriate language. Those are three quite objective factors that I think, say for example CCTS could evaluate, if someone alleged that there was aggression.
2004 But as we said in our oral remarks, what really matters is the consumer end of this, and you have to give more weight to the consumer view that they have had aggression. That’s the trick. There will always be a grey zone, but if the consumer feels they’ve been aggressed, that’s the starting point, and effectively the company has to show that they did not do these objectively aggressive things in order to counter that impression. So that’s where I would go with definition of aggression.
2005 And suitability, I’m not sure if you want to move on to that?
2006 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Yes, please continue.
2007 MR. LAWFORD: Suitability is something that we put in our submission and it’s coming, yes, from the financial services world. There’s two parts, know your client and know your product. I won’t go too much into know your product, but if you don’t know what you’re selling, and you sell non-existent packages, that’s unfair to the customer, but you also have to match their preferences to your product line. So that’s part of it.
2008 But I’m going to focus on know your client. So knowing your client in the financial services world requires you to look -- know their personal circumstances. So do you rent or own your house? How many people live in the household? Very basic information like that. Financial circumstances, roughly speaking, where do you fall on the income scale? What are your means?
2009 Then it moves on in the investment world to investment knowledge -- investment needs and objectives. That we would recalculate and call communications needs and objectives. What are you going to use this service for? What do you want to achieve with your internet connection or your television service for example.
2010 And then in investments it goes on through investment knowledge. We would say that’s technical knowledge of communications. Do you know how big a gigabyte is? Do you know how many of them you need? Do you know how wireless works? Do you know what you want to do with your wireless connection? The other two that are in the investment world are risk profiling and investment time horizon. Those are less applicable in communications.
2011 So we think suitability on most factors is actually quite decently possible to -- to ask the companies to look into. If the person didn’t want to answer any of those questions they would, in effect, waive their ability to say my suitability was defined like this. So I think I’ll stop there and I’ll just -- is there anybody else that wants to add to that? That’s the way we would initially define them.
2012 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Thank you. That’s helpful.
2013 And you know, using those definitions as you’ve just outlined, and in an effort to try and wrap my head around the size of the actual problem, we did some research, you’re probably not surprised by the number of Canadians that have expressed frustration. And you’ve reviewed the submissions of Canadians and included many of them in your intervention.
2014 Can you, using the definitions that you just outlined -- and this might be a bit of an unfair question -- but try to give me some sort of sense as to where those frustrations lie on the spectrum. Some of them might just be, you know, mild nuisance. At the other end of the spectrum, really, really egregious activity that would violate the principles and the definitions that you just outlined.
2015 So could you give me any idea where they fall on that spectrum?
2016 MR. LAWFORD: I usually throw really unfair questions to the junior lawyer. So I think Jennifer probably has some examples for these ones that we thought were the most egregious. So they’d be at one end of the spectrum. I’ll let her take over.
2017 MS. CHOW: So I’m going to provide examples first for aggression, and then misleading, and then suitability, if that’s okay with you?
2018 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Yes, please.
2019 MS. CHOW: So for aggressive tactics, there was one intervention, intervention number 11, that it characterized no not meaning no. And so, I’m just going to read the intervention, the relevant sentences:
2020 “The seller...assured me that I could at any time cancel the order before the planned date of the installation. I have said no several times, and each time the salesman added with formulas like ‘Take it, then cancel it...it's just a formality to say yes. Come on!’ He even added that signing with Bell was even a good thing since Videotron would be informed of the potential loss of their client and they would give me a better price if I then wanted to stay with them...he insisted again that I sign for an installation with Bell.
2021 I’m still reading the quote:
2022 "Personally, I find this a very dishonest tactic. In addition to the lies on the competitor and the tactics of fear, the sellers end up putting pressure to conclude a sale at any price, no matter what I could say, including repeating that I was not interested. I am a 36 year old computer worker. So I know the technologies of the internet and I can say no. But I cannot imagine people who do not know or are not sure of themselves."
2023 And PIAC refers to this intervention specifically in paragraph 161 of our written comments.
2024 We also have another example of trespassing. So this is intervention number 889:
2025 "A few months ago, sales representatives from Bell knocked on my door. Since I continuously had bad experiences when I was a customer from Bell, I will never subscribe with them again, even if it was free. So I politely told the three guys I was not interested when I saw their Bell identification and tried to close the door. The first guy then put his feet on the ground to prevent me from closing the door. I repeated I was not interested because their company is one of the worst, in my eyes. But he would not budge. I had to yell at him and push heavily on the door so I could close it. It was the first time in my life I had to do something like that to prevent salesperson to come into my house. I can’t imagine what they do when people are too shy or scared to throw them out." (As read)
2026 So those are two examples of aggressive tactics.
2027 Moving on to misleading information, there is one intervention, this is intervention number 111, that talks about a free tablet not actually being free:
2028 “I was buying a new phone from Bell just last month and as part of a promotion they had going on they offered me a free tablet with my purchase...They said free and said it included a free one Gigabyte of data. They also said I need to attach a phone number to it to access the data. I thought this was strange since I was already buying a phone, already had a phone number, and can’t use a tablet as a phone anyway. But after confirming again with the sales rep that there would be not monthly or other fees with that, I went along with it. One month later I get a bill from Bell telling my I owe the 1st months payment and connection charge for my tablet!”
2029 And PIAC refers to this intervention in paragraph 32 of our written submissions.
2030 We also have an intervention from an employee. This is intervention number 341. And the former employee wrote, "I experienced multiple times and have listened to recorded calls that a customer was offered a free tablet if they do X. The customer will question the legitimacy of it being actually free, which the sales employee might provide the proper information with the actual up front and monthly cost over the next years, but often would assure them that it is completely free and just hope that the customer doesn't realise until after the 60 days and the employee's commission is locked in."
2031 MR. LAWFORD: I think the reason why we're bringing up the specific examples rather than giving you an answer is that we're not the adjudicators of this. This would be in the hands of CCTS. But with fairly clear outlines, which we started with the definitions of, we believe they could do a fairly decent job. And, of course, the customer would have to bring the complaint to the CCTS to be ruled on. So hopefully that gives you a flavour of what we thought was quite far at one end of the spectrum, but we recognise there are cases that are less severe and may have to be adjudicated by someone with experience like CCTS.
2032 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Okay. Thank you for that.
2033 At a high level you suggested three steps that the Commission should take to address some of these issues. The first imposing a new sales practices code; the second, conditions of service imposed on Canadian carriers, they have to adhere to certain sales practices; and then amps as well. And I'm just wondering, given that the end state may be none or all of your suggestions, could you identify which you think is the most important and how you would envision these three solutions functioning and working together?
2034 MR. LAWFORD: I'll start and maybe Jennifer wants to add.
2035 The code is the most important piece of this. The -- it provides the framework. And special cases outside of that can be dealt with other measures. Amps would really be what I think would be at one end of a behavioural scale if there were systematic issues described by CCTS to the Commission that they were having difficulty with and the industry wasn't addressing. That might be a situation where amps may be -- or a particular carrier. They may need to -- you may need to use something like that as sort of a belt and suspenders. But the code is the most important part of that.
2036 I'm sorry, the middle one again was?
2037 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: I'm just wondering if we did decide to move forward ---
2038 MR. LAWFORD: Yeah.
2039 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: --- with all three ---
2040 MR. LAWFORD: M'hm.
2041 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: --- how would you envision them working together? Would it be a ramping up process whereby a complaint is lodged with the CCTS only if they were unable to resolve it with the Commission, undertake an investigation, potentially issue an amp? How would you envision the three working together?
2042 MR. LAWFORD: No, no, this sales code would be very much like the wireless code the way it works now. The CRTC is not taking complaints on wireless at the moment. The CCTS is. They take the wireless complaint. They run it through the code as an aid. And then it's only if there are particular problems that are of a systemic nature that someone may bring a CRTC application and then there may be amps afterward.
2043 So we envision it as fitting pretty much into the same ---
2044 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: The same process we would have today ---
2045 MR. LAWFORD: --- the same processes as we have ---
2046 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: --- for the existing codes.
2047 MR. LAWFORD: --- yeah, for other ---
2048 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Given that we have -- and all of these codes are meant to achieve slightly different objectives, but given that we have the deposit and disconnect code, the wireless code, TV service provider code, potentially the code that you suggest, at what point does it make sense to examine the broader issues again and perhaps have one code versus potentially four codes?
2049 MR. LAWFORD: I don't think I'm giving anything away here really by saying I guess our long-term strategy, at least of PIAC, and we discussed it amongst the other members here, would be a telecommunications code like they have in Australia. That's the end game. The ---
2050 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Encompassing all products.
2051 MR. LAWFORD: Encompassing all products. So, for example, it doesn't seem to make sense, as you discussed with the previous intervener, to have, say, for example, terms that don't change over two years just in wireless and then people are surprised when that doesn't apply also to internet. So seems sensible to rule it across TV as well and telephone, but I'm getting ahead of myself. But that's where we -- I believe all the groups here would feel most comfortable with that type of approach like Australia now has. Getting to that stage may take some time. In the meanwhile, sales are very serious. Everyone's focussed on sales here today. And the code that we are suggesting for right now is, in effect, an interim measure. It could be rolled into a larger code later.
2052 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Some of the other interveners of service providers have raised concerns with the added complexity of having another code as well as the financial and regulatory burden that they would face by having yet another code to -- in existence that they would have to honour. Do you think financially or regulatorily it would be easier for them to have just one code that encompasses everything versus trying to constantly be mindful of the slight nuances between the codes that exist today?
2053 MR. LAWFORD: Certainly it would be more simple to have one code, much like the Australian one. Same -- most of the services have very few, you know, distinguishing aspects and then they can be in a small section of each larger code, if say, for example, there are wireless specific issues. But, no, it's far simpler to have one big code.
2054 The difficulty I see from the present procedure is we're in a sales practices hearing. You have to write a report about sales practices. And if there were a chapter saying this could fit in later to a larger regulatory scheme that might be a suggestion for the government.
2055 I take your point. If there is a multiplicity of codes and some of the companies have also raised consumer protection requirements in provinces this can get messy. But we believe the concerns that consumers expressed, as you mentioned, through the survey and in writing into the CRTC are so urgent that we need to take this opportunity to address those now, and change the behaviour before getting to a larger code.
2056 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Without prejudging or speculating what may find its way into such a code, we have had some discussion yesterday and today with respect to trial periods for all services and wondering if you have any thoughts on whether that's a positive step or just creates more challenges.
2057 MR. LAWFORD: This is personal, but I'm very much against the trial period. It's cooling off period, because a cooling off period you don't have to give any reason. And to us, we suggested 15-day cooling off period in our submission. Consumer doesn't have to give any reason. If they felt aggressed, somebody else comes in the household and says, "Oh, my god, you signed that. What did you do?" Doesn't matter. That helps cover a lot of these cases where there's been a very grey area sale which the consumer regrets. At the front end they know it's wrong and they can pull it up by its stakes.
2058 A trial period suggests the company is giving you something in order to try to win your business and it's not. It's a regulatory requirement that makes them accept your repudiation of the contract fully within a short period.
2059 After that we're seeking protections if there's misrepresentations or aggression that could go past the 15 days.
2060 I think that you can think of other mechanisms that might complement that, but the short 15-day period -- I know some people suggested 60 and so on. Sixty (60) gets long for a no reason backing out of the full contract and we're mindful of companies that give somebody 2 months of free service, for example, complaining that that's always at risk. So we think that's a fair cut-off.
2061 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: And I expect I know the answer to this question, but that would be your suggestion for all services, regardless of whether they're wireless or wireline?
2062 MR. LAWFORD: Yes. Yes.
2063 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Does that get more problematic for a wireline service where a service provider has potentially had to start investing money to build fibre to the home or build coax into an existing house that may not have had services in the past?
2064 MR. LAWFORD: I'd say, yes, it raises the stakes, but that's a good thing, because at the moment the companies are externalising all the negative externalities onto consumers of their sales practices. So now if they have to bear some of those risks of really rotten sales practices because they know if they do a terrible job consumers will pull the plug on them, I think they should bear some of the risk.
2065 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Okay. Just switching gears, we're had some conversation around the time of sale, whether it's at the door or at the store or what have you, that the customer should be provided with very plain language document detailing exactly what they have agreed to purchase so that they can then compare it with their conversation.
2066 Does that end up just being one more piece of paper that consumers may not bother reading?
2067 MS. CHOW: No necessarily. The view of our coalition is that plain language is important and contracts should be clear, but plain language should be used throughout the sales process. So that includes at the promotional stage when the rep first informs the customer about a particular service, offer, or promotion, and also, at the point of sale when the customer agrees to purchase a product or service.
2068 So how that plays out in terms of a telephone sale, if the conversation is happening over the phone, then the customer should be able to view the terms of the offer by email or on the provider's website. If the sale is happening in person, then all promotional terms should be written on a piece of paper for the customer to review, and that should be written in plain language.
2069 MS. MORRIS: If I could add, when we look at the promotional materials that are provided by the companies, those are clearly in plain language and designed to entice a sale. And at CARP, we just believe it makes sense for the actual terms to be written at that same level of understandability.
2070 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: And I guess, what would you say to the service providers that claim that that would be overly burdensome for the individual sales people or for their organization due to complexity of the services and the complexity of the offers they have on the market?
2071 MR. LAWFORD: I think based on the complaints you have, and many of them relate to being confused about the language, and certainly, the impression of our -- our seniors groups here today is that no one can understand this stuff.
2072 They've lost -- I think they've lost the right to say that they can have complicated contracts because it hasn't worked. They have to be clearer. And we have enough complaints, and people are fed up enough with not knowing what they're being sold that, from our point of view, they've missed their chance to make that argument because they had this opportunity to have complicated contracts and they've pushed it too far.
2073 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: And if such a document was provided in plain language, perhaps no longer than one, you know, eight-and‑a‑half by eleven page in length, does that remove the need for the cooling off period?
2074 MR. LAWFORD: Absolutely not. Most -- if you take a look at the Ontario requirements for sales at the door, there are some things that are banned, but you can also approach a company if you are a consumer, you can, in effect, ask to have something sold to you.
2075 Even there, there are lots of other requirements about the contract, getting it in writing, you've got the cooling off period, and so that is because it's still a door-to‑door sale, and that you have to have that extra level of protection for door-to‑door sales because there are all these factors that make them very one‑sided on the company's side.
2076 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: So when -- oh, sorry. Go ahead.
2077 MS. BOUVIER: I'd just like to say something about the contracts. ACORN Canada was here a couple of years ago when there was discussion on the basic service, and we had had the -- a survey done with members. And one of the questions was "How would you describe your contract?" And of the answer choices, extremely clear, 6.16 percent; somewhat clear, 29.35; somewhat complicated, 41.3; and extremely complicated, 23.19.
2078 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Thank you very much. That's helpful.
2079 So in an ideal world, everything is as you have envisioned it with your recommendations, who should those obligations apply to? Are we just talking about the largest providers that control most of the market? Are we talking all of the members of the CCTS?
2080 MR. LAWFORD: Sure. Well, I have one constraint, which, at least for now, still exists and that's the policy direction. If you're doing economic regulation, you have to justify it, and then if you're doing social regulation, which is what I think this is, you have to treat all carriers equally, so your rules have to go on everybody. And aside from that thing, it's also just fair.
2081 We've seen large companies with a large number of complaints, and smaller companies saying we don't have as many. But nobody has no complaints at CCTS. And when they reach any kind of scale, they will.
2082 So it seems to me that just on the regulatory requirement, you've got to treat everybody equally, but also just a very likelihood of complaints, it should apply equally. And asymmetrical regulation, yeah, that's the rule at the moment, so we say it's everyone even if they claim that have no complaints at the moment.
2083 We have very small sample sizes in this hearing, as you know, so we don't know what everyone's complaints are, and the internal complaints haven't been made public, so we don't know. But we suspect that every carrier has or will have these problems.
2084 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Because I know you obviously look at issues just outside of communications as well, do you find that the complaints or instances of misleading or aggressive sales tactics are more or less prevalent in this industry than in some other industries that you may have represented in the past, such as seniors?
2085 MR. LAWFORD: I -- I'll start, and then the folks from our other three groups I think should add.
2086 We don't have any stats on this. I believe there were some done for the banking sales practices. Review, in terms of trust, I don't have them handy to hand.
2087 But in the areas that PIAC works, in telecom, transportation, and banking, all quite high in terms of sales concerns. But I don't have any more exact figures than you do. My general sense is that telecom is definitely Number 1 or Number 2, but that's just because also we tend to work in these areas.
2088 So maybe some of the other groups want to rank telecom.
2089 MS. MORRIS: Sure. At CARP, we get a lot of communications from our members. They write letters and email us, and I speak to them regularly. What I can tell you is that the complaints that we hear about are directly related to the complexity of the services being purchased. So individuals struggling with getting clear information from a financial advisor, having difficulty with a payment -- pre‑payment penalty on a mortgage, and certainly, understanding the complexity of their digital Internet sales.
2090 We don't, for example, get complaints about people being treated by -- badly by their local Safeway, you know. Those don't tend to hit our radar. It's the complex technical issues where we believe a customer is approaching a situation and believes that they are getting sold something that's in their best interest. They really believe that what's being provided to them is suitable. They aren't coming with a frame of reference of thinking that they could be cheated and that they have to be in that buyer beware framework. They're really expecting that the recommendation will be made based on suitability.
2091 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: So with that in mind, what do you think is the most important action that should be taken to help seniors or other vulnerable Canadians in that situation, given the complexity that's often associated with telecom? Does it go back to we need the code, or is it a leave-behind-explaining-what-the‑customers-actually-purchased, or some other measure?
2092 MS. MORRIS: So certainly, the code I think is foundational to what's happening. We've seen such a disconnect between the values espoused by the companies and the sales practices that that code is needed to cut through it.
2093 Secondly, I'd say a suitability requirement is necessary, and customers are expecting that. They're expecting that what's provided to them is suitable.
2094 What we don't see and what we could see is companies reviewing the purchase that individuals have made and saying, oh, I see that you've purchased, you know, this amount of data and you're not using any of it. Let me go back and adjust your contract to something that's more fitting. Because we're not seeing that, then I think the onus is on the company up front to explore and to find something that is suitable.
2095 I think plain language is absolutely critical, and frankly, I don't buy that that's a difficult thing for companies to do, because how can they enter into a contract with an individual without explaining to the individual the contract -- the nature that they're signing up. That explanation, that conversation has to be in plain language, so we just want to follow that up with written documentation of that plain language. And then as we get into misstatements, certainly, we don't want to have anything material that's either misstated or omitted.
2096 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Okay. Thank you.
2097 Then to ask another question, do seniors or other vulnerable Canadians need extra protections to safeguard them that perhaps would not be in place for the larger population?
2098 MS. MORRIS: I think we can draw parallels here for many issues where we bring up what seniors need, whether they're in transport or liveable cities or otherwise. And the fact that if we build something for seniors, we make it better for the whole population.
2099 So while I think that seniors are particularly in need of these, that they will help every consumer.
2100 MS. McAULIFFE: If I could add as well, amongst our members we have discussions around sort of an onslaught of changes in the tech world. And my concern as the growing tsunami that we are, some of our understanding of what -- even what I know technically is changing all the time and my needs are changing all the time, as we've heard previous. But seniors are becoming less trusting in the conversations that I have with them. And I would believe that it would be most beneficial to the service providers that they come back and regain that trust. As we evolve, we need to bring in seniors into this -- into the new technology advancements.
2101 It's very concerning to us as organisers of our communities when we lose communications with seniors because they simply fall off the grid, because they have bad experiences in sales. They've had bad experiences in not being able to cancel the contract and they've had bad experiences on the help line or the service lines that are provided.
2102 So the conversations that I've had most recent were those members that live in remote communities that have little or no access to high speed internet and are searching for that. Some of the others that I spoke with have real concerns about the future of paperless billing when they fall off the grid, and/or if they can review their bills. They want to see them. They want hard copies.
2103 So as we see our aging community taking on and continuing on the practices they've always felt in trust and in trust to others in that service and that provision of services, we're getting into an era where then people of my own generation become very distrusting. And I've had one comment made to me as recent to say, "They've actually asked me if I recorded this conversation. So are we getting to that place, Trish? Like, what's going on? You know, how do I best protect myself?"
2104 And I'm at a place right now where I feel where I'm trying to represent the best interest and advocacy and promotion for seniors at all levels of government, at all levels of their quality of life, where they fall off the grid is going to be very difficult for us. We have to get back to regaining the trust. And the code of practices I think is a first queue because that's the first point of contact. Thank you.
2105 MR. LAWFORD: I just want to add one thing before we finish off on that question if I can. Some of our specific rules that we've suggested in our submissions would benefit seniors more I think than some others.
2106 So, for example, door to door sales ban or a do not knock list, you know, that's going to really benefit seniors because they have more troubles at the door. And also, the free is not free stuff. Who gets duped with the free iPad? Seniors, new Canadians, people who have less ability to check into things.
2107 So it's interesting, there may be situations where a specific rule will benefit I think those groups more because they're vulnerable, because those are more extreme regulatory measures, but we're suggesting them in large part because we believe the impact of those extreme behaviours falls more on our vulnerable groups.
2108 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: I think it, you know, could be possible that in some cases, you know, providers really are trying to do their best and have some internal processes, codes of conduct, training, but the problem still persists and I know not all sales people are created equal. But with some of the, you know, door to door -- sales tactics that you've mentioned, be it door to door, be it phone sales, what do you think the problem is? Is it totally the fact that salespeople are incented financial to push the product? Is it a lack of training? Is it a lack of experience? If I think of door to door sales reps, traditionally they tend to be a little bit younger and perhaps don't stay in the job as long. Maybe you can expand on that.
2109 MR. LAWFORD: I'll start and maybe some other folks can add. But from our submissions we -- and from today's oral submissions, we said the number one thing is negative discipline. So the salespeople are under extreme pressure to sell or they lose their job. Or they lose their job. That is unacceptable because then they will push anything to make the sales and keep their job. So I think Unifor is going to come up here and they will take you through chapter and verse what all those KPIs are, but that is the most corrosive factor for a salesperson.
2110 Positives sales incentives also bad. I see Rogers sends people off to the Carribean. Okay, that's also bad, but it can be managed. But the negative ones are very corrosive.
2111 Secondly, any time you are not employed by a company, you're with a third party, the company probably thinks this is cheaper, they can manage their sales force when it's very large more efficiently this way. It comes with risks. The risks are the employees are not -- you know, they don't benefit from the employer. They have a secondary employer in between them and that secondary employer may have far different goals, despite codes of conduct, than the brand. And then the companies actually frankly run risk for having third parties.
2112 And lastly, I think you're right to touch on training. And you notice the Australia code requires that sales persons be trained. And there is no such requirement, although all of the companies that are major here say they do train. Sometimes though they say they train the trainers. So they will train the manager of a third party and then that manager will train the new trainees. You know, it's a photocopy of a photocopy. The training gets worse and worse.
2113 So those are three factors that we believe are the main things that may hold back sales agents from being able to do what they should do, which is sell ethically and effectively.
2114 Do you guys want to add?
2115 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Can or should more be done on the part of service providers to self police? I was reading the Rogers intervention. They have a program. I think it's called the star hotline where people can report unethical behaviour. Do you find that -- and then it can be investigated. Do you find such tools to be useful and should they be -- and, if so, should they be adopted by other providers?
2116 MR. LAWFORD: I saw that. I saw that in the RFIs. I saw the names were redacted, the details were redacted. You guys have seen all that stuff, so you're a better judge than me because I'm not allowed to see it. But going on the assumption that it can work, it's better to have a system like that than not. The larger companies seem to have them and they seem to have sometimes third party whistleblower companies so that you're not dealing with your own company, which is a good thing. I think perhaps Unifor can weigh in on this more than we can, being in labour relations.
2117 But, you know, at the end of the day, we're back to but it's not working right now. We have thousands of complaints of people who are being pushily sold or misleadingly sold, so something is, you know, rotten in the State of Denmark and whatever is out there maybe needs more time to work, but anyway, we didn't see it, so we don't know.
2118 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Well, thank you and you addressed my next question with your statement around support for whistleblower protection, so thank you for anticipating where I was going.
2119 Just to end off before I turn you back over to my colleagues, and the topic of awareness of the CCTS. And I think this is my second, if not third, hearing where we've discussed this.
2120 You know, there's always the debate, whether it's general awareness is what's required or situational awareness, so when people do have a situation they can go to the CCTS. Do you have any thoughts or recommendations you would like to share with us?
2121 MR. LAWFORD: Very much so. Thank you for the question.
2122 We believe both general and specific awareness are both important and they are important at different stages. General awareness has to be there before you know you have a problem, because then when you do have a problem you go, oh, there is something. I remember hearing about it.
2123 And we do have a very specific recommendation. I don't believe it's in our submission, but we do have it today and we're very pleased to make it is the CCTS now covers BDUs, television paid services. Could you please ask the broadcasters to run a 30 second spot, public interest, saying hey, guess what, there’s a CCTS, it’s free, you can go there, they’ll fix your problems. I’d love that. I think that all the groups here would love that.
2124 And no general awareness can get to everybody, but just doing it over the Internet, tweets, social media, on your website, reaches people, but now that those folks, the television folks are underneath the CCTS’ wing, so to speak, and their services, I think it’s entirely appropriate to ask them to run public interest spots saying hey, there’s a CCTS.
2125 Specific awareness, there could be far more enforcement of the requirement of companies to mention CCTS when you get to a certain level of escalation. And I believe, and PIAC believes, and probably our other groups, although we haven’t specifically asked them, that there should be a separate category -- and we’ve said this I think two or three times in each hearing. There should be a separate complaint category for I was not told of the CCTS.
2126 So whenever you make a complaint to CCTS the rep on the CCTS end says oh, and were you informed by your telecommunications provider that we exist, no, okay, that’s a new complaint issue. They do it in Australia. And they find out, surprise, that the companies were not telling people that the telecommunications industry ombudsman in Australia existed. So because they have that regulatory requirement adding that to CCTS’ things to do today list would really help.
2127 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: And just one final, since this is your chance to make the recommendation, and that was noted, how -- what would be the frequency that you would suggest such announcements would have to be broadcast?
2128 MR. LAWFORD: Sure. We haven’t done a systematic, you know, media hits kind of analysis, and we don’t have the money for that, but at the present I believe the companies who are in telecom have to put it on the bills three or four times a year, so I would suggest quarterly spots. How many? I’m not a media person. I don’t know. You know, probably runs for a week at 30 seconds, probably be at 3:30 in the morning, but it would be something like that, say quarterly there’d be a little blast.
2129 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Perfect. Thank you very much. I’ll turn you back over to the Chairman.
2130 THE CHAIRPERSON: Commissioner Levy?
2131 COMMISSIONER LEVY: Thank you.
2132 As a national group of organizations, I’m interested in whether you can talk about some of the provincial legislation for consumer protection that’s available across the country, and whether -- as we are focusing on solutions, whether you can comment on some of the best practices that might be underlined as we look at the gamut of possibilities.
2133 MR. LAWFORD: I’m going to start, and I think some of the other member organizations also work at the federal level and have to deal with provincial stuff so they’re very well placed to let you know.
2134 The -- without getting into the big question of jurisdiction and where it’s going to end, there are -- there is a benefit to having a national level code, and that’s our stated position, because then if you’re in New Brunswick you get the same treatment as if you’re in Alberta as in Quebec.
2135 We’re not so naïve as to think that the provinces won’t pass consumer protection legislation that may overlap with whatever you do or recommend the government does in this area, but there are lots of shared jurisdiction areas. The Supreme Court’s told us over and over you have to share the pie. So that’s going to happen.
2136 Best practices, we have noted in certain provinces, and I think some folks might know more than me, there has been a market shift to concern with consumer sales channels where there’s an imbalance of power, in particular door-to-door. So we’re quite fond of Ontario’s flat out banning of door-to-door sales of certain products where consumers said repeatedly, despite disclosure rules, cooling off periods, and other rules, they were still having extreme problems with overselling. So that is an example from the provinces where initially they started with cooling off periods and they continued to monitor the situation and when it got worse they had to go to that extent. So that’s a good model.
2137 Quebec has consumer protection legislation that goes quite far and specifies the contents and style of contracts that -- some of those provisions are very interesting and should be looked at in more detail. I don’t have them close to hand, I’m sorry.
2138 Other folks here have I think dealt with Ontario and perhaps other jurisdictions. I don’t know if you guys have anything to add? Do you want to? No. Okay.
2139 But if you’re trying to get into jurisdiction, I think that’s going to be kind of a circular argument.
2140 COMMISSIONER LEVY: No, I’m not trying to get into jurisdiction. I’m purely interested in best practices no matter where they might arise, especially ones that have had the test of being in practice. That’s all I’m after.
2141 MR. LAWFORD: One last thing is for at least a few years Manitoba had quite a calculated campaign to review and re-review, and re-review consumer legislation and to identify gaps and expand present Consumer Protection Act in their Consumer Protection Act in a holistic way. And if there were a code for sales practices or a telecommunications code we would hope that a similar kind of approach would happen so that you don’t rest on your laurels and just do this once every five years but it’s -- in Manitoba it was rather more data gathering and suggesting as people went along. So at times there were even amendments to the Consumer Protection Act in Manitoba every year.
2142 MS. MORRIS: I would just add that I see no reason to restrict your review of best practices to the Canadian borders and would encourage you to look at some of the reforms in Australia.
2143 COMMISSIONER LEVY: Thank you.
2144 THE CHAIRPERSON: Commissioner Simard?
2145 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: Just a quick question. Are you aware of any best practices elsewhere like in addition to the one that was mentioned in Australia?
2146 MR. LAWFORD: Our research was -- well, we’ve all -- I think everybody in this room’s been under the gun a little bit with the timeframe. And I’m hesitant to do, you know, an undertaking to tell you about everything in the world because I don’t think we can do it before the 1st of November. But to be frank I believe there are probably other rules in England and we didn’t have time to look at them so we have nothing further to offer you internationally at this time, I’m sorry. But I’m not sure if you can continue to look at that at the CRTC but we don’t have it for you, I’m sorry.
2147 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: Thank you.
2148 THE CHAIRPERSON: I have a couple of other short follow-ups, if I may, more of a nature of clarification.
2149 In your oral remarks you said the test for aggression should be the fact that the complaint was made. So can you just elaborate on what you mean by the test in that context? Are you suggesting that we define aggressive sales practices by reference only when a complaint was made?
2150 MR. LAWFORD: No, actually not, and I can understand why you might have been confused by that. What we wanted to get across was that if a consumer makes a complaint of aggression -- and there is a -- so let’s say we have defined what aggression is, those things I went through, those factors. That if they make it to the CCTS, and I’m presuming here there’s a code, and then there’s CCTS whose adjudicating this aggression claim, that CCTS won’t screen them out and so oh, oh, no, no, no, you say you’ve been aggressed but we don’t believe you. We want them to take the complaint and then the CCTS will have in hand these factors, but they’ll also have, you know, the testimony, if you will, of the person.
2151 And I can envision cases -- and we discussed them yesterday amongst ourselves -- where there are non-verbal cues coming from the customer, they’re clearly shrinking away, they’re actually going all quiet, and if the salesperson were properly trained they should check. So that’s why we said there’s cues that you have to probe at.
2152 It could be that the customer’s testimony, if you will, says I got very frightened and I stopped talking, and then the CCTS would have their factors, they’d say well none of these factors -- you know, you didn’t tell a person to get out of your house, they weren’t being rude to you, so how could they possibly know, but the customer would say well I was afraid and I was not talking anymore. If the company hadn’t checked in with the customer -- like you seem to be upset, you know, you’re not just agreeing to this because I’m standing in your home, are you, ma’am, then it would be possible -- now, maybe CCTS wouldn’t go for the customer, but it would be possible for the CCTS to say we believe the customer, they were afraid, and despite the fact there was no yelling, no not getting out the door, in this case we think this person felt aggressed. Maybe that seems too squishy, but this -- the CCTS does this stuff all the time, so that's what we try to get across in, you know, two paragraphs.
2153 THE CHAIRPERSON: Okay. Thank you.
2154 Another point of clarification. Your oral remarks refer to high risk sales strategies. So, can you help me with a more granular definition of “high risk”; high risk of what?
2155 MR. LAWFORD: High risk of bad outcomes for consumers where they want to cancel service, reduce service or they feel they've been cheated. So, it’s high risk of effects on consumers that they feel are inappropriate.
2156 It may be extremely effective to the company’s bottom line, and that does make a conundrum; right? Because we’re not naive, if there are some rules that are passed in a code, it could affect the company’s bottom line. The question I think for you to consider for your report is, is it appropriate for them to be making money by aggressing people and misleading them? And we think no.
2157 THE CHAIRPERSON: Okay. Thank you for the clarification. The last one for me. You addressed at length -- questioned at length, you provided a fulsome description of your views about the suitability requirement and that was very helpful. But where does that fit in your proposed solutions in terms of a code when we talk about that -- such a suitability requirement?
2158 MR. LAWFORD: Yeah, there would be a suitability section of the code, and not to bore people with security stuff, but there it would be modeled on the CSA’s, which comes out in the Ontario Securities Commission, I think it’s 31-103 Instrument, and it defines what suitability is and the questions that have to be asked.
2159 And in fact, when I gave you the objective factors to deal with suitability, thank you very much, they came from, yes, actually National Instrument 31-103 and Companion Policy 41 OSCB (Supp-1), 21 June 2018 at paragraph 139 of our submissions and it’s actually Section 13.2 (c). There, so that is the reference.
2160 THE CHAIRPERSON: That's very precise and very helpful.
2161 MR. LAWFORD: That is the reference, that's where we’re getting it from. And the definition of “know your client and suitability” are actually more easily found in CSA Staff Notice 33-315. So I’ll leave it to Bill to look that up.
2162 THE CHAIRPERSON: I’ll turn it to legal counsel to see if they've got that and if you have any other follow-up questions, counsellors.
2163 MS. WEXLER: No further questions.
2164 THE CHAIRPERSON: Then I thank you very much, that's been very helpful and informative and we appreciate your participation.
2165 MR. LAWFORD: And if I can just say, I thank the Commission very much because this hearing is very important to our members and we’ve really appreciated the opportunity to address you. Thank you.
2166 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you.
2167 Madam Secretary.
2168 THE SECRETARY: Thank you. We’ll now connect via Skype. Hi, Mr. Deane, can you hear me properly?
2169 MR. DEANE: Good morning. Yes, I can.
2170 THE SECRETARY: Perfect, thank you.
2171 We’ll now hear the presentation of the Consumers Council of Canada.
2172 MR. DEANE: Good morning. I must say, it’s always just a little intimidating following John and his group. I’m Howard Deane, I represent the Consumers Council of Canada.
2173 Regarding the Broadcast and Telecom Notice of Consultation CRTC 2018-246, the report regarding the retail sales practices of Canada’s large telecommunication carriers. This testimony of the Consumers Council of Canada comments on interventions at August 30, 2018, and the replies at September 14, 2018. The Consumers Council is a not-for-profit organization that supports an improved marketplace, focusing its advocacy on the rights and the responsibilities of consumers.
2174 Our comments relate primarily to the October 15, 2018 Ipsos Public Affairs Public Opinion Research and the Rogers, Telus, and Bell interventions and replies.
2175 The Ipsos Public Affairs Public Opinion Research Surveys, done thoughtfully with appropriate methodology can be very instructive. In their reply, Telus criticized, for various reasons, the methodologies of the surveys of Consumers Council of Canada, ACORN, Aging Communication Technologies and OpenMedia, and then completely dismissed their findings. Rather than take issue with Telus’ criticisms, which weren’t without merit, we chose to focus on new evidence gathered through methodological methods able to support broadly generalizable conclusions.
2176 As Telus noted:
2177 “In general, surveys presented in this proceeding fail to use accepted survey methodologies that permit broadly generalizable conclusions. Among other flaws, the surveys before the Commission suffer from a very small sample size, narrow distribution, and a strong selection bias.”
2178 Telus also indicates the surveys had other flaws. We would ask if they would provide those specific flaws in a follow-up, along with their own criteria and requirements for proper methodological efforts, if only for use in future proceedings.
2179 Following, is an evaluation of the Ipsos public opinion research methodology against Telus’ methodology concerns. We took the liberty of adding other items from the Ipsos POR methodology.
2180 Adequate sample size:
2181 “Yes, it had a 95% confidence level both at the top line and within some sub-groups.”
2182 Broad enough distribution:
2183 “Yes, it was Canada wide, encompassing significant customers of each LTC.”
2184 No selection bias:
2185 “It ensured an adequate representation of age, gender, and region based on the 2016 Census.”
2186 And a couple of others, inclusion of qualitative research:
2187 “Yes, to address a specific question asked of a narrower group of Canadians, specifically those vulnerable.”
2188 Comparison survey:
2189 “Yes, it compared results to a voluntary public survey allowing for informative comparisons.”
2190 Given that Telus, Bell and Rogers have previously relied upon the services of Ipsos, we can reasonably assume that they respect the professionalism, independence and capabilities of IPSOS Reid and their work.
2191 The findings of the Ipsos POR differ significantly from the claims of the LTCs in these proceedings. It begs the question, given the use of an appropriate methodology applied by a reputable and capable organization how can these highly critical, statistically valid findings of the Ipsos POR vary so widely from the anecdotal and often unsupported claims of the LTCs, which are essentially “Move on, nothing to see here”?
2192 While most of the Ipsos POR findings are disconcerting, though unsurprising, some warrant special consideration. Firstly, 24 percent of Canadians indicate they have personally experienced sales practices they would consider aggressive or misleading from telecommunications providers in Canada in the past year.
2193 While this does not indicate the issues are systemic, it does indicate that they are big. It warrants further substantive investigation, and not just an acceptance of a blanket dismissal from those accused of such improper behaviour, as is indicated in their interventions and replies.
2194 We won’t cite volumes of individual statements of the LTCs here, but their collective position -- with minor variations -- may be summed up in a few sentences:
2195 “There is no industry-wide systemic misleading or aggressive sales practices.”
2196 “Any such practices are nominal, aberrations, negligible or non-existent, or related to one of the other LTCs.”
2197 “Any such complaints that arise, we quickly cleared up if they are deemed reasonable concerns.”
2198 “Others are dated, and some are misclassified or misunderstandings.”
2199 “Furthermore, it can’t happen given the processes, training and monitoring that have been put in place.”
2200 It is the Council’s view that scant evidence has been provided to corroborate these findings of effect -- certainly no evidence with the independence and methodological weight of the Ipsos POR.
2201 Rogers, Bell and Telus hold the view that industry competition is adequate, and that its strong presence acts as a marketplace force quelling bad behaviour. Nevertheless, a large majority of Canadians are concerned about the lack of competition in the telecom marketplace and the negative effects it has on them:
2202 “…concern exists about the amount of competition in the sector (70% extremely/very or somewhat concerned) and qualitatively we learnt that Canadians feel they have limited choice of providers and that most major providers act in a similar fashion which compounds their ability to address these issues themselves.”
2203 This highly polarized view is unhealthy for Canadians. Public concerns have abounded in recent years, and both the consumers and the LTCs, would be in a better position were there to be a closer consensus or understanding on the matter.
2204 The Ipsos POR found that almost half of those affected by misleading or aggressive sales practices did nothing further than talk to family and friends. Thirty-nine (39) percent talked to their provider, but fewer than 10 percent went to the CCTS.
2205 However, it is the qualitative research assessment noted below that concerns us:
2206 "The qualitative research highlighted a feeling of helpless among many, who believe there is a limited accountability amongst telecommunications providers and that they as consumers have little recourse beyond speaking to friends or family about our experiences."
2207 No organization that states they care for their consumers can reasonably leave their consumers in a position where they feel helpless, with most just venting with friends or family. This indicates a lack of appropriate complaint resolution and communication, an area that the LTCs indicate is improving. We've yet to hear consumers agree.
2208 Rogers' view of the CCTS.
2209 We remain somewhat puzzled, and possibly mistaken, by Rogers' view regarding the inclusion of sales practices complaints with the CCTS. We ask for a clarification from Rogers. They appear to believe that all misleading and aggressive sales practices complaints typically do, or can, go to the CCTS. Telecom Decision CRTC 2007-130 clearly states that claims of false or misleading advertising is excluded from the responsibilities of the CCTS. If they, Rogers, are of the same understanding, then we submit that their statement below should be more appropriately contextualized.
2210 "There is simply no evidence on the record of this proceeding that some or all of the additional complaints received by the CCTS in the past year relate to misleading or aggressive sale practices."
2211 Rogers quotes the CCTS' intervention:
2212 "The main sales practice-related issue facing consumers -- customers who have reached out to the CCTS seems to be a mismatch between what the customer was expecting or informed when they subscribed to service and their subsequent experience with the service."
2213 In our opinion this would arise only in a case where there was a contract. However, it is only logical to conclude that many misleading or aggressive sales practices would end in no sale, and therefore not be eligible to be moved to the CCTS.
2214 Additional recommendations.
2215 We have made specific recommendations in our prior submissions. We will not reiterate our previous recommendations, but will note additional recommendations resulting from our review of replies and the Ipsos POR.
2216 With the same degree of independence, and appropriateness of methodology as the Ipsos POR, the LTCs should reconcile any discrepancy between their claims in these proceedings and relevant Ipsos POR findings. Where true gaps exist, a clear implementation plan for improvement should be put forward, with stated timing and metrics, and specific remedies or efforts to be made should those metrics not be met on time. The Commission should consider independent and significant monitoring and enforcement of such plans.
2217 We understand that currently the LTCs record many, most, or all of their customer service and sales calls, ostensibly for training purposes. We recommend that customers be given an option to have the recording of any sales or customer service call sent directly to them. This is not unlike the provision of an online chat transcript. We include customer service calls in this recommendation, as evidence indicates that much unwanted selling is conducted on such calls.
2218 Knowing that the customer may request this may improve the bad behaviour reported by many consumers.
2219 Furthermore, we would recommend that the CCTS be allowed access to such recordings, for any complaint that is submitted to them, especially if the new regime includes the responsibility for all sales complaints, not just those that relate to previously signed contracts, which exclude false or misleading advertising. We believe this procedure would protect both the customer, potential customer and the LTCs themselves, who want to be able to manage the few aberrant employees they admit to, as well as protect themselves against false claims that may be made against them by the customers.
2220 And one final question for the LTCs, with all these self-professed well thought out and well managed efforts and processes in place, how can you be so out of sync with what your customers are thinking?
2221 Thank you and I look forward to your questions.
2222 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you. Thank you very much for your submission.
2223 Commissioner Levy, I think you have some questions?
2224 COMMISSIONER LEVY: Thank you and thank you for participating by Skype. It is far better than not appearing at all and I think you've been very effective in your presentation.
2225 Why is it that you decided to focus so specifically on the reaction to the Ipsos poll in your presentation today?
2226 MR. DEANE: Well, we're a small group and we can cover a lot if we want, but it's broad. And I do think the other groups -- and like I said, I'm not kidding when I talk about John. I think that he covers a lot and I don't think it adds much if we cover some of the detail he does, other than to support it, so I try and focus on one area that I think is important. And also, it's typically an area where I think that there's a major gap that the organisations are ignoring.
2227 And I have a strong view that these organisations are run by very, very capable people and where if something goes wrong like this where there's a clear, obvious gap, it could be because they're ignorant or don't know what they're doing. They know what they're doing. It could be that they don't care. I think they do care about what happens and how things work. Or it could be deliberate and I think they know it and I think they know there are these gaps and I want to make sure that we're not constantly fighting against these organisations where they clearly misstate things. So that's where I want to focus on things.
2228 So I think it's important that we focus on what communities really think and somehow draw these organisations closer to admitting what Canadians truly believe when they say that it's important to them what Canadians and their customers believe. So that's why I try and focus on that where I think we can make a bit of a difference, not just sort of adding to a pile of other good comment.
2229 COMMISSIONER LEVY: Okay. Let's go to some of the foundational material so that we have on the record your comments and answers to some of the issues that we want to more broadly cover. So if you'll excuse me if I move off of your particular point of ---
2230 MR. DEANE: Of course.
2231 COMMISSIONER LEVY: --- for some of these.
2232 In particular, let's talk about definitions. How would you define a misleading sales practice that goes to the extent that warrants intervention?
2233 MR. DEANE: I would say that when somebody is -- a salesperson is clearly aware that the message isn't getting through and they do nothing to fix it or they don't say something because they don't have to, but they know that that information would make someone know better what the situation is. So when somebody knowingly doesn't say something or says something to move the other individual from what would be a better decision, that's misleading.
2234 COMMISSIONER LEVY: And then to go one step beyond that, how would you define aggressive sales practice that again goes to the extent that warrants intervention?
2235 MR. DEANE: And I -- just for clarity, I wouldn't necessarily that -- say that aggressive is one step past. I think it's a different direction. Aggressive would be a situation where you do not let -- maybe I'll go asymptomatic, where you cause somebody to be rude when they otherwise wouldn't be. That's aggressive when somebody has to be rude to stop you. That's an example of what it would look like, but it's where somebody keeps saying no and the person won't back away. It's where somebody feels threatened or uncomfortable or wants to stop and can't. And it doesn't have to be a threat of force, but it has to be some fear or threat. So, it's a fear of being rude. That's aggressive.
2236 You know, I get a call -- I'm not particularly shy, but I get a call and I want to say I don't want to talk and I have to say it three times or I have to interrupt them, they're being aggressive. I don't feel intimidated, but they're being aggressive.
2237 So people don't have to be intimidated to be aggressive, for it to be aggressive, but there has to be some fear of intimidation or some fear of having to act in a way they don't want to have to act, don't want to be rude. That's aggressive.
2238 And I've heard a number of people tell me that, not through our surveys, but just personally, oh, I don't want to be rude to somebody, but I have to be, then the other person's being aggressive.
2239 COMMISSIONER LEVY: In your written intervention you refer to a need for an ombudsman. Do you really believe that the CCTS is not sufficient to address customer's concerns?
2240 MR. DEANE: Well, not as relates to sales and misleading and aggressive because they're specifically excluded from dealing with misleading. And where there are aggressive sales practices, but it doesn't relate to a specific contract, it won't go to the CCTS.
2241 So I don't believe that currently they fulfil that role. So they could, but if they -- but I also stated in the reply, I believe, that they could serve that role and reasonably should, but they would have to do with -- do it with greater strength than they do now. And because I don't think necessarily that the CCTS is as objective as it could be. It has strong industry representation, and I think it's probably fair to say that that industry representation is a little stronger than perhaps the average Canadian would want to see.
2242 But the big problem with the CCTS currently is that there are roughly 44 million contracts for Internet, wireless, and home phone, and they get 10,000 to 13,000 calls a year. So that means 1 out of every 4,400 people has an unresolved problem with their wireless or their Internet? I think the problem is that there is a disconnect between them capturing complaints.
2243 So that's why I would think that the CCTS isn't yet the place to go. They need to fix that, and then it would be. And I think you would have more public influence on it, and less industry influence. Maybe the industry doesn't pay for it. Maybe the public pays for it and its entrenched in legislation so it actually has some teeth to go out and find those people who don't know where to go.
2244 COMMISSIONER LEVY: Thank you. As you know, following up on that, we -- we're really looking at solutions here. I think that your reference to the IPSO survey helps us to conclude that, yes, the -- Canadians do seem to think there is a problem here. Do you think that our solutions, as they're adopted, would be more appropriate to be sort of targeted, or should they be broadly systemic?
2245 MR. DEANE: If I can come back for a minute. My point isn't so much what Canadians think, because -- I think most people know that. My point more is that the LTCs don't admit it. That's more my point around all that.
2246 But to come back to your point, should they be broader, more targeted? I think in -- when you start with broad solutions, they often don't work, and they can be moved around by the LTCs. So my view is to some degree I leave that push for broad solutions to people who do it more often than I do, and I think better than we would to people like PIAC. My view is I want to target on one or two items that I think would make a difference, and that would be get the recordings of phone calls into people's hands if they want them, and I think that would stop companies from being -- from misbehaving.
2247 It's a bit like what happens with Uber currently. Right now, with Uber, there's a mutual rating. So I rate the driver, and the driver rates me. So I could argue that people don't behave badly in cabs anymore because if they do, they'll get a bad rating and they won't be able to get an Uber. And that sort of knowledge that your behaviour can be checked if there's a problem, I think is useful, and I think that could be easily done by these technology companies, and I think it should be.
2248 So I'm better able to speak to one or two specific solutions that I think would work, and that's why I focus on that one in particular.
2249 COMMISSIONER LEVY: Okay. In terms of the discussions that you've had, the research that you have made yourself ---
2250 MR. DEANE: Yeah.
2251 COMMISSIONER LEVY: --- do you think that misleading or aggressive sales practices are more of a problem for the door-to‑door, over the phone, or over the Internet, or in store sales? Which do you think is ---?
2252 MR. DEANE: Based on what we heard from people, I wouldn't come to a specific conclusion on that.
2253 COMMISSIONER LEVY: Okay. What about mass marketing campaigns? Are they subject to misleading or aggressive practices, in your view?
2254 MR. DEANE: I think any marketing campaign of any LTC is by definition bordering on misleading, if not misleading. So yes, I do believe that.
2255 COMMISSIONER LEVY: So just to sort of circle back to targeted versus systemic. Do you think that there needs to be new industry wide mandatory rules to address misleading or aggressive sales practices for all communications services?
2256 MR. DEANE: All -- as in all telecommunication services?
2257 COMMISSIONER LEVY: Yes.
2258 MR. DEANE: Yes, I believe there should be more comprehensive requirements, because they say that it's important to them and they don't do it. So yes, I believe there's a need for that. It doesn't have to be complicated, but they need to be more controlled and more enforced. That's part of the problem now is enforcement is very weak.
2259 COMMISSIONER LEVY: Okay. And I believe that that's all the questions that I have for you. Thank you very much.
2260 MR. DEANE: You're welcome.
2261 THE CHAIRPERSON: Any other questions, Members? No?
2262 Then I thank you very much for your participation ---
2263 MR. DEANE: Thank you.
2264 THE CHAIRPERSON: --- for taking the time to be with us. Thank you again.
2265 With that, we will break for lunch, returning in one hour. Thank you.
--- L’audience est suspendue à 12h29
--- L’audience est reprise à 13h30
2266 THE CHAIRPERSON: Madam Secretary?
2267 THE SECRETARY: Thank you.
2268 We'll now hear the next group of presenters. Please all introduce yourself for the record, and you have 10 minutes for your presentation.
2269 DR. CAVANAGH: Good afternoon. Can everyone hear me all right?
2270 Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, Madam Secretary, my name is Dr. Mary Cavanagh. To my left is Kristianne Anor; to her left is Tara Hristov; and to my right is Sean Grassie. Thank you for the opportunity to bring our research perspective to this hearing on sales practices.
2271 I'm a professor at the University of Ottawa's School of Information Studies. Tara, Kristianne and Sean are JD students at the Faculty of Law.
2272 Our intervention is based on Phase 1 of our research where we begin to map wireless consumers' every day information-seeking practices using face-to‑face mystery shoppers as the primary point of entry.
2273 At the core, we follow the red thread of information through the wireless marketplace and three types of consumer-service provider interactions. Those are: pre‑purchase, signing the contract, and post-purchase follow up. This logic applies equally to other telecom consumer interactions, such as the purchase of home Internet or home phone.
2274 Our comments today primarily respond to Section 2 of this Inquiry on misleading or aggressive sales practices that, in your words, are understood to include "incomplete, unclear or misleading information regarding service terms and conditions." For the sake of emphasis, let me repeat this key phrase: "incomplete, unclear or misleading information" by service providers.
2275 We also connect the Inquiry's questions about sales practices to the Wireless Code's stated requirements to ensure that "consumers are empowered to make informed decisions about wireless services and to contribute to a more dynamic marketplace."
2276 We will use our time to draw your attention to what we see as a fundamental problem in this marketplace relationship from the consumers' perspective. We assert that pervasive, structural, and systemic information barriers exist in the pre‑purchase stages of this marketplace, making it virtually impossible for consumers to be effectively informed.
2277 Meaningful, context-specific information is the currency of empowered consumers. That's our working hypothesis drawn from a substantial body of existing research.
2278 And what do we mean? Information is meaningful and credible if it first it responds to the specific social contexts in which it is being sought and communicated. Information is meaningful within and across those settings if it is also objectively considered to be accessible, trustworthy, reliable, consistent, authoritative, and relevant. These values become consumers' evaluation criteria and can be translated into a wide array of documentary standards and assessment protocols.
2279 Our mystery shopper data collected in 2016, and again in 2018, conducted in the Ottawa-Gatineau region, indicates that there are two ways kiosk-based service providers consistently undermine a consumer's ability to become informed for effective decision-making. The first relates to the quality of communication interaction itself. The second relates to the pervasive refusal to commit the verbal pre‑contract shopping information and communication exchange into a meaningful documentary or explicit form that a consumer can take home.
2280 We designed our mystery shopper study around two pre‑purchase scenarios using our own comprehensive checklist developed from the Wireless Code provisions supporting empowered and informed consumers. The first scenario is based on purchasing a device and a plan; the second is on purchasing a plan only.
2281 In the first scenario, consumers should receive information on the following elements: general pricing, comparable offers, unlimited services, data caps, zero-rating, roaming, device subsidy, unlocking, warranties, early cancellation fees, trial periods, security deposits, lost or stolen devices, repairs, disconnection or contract extension, and optional services. Fifteen (15) topics in all about which an informed consumer could likely have multiple clarifying questions. In the second plan-only scenario, 11 of those topics are relevant.
2282 We visited two separate kiosks belonging to each service provider for each scenario and found virtually no consistency within the same service provider within 48 hours, I would add, and across service providers in the quality of the information that was conveyed
2283 What was consistent across all service providers, however, were the topics that were never mentioned at all. Fifty (50) to 75 per cent of the topics from the checklist were never mentioned, despite prompts by the shoppers themselves. Is it misleading or misinforming behaviour to remain silent regarding cancellation fees, warranties, or roaming charges, for example? In studies of information deception, the practice of omission figures prominently.
2284 We also found that the quality of the information interaction was unrelated to the busyness of the kiosk. More than half the 2018 interactions, 13 of 24, took place in kiosks that were otherwise empty or with no waiting customers. In the majority of these interactions staff were equally silent on the same information topics, and similarly unforthcoming in the depth and clarity of the information they did provide.
2285 In comparing our 2018 results with our 2016 data, we find that the trend line is going in the wrong direction; that is, service providers provided less information and poorer quality information in 2018. What we conclude from these results, albeit a small sample, though echoing many other responses to this Inquiry, is that service providers often do not meet minimum requirements for provision of meaningful information, and do not communicate effectively in these face to face pre-purchase interactions.
2286 Without referring to your notes, how many of the 15 Wireless Codeinformation topics I mentioned a few moments ago can you recall? Just the topics themselves, no details, no if-and or if-but statements, no reference to gigs, pricing bundles, or plan conditions, that might eventually appear in the contract fine print. Virtually impossible. And we are the super-experts.
2287 Research indicates that, irrespective of age or education, human beings are very poor at retaining complex information packets delivered only verbally, and only once, in a vocabulary that's not already somewhat familiar. Information seekers validate the information credibility of a given shopping interaction, using a complex string of source cues, media and cognitive heuristics.
2288 In the current climate of fake news, bad science and general information fakery, more than ever we need all the avenues at our disposal to evaluate the information we are being sold in a given context. Evaluation techniques and tools exist, but these are based on the premise that there is an information object, a thing, a container, beyond the human sender and receiver, holding that content to be assessed.
2289 We assert that via the Wireless Code the Commission has encouraged consumers to expect they have a right to meaningful, and to some extent, marketplace standardised information touching on at least 10 topics, before and after signing their purchase contract. The corresponding responsibility of consumers to inform themselves obviously depends on having a contextualized complete package of pre purchase information to assess.
2290 The second way our findings suggest service providers appear to systematically subvert the quality and effectiveness of the information interactions is in their active, and consistent refusal to put the interaction-specific pre purchase information they have provided verbally in writing for the consumer to take away.
2291 We also asked our researchers to make notes on the information and documentation evidence in their interactions. Among their observations, "I was told I could take a picture of the wall of a piece of paper that he has." Or "when we asked for something in writing she said that she did not have anything to give us and could not print from the computer, so she wrote out some basics on a sticky note and gave that to us." Or "he just handed me the brochure and then stared at me after each question." Or "she did not show me anything in writing. She was looking at a computer screen while speaking to me, which I was not able to see. I asked her to print off what she was reading and she obliged, but the printout was illegible." And finally, "she circled a lot of things in the brochure and pointed to prices and made notations, but failed to explain anything sufficiently."
2292 This is a structural, systemic problem, that I suggest we all see, but which no one dares acknowledge. Without a corresponding information object that both parties can refer to, all the marketplace control, influence, and informational power is with the service providers and I would argue, indirectly, with the Commission charged with regulating this marketplace.
2293 Individual consumers have no means of holding service providers accountable for the poor quality information and for the persistent gaps and information omissions. Only the most driven and energetic can devote hours to cancellation threats or social media flaming, while the vast majority of us sheepishly accept the status quo, because at the end of the day, our lives and livelihoods require a functional mobile phone and data plan. What is the complaint mechanism for structural industry-wide practices that systemically disempower or misinform consumers?
2294 In sum then, our work reveals gross informational inequity between the service provider and the consumer. Information is too often incomplete and inconsistent, alongside widespread patterns of service providers withholding or obfuscating information that would nevertheless be relevant and referenced in the fine print of a signed contract.
2295 We urge the Commission to consider incorporating information values into the current Code, values that respect responsibilities and rights of both the consumer and the service provider. Investing in systemic improvements to information quality of the pre-purchase consumer/service provider interactions will surely lead to a more balanced, marketplace with fewer formal complaints and fewer public inquiries such as this one.
2296 Thank you.
2297 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you for your intervention.
2298 Commissioner Lafontaine. Thank you.
2299 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: Thank you very much for your presentation today and for your written submission as well. I just have a few questions for you.
2300 I'd just like to take a bit of a step back in terms of the raison d'être of the research that you conducted. It's certainly very timely and worked out, you know, wonderfully well in terms of this proceeding. But I wonder if you could just tell us a little bit more about how it came about. There's a reference in your written submission at paragraph 3 of one of the intentions of how the study would be used, which wasn't entirely clear to me. So, I'm wondering if you can just, as I say, take a step back and give us a bit more information about that.
2301 DR. CAVANAGH: Sure. So, my colleague, who was unable to be here today, is from the Faculty of Law and we found a connection and a shared interest and a shared problem in -- from my point of view, in consumers having access to good information and the Wireless Code and the sort of the regulatory framework in which -- the legal framework in which consumers operate within the telecom world in Canada.
2302 We applied for a Law Foundation of Ontario grant and we were successful in 2015. And our interest is in mapping that process from outside the legal piece from the wider social piece of how consumers get information and solve those telecom wireless problems.
2303 So, we wanted to map it, then we are interested in supporting the larger ecosystem of stakeholders among whom include consumer agencies, related intermediaries, advocacy groups and so on.
2304 We have since -- we did that first data collect in 2016 and we did not -- we had no intention to time our work related to this at all. It was really just the work itself. And then again in 2018 and we are in the process of building some applications for we hope to support that -- those ecosystem stakeholders and consumers.
2305 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: Thank you. And in your written submission you outline in detail the findings of your research at pages seven and eight. And I'm wondering if you could outline which of these, or if all of these, in your view, would consist of misleading and/or aggressive sales practices. So it starts -- yeah, the bottom of page seven. It's in your paragraph 15. It goes from A to ---
2306 DR. CAVANAGH: Excuse me while I just sort out the paper.
2307 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: Sure.
2308 DR. CAVANAGH: You know what? I have all the paper. The written? Okay. The framework? Is that what you're referring to?
2309 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: Well, the research findings.
2310 So in your paragraph 15.
2311 DR. CAVANAGH: Okay, here.
2312 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: There’s a systemic gap the quality -- the quality of information provided, et cetera:
2313 “b. Our researchers observed a consistent reluctance and/or explicit denial of requests for written information...”
2314 So I’m just wondering, in terms of your findings, what in your view, consists of the misleading and/or aggressive sales approaches in terms of this proceeding?
2315 DR. CAVANAGH: So I’ve hear you -- other members of the Commission ask people to define misleading and aggressive, and I’m not sure if that’s in fact what you are trying to get at.
2316 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: Sure. Well, it’s actually one of the questions the I do have.
2317 DR. CAVANAGH: Right.
2318 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: So if that would be an easier place for you to start, I’d be interested to hear that.
2319 DR. CAVANAGH: Sure. Because we would like not to answer that. Instead -- not to not answer that, but to answer it in a -- the statement that says, what’s the minimum standard of information provision, in this context? So getting away from defining aggressive behaviour. It could -- it’s very contextualized and frankly, we’re more proactive in terms of setting a bar for what’s acceptable.
2320 And there are several criteria that we describe, that is reliable, consistent, accurate. I’m in the information world. There are ways of evaluating information and they have a whole bunch of, these are the key words, and they translate into information standards that can be recognized in documents. So from our point of view, the inequity is in not providing anything in writing to the consumer before the purchase.
2321 So there’s a legal contract that you sign when you purchase and you have all of the terms and conditions. But in that pre-shopping, what I would call information gathering stage, there is no provision for gathering information, except to rely on the verbal conversation in a face to face kiosk, and very inadequate documentation. I would just add that we see that across the board. So it was in all of the interactions. There were very, very few exceptions to that.
2322 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: And just in terms of the lack of providing the written documentation that the -- that your researchers were asking, so did -- so they -- if you can provide a bit more information about that. They posed the question, they themselves, you know, were clear in terms of seeking something in writing, and the sales person was just very clear in terms of, this is not something we’re going to provide. Is that how that transpired?
2323 DR. CAVANAGH: I’m going to invite our shoppers to respond to that.
2324 MS. HRISTOV: So I think for the most part it was, we would ask a question and we would discuss -- or maybe multiple questions, and discuss what kind of plans were available, what services, if they could provide any information on that. Maybe it would come to some sort of conclusion, like, yes this is something I would be interested in. Would I be able to take this away with me?
2325 And sometimes we would be provided with a brochure with very minimal information on it, and sometimes they would say, we can’t provide you with anything. We don’t have anything. You can take a picture of something we have on file with us. Sometimes they would write it out on a sticky note, and these would just be basics of the plan, not really anything. Afterwards, looking back at the brochures and the sticky notes, there wasn’t really enough there to remember our conversation or what we would be able to get from the plan.
2326 MR. GRASSIE: Yeah. I would add that there were instances where I did ask directly for the contract, but the contract would only be provided if I committed to signing it. So you weren’t able to take it home, decide whether the terms made sense and whether you agreed with them.
2327 It was very much -- in fact they’re -- the contracts are under lock and key. So it was difficult to even access them in the store to be able to look through until such time that you had already committed to a plan.
2328 MS. ANOR: Also, just to add that when they did give us -- ultimately they did provide us with written material, often they would write on it themselves and just circle things. Circle things and then point to us, and after prompts from us for follow up, you know, what -- further explanation looking for what this actually means, they’d just stare at us blankly and provide a very broad overview of what it is, with nothing concrete really. Nothing meaningful to take away.
2329 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: So just in terms of -- just to follow up on your response, they would have a brochure of some sort, circle, arrow, et cetera. It wasn’t -- it wasn’t very clear in terms of reflecting the conversation that you had had about the service or product that you are interested in?
2330 MS. ANOR: No, absolutely not.
2331 DR. CAVANAGH: Could I just add that we also visited the same service provider in different locations and there was no consistency, either in the documentation itself, or in the information that was verbally provided.
2332 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: But the consistency though, would be from what I’m understanding, just the lack of availability of sort of a clear summary of what the potential service would be.
2333 DR. CAVANAGH: Or -- no, more than that. The exact same scenario in two different kiosks, not the same pricing information, not the same recommendations, not the same provisos, not the same -- nothing that looked comparable.
2334 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: Thank you.
2335 Now, your research focused on stores in Ontario. Do you have any views, or in your research, have you -- do you have any awareness in terms of what’s happening outside of Ontario?
2336 DR. CAVANAGH: We only know what you have heard. Phase two of our work is to do this nationally in the mystery shopper in various -- and various other pieces. But not at this point. We don’t have that kind of data.
2337 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: Thank you. I just want to actually come back to your -- the written submission and your findings. And so, you’re very clear on the lack of information provided at the point of sale. Another issue that you raised at page 8 was, c:
2338 “...there were very few data points or clusters of information elements that could become information packets a consumer could re-use in further information gathering.”
2339 This is the same notion of just, you couldn’t walk away with the -- sort of a summary of what you -- what the discussion was to use at a further time with the service provider, in terms of calling them back or coming back to their location. Is that what that is saying?
2340 DR. CAVANAGH: That is. And I’d like to invite Sean to talk about the checklist, because the packets are themes, really, of information from that checklist. So the idea is comparable information.
2341 MR. GRASSIE: Yeah. I guess what we were getting at with that is that, a lot of times consumers want to shop around and be able to compare offers across different providers. It’s very difficult to do that if you don’t have a set list of exactly what. Whether it’s talk and text, data availability, roaming, these things may have been discussed individually at different times, but we didn’t have a one stop shop for that.
2342 And to be able to take that to the next provider and say, “Well, this provider offered X, y, and Z. How does your offer compare?” We feel that would be something that would empower consumers quite a bit. But in our experience, we didn’t find that was available.
2343 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: Thank you.
2344 Now, if you’ve been following the proceedings over the last couple of days, and there’s a fulsome public record as well, where various options have been discussed. I don’t know if you have any views on any particular recommendations that have been brought forward?
2345 One of them in particular, was this notion of a summary -- and to the key point of your research, a summary of the key elements of the -- that which was discussed with the salesperson. If something like that was to be provided to Canadians, or individuals, customers do -- at the point of sale, to be able to go home and think about it. Do you see, you know, value in that?
2346 Or were there any other elements that were proposed on the record that you would see as useful?
2347 DR. CAVANAGH: Yes. That kind of -- I realize it’s impractical to expect we have a 16-page checklist with more than 100 items. That’s not what we would be suggesting. But a standardized template that has the minimum information elements that are required within the entire marketplace for this transaction, and something where the salesperson and the consumer or the customer look at it together. They have a conversation, the notes of the conversation, or brief key words, or some kind of a checklist says, “Yes, we’ve talked about this”.
2348 And this -- these are the details that allow -- warranty. What did we talk about warranty? Roaming. What did we talk about roaming? I mean, it’s an information organization tool and I don't think that it’s that -- asking that much, that's it’s that onerous. I understand that providers have a difficulty committing anything in writing, and I think that that -- I don't know for sure, but my sense is that's one of the obstacles, is to put something in writing is, from a service provider’s point of view looks legal and binding, and therefore they are not willing to do that until the customer has signed the contract.
2349 So to get around that, first of all, all information that is put in writing is not necessarily legal and, you know, the people who are not lawyers, we know that all the time, and this could be a document with a caveat that says, “It’s, you know, valid for five days or seven days or whatever.” That allows people to make that immediate comparison. And then, you know, you're on your own. And we are -- also expect to be building information literacy tools to support that kind of work on the consumer side, from their point of view.
2350 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: Thank you. One of the questions I had and I believe you've answered it, but I just want to confirm for the record that this -- so the document with the list of items that were discussed, in your view this should be applied across the industry, not just to certain telecommunication service providers; is that -- do you think it’s an industry wide -- a need for something industry wide?
2351 DR. CAVANAGH: As far as the Code extends, I think the -- that requirement should extend. That is the Wireless Code, yes.
2352 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: Thank you. And as researchers I suspect you may -- you're aware of the Ipsos research that the Commission had conducted and posted on our website. I was wondering if you had any views on the results of that study, and in particular the -- one of the findings about 40 percent of Canadians who responded found that there were or had experienced aggressive or misleading sales practices. Does that number sort of -- does that surprise you or is that consistent with what your findings are?
2353 DR. CAVANAGH: I guess it goes back to this idea that one -- we’re setting everything in under the label -- under the words “aggressive and misleading”, and rather -- I would say that a number far higher than 40 percent -- 50 to 75 percent, 80 percent of people have some challenges, as in challenge being they don't get the adequate information for the decision in advance of signing the contract, and that they then -- this, you know, starts off a whole bunch of other problems. So, is it misleading to not say -- give any information? I don't know. Yes, I think so.
2354 “Aggressive” is something altogether different. I think it’s in a way an inappropriate frame for this work. So I really would like to talk about information standards and not people’s tones.
2355 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: M'hm.
2356 DR. CAVANAGH: The service providers have the power because they have the information. The consumers don't have the information, and until they get it they have no power, except to ask questions and to try to digest. There's an imbalance there, that's all.
2357 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: Thank you very much for your time today and for speaking so eloquently about this tremendous research that you and your team have conducted. Thank you.
2358 Those are all of my questions, Mr. Scott.
2359 THE CHAIRPERSON: Commissioner Levy.
2360 COMMISSIONER LEVY: Hello. I have a couple of questions. I know you're trying to provide information to a very high standard, and I really appreciate that, but you have had the experience of meeting face-to-face with people who are selling these products. So, I wonder if you have any conclusions about why it is that there is so much inconsistency?
2361 MS. ANOR: I think I can speak to your question a little bit. I think that the general theme throughout this entire mystery shopping research that we conducted was that, in all instances, I think it’s safe to say that we felt rushed in our interactions with the service provider. No matter how many customers were in the store, we could have been the only customers in that store or it could have been full, we still felt an element of being rushed. And I think that has something to say about the telecom industry in general.
2362 As Dr. Cavanagh had already said in her introductory statements, this is a structural, systemic problem. And I think that -- and the fact that we felt rushed throughout all of our interactions with all the service providers says something about these corporations, how their training their customer service representatives to prioritize efficiency and cost effectiveness over the delivery of meaningful information, which allow customers to make informed decisions.
2363 And because the quicker they make the sale, the quicker they can make a sale to another customer. But ultimately it has a negative effect on consumers as a whole, because they're contracting to things that they may not necessarily understand due to the quality and quantity of the information that they're receiving from the customer service representatives.
2364 DR. CAVANAGH: Can I add to that?
2365 COMMISSIONER LEVY: Certainly.
2366 DR. CAVANAGH: I think there's also, you know, I've worked in large organizations, I understand there's that frontline, they are not held responsible for the follow-up complaints and consumer issues that arise. In many organizations, there's a collective culture that says, “We are proud of our service to these customers and we wear our badge and everyone shares the same quality bar.” They don't -- they have the reward system at the front end to make the deal. They don't have the evaluation system to make a good deal, to -- there is no sort of requirement, that I can tell, that's built in in their corporate structure.
2367 And if there's a complaint from a particular customer, what would happen if all of those complaints were tied to individuals in those kiosks? As in, “You sold him this service, you should be responsible for addressing their information needs or the problems that have arisen in resolving those.” And instead, they're sent to a mass call centre that the anonymous corporation addresses. But it doesn’t land -- and I think that's a corporate, you know, that's a corporate culture, whether they want to do it or not, I think it would help.
2368 COMMISSIONER LEVY: I would assume that because you're -- you were dealing with kiosks and face-to-face interactions that you were probably dealing for the most part or in all instances with third party providers of these services; right? It’s not likely -- or did you -- or were you aware from one kiosk to the next whether it was owned by the company or a third party provider?
2369 MR. GRASSIE: Yeah, I guess when we say “kiosk”, I think you might be thinking like the middle of the mall type places. There were some of those, but those were always provider kiosk. And then we also went to actually like the brick and mortar retail store of the providers. So it wasn’t like a wireless way of -- those sort of like third party that you may be thinking of, but we actually visited the providers themselves with provider employees.
2370 COMMISSIONER LEVY: And did you ever get an instance where you were told what the basic price for a service was, as opposed to the feeling that you were being sold on something that was being targeted to you as opposed to what the standard service was across the board?
2371 MS. HRISTOV: I didn’t really ever get the sense in our interactions that we did that I was ever getting the base price. It always seemed like I couldn’t actually figure out what services were included in the plan they were offering me. There was a lot of focus on the price, it was always the price, and later on, I would come to realize that I didn’t actually know what was included in that price. And constantly telling me that maybe I could get a temporary offer or a discount that would bring it down, but then later on I would realize that that would only last one year, not two years and maybe they didn’t provide me with that information up front. So it was difficult to figure out what the base price would be without those special promos or what services were being included.
2372 COMMISSIONER LEVY: Thank you very much for your answers to my questions today.
2373 THE CHAIRPERSON: Commissioner Simard.
2374 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: Thank you. A quick question. I understand from your intervention that you suggest to rely on qualifier for the information, rather than the definition of misleading and aggressive sales practices. I’m just curious to know, because I know that you have worked with the Faculty of Law, so I’m curious to know if you have linked this suggestion of the qualifiers with the notion of informed consent.
2375 DR. CAVANAGH: No, we have not done that work, but thank you for that question because I think that's really helpful. Unless do you want to add? No, and I imagine that that's -- because we don't -- in general we don't take those qualifiers necessarily legally. We don't strictly see this whole scenario legally. We see it informationally and then the contract.
2376 So in future research we will be looking at what happens in the post-purchase and in the contract also. So we expect to -- we imagine that we will have information resources for the pre-purchase, what does that look like, for the contract itself in terms of plain language, and then post-purchase, what are sort of -- what's the information landscape that you need to pay attention to to make sure that you are protected and you're protecting yourself as a consumer.
2377 So it would involve all of those elements in those three different stages. Does that answer your question?
2378 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: Yes, perfectly. Thank you very much.
2379 THE CHAIRPERSON: I have a -- pardon me. I have a couple of follow-ups for you as well.
2380 So first, maybe just about the sort of scope of the solution if you will, so your study was limited to the in store environment. I wonder if you have any evidence or suggestions about how applicable your conclusions are to other sales methods, whether it be online, telephone and so on?
2381 DR. CAVANAGH: Talk to us in a year because we'll know. That's where we're going. We're going to take the same tools and the same exercise, also face to face in cities across Canada and then online, to see how they compare and what kinds of accommodations need to be made for that online, as in call centre, telephone call interaction.
2382 THE CHAIRPERSON: We'll welcome and no doubt be happy to see the specific research, but do you have any views you can share at this point, not based on evidence, but experience and your research today?
2383 MR. GRASSIE: I guess I would speculate that it would put more pressure on the individual consumer to go out and gather the information in advance of that, whether it's online or over the phone, because you would think that in a face to face interaction you would get greater information provision from the individual in front of you, one would hope. So I would think that the information that's out there online available for consumers would be even more important in that context. They would have more responsibility to figure it out on their own in that sense.
2384 THE CHAIRPERSON: Okay. Thank you and thank you for being willing to speculate. I know that you like to reference your tangible research.
2385 So you've also identified that reluctance by providers to give the customer information. Is that ever explained when you ask, for example, for -- not necessarily the full contract, we'll come to that, but for an explanation of particular terms and conditions or more specific information? Do the employee service providers ever provide you with a reason of why they can't answer or why they can't provide the further information?
2386 MS. HRISTOV: I can say that we never -- we didn't try to be confrontational in our interactions with them, so we didn't want -- we wanted it to be like an average consumer interaction, so we didn't necessarily push them on why they wouldn't give us every single tidbit of information, but we definitely would ask, "Why can't we print this out?" Or, "Why can't we get more information?" And generally the answer was, "We just don't do that." Or, "The computers don't work today." Or the sticky note one, I'm not really sure if she gave an explanation for that, but it was a -- there wasn't much and it didn't -- it seemed like it was maybe out of their control. That was the answer we got often that it wasn't -- it's not up to me.
2387 THE CHAIRPERSON: So assuming they were prepared to provide the consumer with documentation, what could you recommend to us or the critical information elements that should be included and do you have any comments about at what point in the process those documents -- about the timing and availability of those -- such documentation?
2388 DR. CAVANAGH: Well, back to the one pager, and the code and all of the data points covered in the code. So things that relate to price, to period -- you know, you're going to be signing for this period, a one pager with all of those topics and then various sort of, you know, sub-menus, navigation really that says if you asked about this or this bears on this, there -- it's an information pathway. You could do it as a screen with a template and just it's following it through with the customer and the service rep in the kiosk and then you print it off and say, "That's what we talked about today. Here you go. Take it home. Enjoy. If you need any more information, come back."
2389 Is that what you're asking about?
2390 THE CHAIRPERSON: M'hm. Well, and beyond that, you mentioned that they wouldn't provide -- your experience was they would not provide a copy of the prospective customer contract. Do you think that should be a requirement that you be able to have a copy of the contract for those interested in something more detailed than the one-page summary?
2391 MR. GRASSIE: I would say yes. It wouldn't have to be the exact full version of the contract, but at least a list of all the key terms and a quick summary of what those entail. We wouldn't expect to get some of those documents because it'd be quite large, so we wouldn't expect the provider to have that just handing them out to every single consumer, but to have actually, like, a summary of the key terms contained in that contract in general.
2392 DR. CAVANAGH: And I would just add that kind of -- so it's those key elements, and if I'm sitting talking to the person writing the contract, it's what about warranties is important that I know. What about early cancellation fees do I need to know? So it's sort of -- it's a -- one or two sentences or a paragraph or bullet points that say, this is what this is about and you should be paying attention to that.
2393 THE CHAIRPERSON: Kind of a frequently asked questions ---
2394 DR. CAVANAGH: Sure, something like that.
2395 THE CHAIRPERSON: --- approach.
2396 DR. CAVANAGH: Yeah. Yeah.
2397 THE CHAIRPERSON: You also mentioned or highlighted very uneven or inconsistent staff knowledge. Do you have any recommendations in that regard?
2398 DR. CAVANAGH: Well, I'm a teacher and I've worked in organisations and, you know, there's training.
2399 In an ideal -- you know, my colleague and I talk about this, we would work with providers to help train frontline people on -- but maybe they don't want to know. Maybe they don't want them to be that well trained. Maybe it doesn't matter enough to them. If it could be made compelling that they needed to be trained that well, then come and talk to us about working with people on scenarios and, you know, an hour online module or I don't know what it would be, but something that says you've met a threshold and it needs to be renewed, and also some feedback on when you're not meeting that information threshold.
2400 THE CHAIRPERSON: Okay. Thank you.
2401 And maybe my last question, aside from the promise of future research, you did mention a number of tools that your project is developing. If I refresh my memory and yours, interactive purchase checklist, interactive problem solving tools and tools to inform customers of their contract terms in plain language. To the extent you're able to go into detail, can you describe a little more about these prospective solutions? I guess we've touched on the third already, but the first two?
2402 DR. CAVANAGH: So the information ones are much like what we're -- what I was just describing that would be in a kiosk. It's this navigational path. So we've worked through that with a class of students, for example, who have done all the problem solving and mapped the navigation of all of those elements. So it's that kind of an app that then someone could have and run through at home. If you answer yes over here it pushes you over there. That kind of -- that's an app to inform about what's important, that you should be asking when you go into a kiosk. Yeah.
2403 THE CHAIRPERSON: Okay. Thank you. Any other -- then I thank you very much for your participation and your willingness to share your research.
2404 DR. CAVANAGH: Thank you.
2405 THE CHAIRPERSON: Madam Secretary?
2406 THE SECRETARY: Thank you very much.
2407 I will now ask Manitoba Coalition, Winnipeg Harvest and CAC Manitoba to come to presentation table.
2408 THE SECRETARY: When you are ready, please introduce yourself and your colleague, and you have 10 minutes for your presentation.
2409 MS. DILAY: Bon après-midi. Good afternoon Mr. Chairperson and Commissioners.
2410 My name is Katrine Dilay, and I'm a lawyer with the Public Interest Law Centre of Legal Aid Manitoba in Winnipeg. I'm legal counsel to the Manitoba Coalition, which is comprised of the Manitoba Branch of the Consumers' Association of Canada and Winnipeg Harvest.
2411 MS. DESORCY: My name is Gloria Desorcy. I'm the Executive Director of the Manitoba Branch of the Consumers' Association of Canada, which we will refer to as CAC Manitoba for today.
2412 MS. DILAY: On behalf of CAC Manitoba and Winnipeg Harvest, we thank the Commission for the opportunity to provide our comments today. While Winnipeg Harvest would have liked to attend the hearing, they unfortunately were not able to attend in person.
2413 In terms of a brief roadmap for our comments today, we will first discuss the importance of telecommunications products and services, as well as the reality faced by consumers in the marketplace. We will then discuss the telecommunications marketplace generally, before going into our specific recommendations to the Commission.
2414 MS. DESORCY: So just as some background: CAC Manitoba is a volunteer, non‑profit, independent organization working to inform and empower consumers in Manitoba, and to represent the consumer interest in Manitoba. We work on a wide range of issues, including food safety and security, environmental sustainability, consumer access and inclusion, and electricity and natural gas rates. A branch of the National Consumers' Association of Canada, CAC Manitoba's participation in this hearing is endorsed by our national organization.
2415 Winnipeg Harvest is a non‑profit, community-based organization committed to providing food to people who struggle to feed themselves and their families. In addition to providing services directly to communities, households, and individuals, Winnipeg Harvest is an active intervener in regulatory matters that impact its client base.
2416 So in preparing to represent the interests of Manitoba consumers in this hearing, the Manitoba Coalition worked with numerous other community organizations to conduct consumer engagement and to workshop recommendations, including groups who represent persons with disabilities, Indigenous peoples, and newcomers to Canada.
2417 The consumer engagement that we did included an online survey of 1,000 Manitobans, conducted by Prairie Research Associates; consumer engagement sessions with low income households, persons with disabilities, newcomers to Canada, and seniors; and a community survey of 55 Manitobans referred by community organizations representing persons with disabilities, low income households, and Indigenous persons.
2418 Why is this proceeding important? For the Manitoba Coalition, this hearing is of particular importance because telecommunications services and products are absolutely integral to the full participation of all consumers in society.
2419 In 2016, the Commission recognized that access to the Internet could improve the quality of life for Canadians and empower them as citizens, creators, and consumers. The United Nations has recognized access to the Internet as a human right.
2420 Many consumers face significant barriers and vulnerabilities, whether due to income, age, education, language or disability. These vulnerabilities can impact their ability to meaningfully participate in society. Access to phones and the Internet can be a pathway to more meaningful participation, enabling a lifeline of contacts, including family, friends, medical services and employers, access to government and financial services, and emergency assistance.
2421 I'm going to speak a bit about the reality of consumers as we heard it from Manitobans. Manitobans care deeply about their telecommunications and broadcast services and see them as a critical tool toward achieving social and economic inclusion.
2422 In this hearing, consumers, public interest groups and unions have presented a marketplace reality of lost trust, aggressive, misleading, confusing and overall unsatisfactory sales practices, combined with insufficient and ineffective consumer protections and avenues for redress.
2423 Many of the 1,400 plus interventions received by the Commission, and the findings of the recently released public opinion report by IPSOS commissioned by the CRTC, are consistent with the findings of our research and consumers in Manitoba. Many consumers describe a marketplace that is dominated by a few carriers and where bundled product offerings are increasingly difficult to compare.
2424 While many consumers had a fairly high regard for their service providers, many others, and particularly vulnerable consumers, experience challenges with misleading or high pressure retail sales practices. Vulnerable consumers may be more susceptible to aggressive or misleading sales practices or being sold products that are unsuitable for them. Few consumers displayed awareness of protections and avenues of redress that are currently available to them.
2425 A marketplace where 4 in 10 consumers -- Canadians -- I'm sorry -- report experiencing sales practices that they consider to be aggressive or misleading is a clearly -- is clearly a systemic issue, and not simply random occurrences of bad customer service. The consequences of such sales practices on all consumers, but particularly for vulnerable consumers, may threaten their ability to meaningfully participate in society.
2426 MS. DILAY: Now, before getting into specific recommendations with respect to this hearing, our clients wish to emphasize that the telecommunications marketplace in Canada, and in Manitoba specifically, where we come from, is characterized by the dominance of a few companies. The dominance of these few companies seems to be increasing, as we recently experienced firsthand in Manitoba with the sale of MTS to Bell.
2427 Our clients have asked themselves for services that are so central to meaningful social inclusion, how is it that marketplace is so -- that the marketplace is so concentrated and sales practices so problematic?
2428 Along with the privilege of operating in an environment where there are high barriers to additional competition, should come great responsibility. The important steps forward that will result from this proceeding are but one element of a broader need to enhance competition and level the uneven playing field between consumers and telecommunications carriers. However, our clients realize that these issues will not be explored in depth in this proceeding and will focus their recommendations on sales practices.
2429 The Manitoba Coalition in this proceeding recommends three specific factual findings that guide our recommended actions: First, telecommunications products are central to our ability to meaningfully participate in society; second, there is a systemic problem relating to sales practices; third, market dominance by a few companies directly contributes to problematic sales practices.
2430 Given these factual findings, the Manitoba Coalition recommends three specific actions: first, there is a need for a code of telecommunications sales practices. A unified code would clarify the confusing and uneven maze of existing consumer protections in this area. Further discussions with Canadians about the content of such a code would help to ensure it is effective by responding to actual needs and concerns.
2431 The Manitoba Coalition's preliminary recommendations about the content of such a code would include: standardized information regarding telecommunications products so that consumers can effectively compare prices and decide on the suitability of those products for their needs; tools to allow customers to better control their data consumption. For example, an option to throttle data; companies should not have the ability to check credit ratings and report to credit rating companies; specific protections for groups of vulnerable consumers, such as persons with disabilities, should be included; all door to door sales people should carry a visible identification.
2432 The second main action that the Manitoba Coalition is recommending is that monitoring and compliance framework should be strengthened. Not every consumer is comfortable with making complaints or is able to do so. A complaints process in this area should be complemented with proactive monitoring reporting and enforcement of consumer code compliance either by the Commission or an external third party. This should include standardized information about sales practices to be collected and publicly reported upon.
2433 If the CCTS remains an important player in this area, its role and its powers must be strengthened, because consumers would also benefit from one primary frontline contact for all complaints and concerns relating to telecommunications products and services.
2434 The third main action item would be a need for additional education and engagement to enhance consumer awareness of their rights and to facilitate a two-way dialogue.
2435 In order to self-advocate or to make complaints, the starting point is for consumers to be aware of their rights. Plain language information about consumer protections and a plain language complaints roadmap should be included with all contracts and easily accessible on companies’ websites and at retail stores. On hold messages for companies when consumers call should state the numbers to call if there are complaints. Carriers should engage directly with consumers, particularly vulnerable communities, about concerns and potential remedies.
2436 In conclusion, we would just like to re-emphasize that access to telecommunications products is essential to meaningful participation in society. A stark reality has been presented by Canadian consumers in this proceeding. Given the dominance of a few large companies and their refusal on the record of this proceeding to acknowledge that there is a systemic problem, the Manitoba Coalition urges the Commission to recommend specific actions in order to strengthen consumer protections.
2437 Thank you. And we look forward to your questions.
2438 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you for your intervention.
2439 Commissioner Levy?
2440 COMMISSIONER LEVY: Thank you.
2441 A very thoughtful and a very comprehensive intervention, and I wondered how you organized putting together so much information for presentation to us.
2442 MS. DESORCY: Do you mean for today or for the 30th of August?
2443 COMMISSIONER LEVY: The original one.
2444 MS. DESORCY: Oh. Well, we were very fortunate to be able to work with a lot of -- a number of organizations that are also really interested in this issue, and everybody just went oh, gee, this is really important, we’ll make time for it. You know, it was a very short timeline and it was quite honestly, you know, a bit of a strain, but it was important enough, and not just to us, to the other community groups we were working with as well, that everyone chipped in and made it happen.
2445 COMMISSIONER LEVY: Because you did a survey -- you commissioned a survey. You did focus groups. So you did a lot of work, and I thank you for that.
2446 One of the issues that emerged, however, was that the prairie research associates survey and the vulnerable persons survey submitted as part of your original intervention indicate that participants had a fairly high regard or overall good impression of their telecommunications carrier. However, in your reply to comments you mentioned that the record of this proceeding has clearly demonstrated that too many consumers have lost trust in their telecom carriers due to aggressive, misleading, confusing, and overall unsatisfactory customer service practices.
2447 Can you explain the difference between being content but still having issues?
2448 MS. DESORCY: What I would say is that, you know, certainly not every consumer had issues, and many of the consumers who did -- and so that -- I think that brings our first comment, in fairness. You know, there are consumers who are satisfied with their services, and we just needed to say that, but also I think that there were a large enough number of consumers that we really felt it was quite disconcerting to see that large a number of consumers, or that large a percentage of consumers, who had -- that had issues of this type. And so I think that is why our concerns were so -- you know, that is why our comments focused on that, because there was still a large number of consumers, despite the fact that it may not have been the majority on paper.
2449 I think the other piece is -- or the other thing that I would say is that when you sit down and do more qualitative research with some of these groups you hear more stories and you receive more detailed information, and you realize that sometimes people who said oh, no, I’m happy with my carrier, well, yeah, there was that one situation, you know, six months ago that was really quite terrible. So, you know, I think it’s a combination of those two things.
2450 I don’t know; did you want to add something?
2451 MS. DILAY: Sure. Maybe I’ll just add a little bit to that. So in addition to what Gloria has been talking about, I think the fact that the survey found that a lot of customers were satisfied emphasizes the importance of these products for them. That’s something that we heard loud and clear through the quantitative research, so the PRA survey, as well as through the more qualitative research through the consumer engagement sessions.
2452 What I’ll also say is while the majority of consumers appeared to be satisfied on the surface with that kind of one question, when you dig a little bit deeper some of the statistics that were highlighted in the survey pointed to 45 percent of consumers received unexpected amounts on their bills, 24 percent accepted a resolution they were not satisfied with, 21 percent had terms changed in their contract without notice, and 20 percent have felt pressure to purchase additional services.
2453 So when you look at that, and then digging further through the more -- the smaller consumer engagement sessions that were conducted over the summer, those stories were really fleshed out and came out.
2454 With our reply specifically we had sort of the research we did in Manitoba in mind and when we saw it being corroborated and we saw it happening throughout Canada that’s when we were able to kind of say well Manitoba is not an exception, it does represent something that is happening throughout Canada.
2455 And finally -- I know we have a long answer. But finally, I think information and knowledge is key to knowing that there is a problem. So when we did some further digging through the consumer engagement sessions and we were able to have more of a discussion rather than just a survey we did see more occurrences happening of misleading or aggressive sales practices when information was provided about what that is and what might that encompass.
2456 COMMISSIONER LEVY: Thank you.
2457 Could we just move to some definitions; how would you define misleading sales practices?
2458 MS. DESORCY: I’d like to just preface -- I’ll take a stab at it, and maybe Katrine will add something. But I’d like to just preface it by saying that we kind of see all of these, you know, inappropriate sales practices as a bit of a continuum, and so a specific sale might include both, you know, misleading and aggressive sales practices, you know what I mean; they may bleed over into each other.
2459 So having said that, with that proviso, I’ll say I would say a misleading sales practice is one where either inaccurate information is deliberately given to the consumer for decision making purposes, or misinformation is deliberately not given to the consumer and they need that information for decision making purposes.
2460 COMMISSIONER LEVY: Omission is just as bad as commission?
2461 MS. DESORCY: Correct.
2462 COMMISSIONER LEVY: And then going the next step, how would you define aggressive sales practices?
2463 MS. DESORCY: I would say either -- one of a few things, so either threatening or almost bullying consumers into purchasing something that they don’t necessarily want or need, either because they don’t maybe understand what it is, but also sometimes to get something else. And I maybe can give you a good example of that if we have time for that. And the other piece would be a consumer who’s consistently saying no and is still being asked to purchase the same thing.
2464 And the example I would give of the first one, if I can take a minute to do it, is we heard from a newcomer to Canada, for example, who indicated that, you know, she needed to buy a phone, this is -- everyone she knows is not here. She needs to be able to connect with them. She needs to buy a phone. She doesn’t have any credit history in Canada, so she's -- can't really get a contract, she's concerned about the cost of pre‑paid, or pay as you go phone, because it's pretty expensive and she has to do a lot of long distance.
2465 So they say, well, if you buy two iPhones at $500 each, we will give you a contract, and you can always sell the second one on Kijiji for $500. I mean, this is what she was told by the provider. And of course, the particular phone she never could sell for $500 on Kijiji because it was $350 only at Best Buy.
2466 So you know, it was a combination, as I said, of deliberate misinformation, but also, kind of threatening, you can't have this if you don't do that.
2467 COMMISSIONER LEVY: Do you think that the issue of misleading and aggressive sales practices are more of a problem in door-to‑door, you know, in mall kiosks, online? Which -- do you get a sense of where the problem is more prevalent?
2468 MS. DESORCY: That's an interesting question. You know, we were trying to think about, you know, the number of door-to‑door sales, for example, for telecommunications services and how perhaps different marketplaces are different. And I don't know that I have enough information to give you a -- you know, a -- I certainly, don't have statistics on which I could base that fairly. I would say that I think in Manitoba perhaps we have a bit less of selling this product door-to‑door than we do by phone, or in person, but that would be just a hunch.
2469 MS. DILAY: And maybe I'll just quickly add to that. The research didn't necessarily identify one sales technique or practice that was more problematic than the other. So based on the research and what we've heard from consumers, it would –- based on what we've heard it does apply to all these various sales techniques.
2470 COMMISSIONER LEVY: Did you find the -- do you believe that mass marketing campaigns are also subject to misleading or aggressive practices?
2471 MS. DESORCY: Do you mean TV ads? Is that what you mean by mass marketing, that kind of thing, newspaper ads?
2472 COMMISSIONER LEVY: M'hm.
2473 MS. DESORCY: I think the two things hinge together. Very often what is misleading about a sales practice is that, I saw an ad yesterday and the information in that ad doesn't match what you're telling me today on the phone, or today as I come to the store. And you know, or maybe that was a promotion and now it's expired, but –- you know. I feel that they hinge together very much, the advertising and the actual moment of sale.
2474 MS. DILAY: And maybe if I could just add quickly. I think I would agree with Gloria in terms of the mass market sales practices would apply. I think those are often the first instances where a consumer may see a product or a price and decide that they're interested in it and then take that extra step of either calling, going online, or going in person. So definitely, that first piece of information needs to be accurate enough information to make that decision at that point.
2475 COMMISSIONER LEVY: In your preliminary recommendations, you proposed that the Commission recommend to the CCTS that it take further steps to enhance the transparency of its complaint process, and you also mentioned in your reply comments that the role of the CCTS should be strengthened, just as you have today.
2476 Can you go into a little bit more detail on what you would like the Commission to do to enhance the transparency of the CTS's complaint process, and why you feel this is a necessary step?
2477 MS. DESORCY: Specifically to enhance the transparency, or the powers of the CCTS?
2478 COMMISSIONER LEVY: You can do both in one.
2479 MS. DESORCY: Okay. I think that one of the things that we have noticed is that -- and others have mentioned this today -- that some of the issues that we are discussing, specifically in this proceeding, according -- are not within the mandate of the CCTS currently, and they should be. So you know, they need a broader scope.
2480 I think another thing that we were thinking about was that the CCTS is empowered to require the companies to return money to consumers up to a certain amount, and we are totally in favour of returning money directly to consumers.
2481 I guess we wonder about the possibility for repeated infractions of other types of sanctions, whether they be monetary or publication of repeated, you know, breaches or something of that sort.
2482 The third thing we were thinking about was, you know, does the CCTS have a high enough profile with consumers? Should they be -- should there be an effort made to ensure that consumers are more aware of what they do? Aware of the process, and I think this is where we come to the transparency, and how it actually works.
2483 Yes, it is on the website, but you know, I just -- I would just point out that not every consumer is on the Internet or, you know, goes first to the Internet; right? Many do, but not everyone. And so, you know, more education, more information for consumers.
2484 And then, you know, as I think you've heard us say a few times, someone, and I'm not sure if it's the CCTS or who it is, needs to be proactively monitoring and -- you know, and not waiting for complaints. So consumers don't always have to be their own advocate endlessly, you know. If -- we believe that we're at a point where some -- one of the agencies needs to be doing some monitoring and some proactive research into compliance of -- with the code, with a code that hopefully would be developed.
2485 Is that answering? Is that answering? Yeah.
2486 MS. DILAY: And maybe I'll just add. One thing we included in our presentation was the idea of a complaints roadmap of some kind, and I think that would also play a part in increasing awareness as well as transparency for the CCTS or any other organization that takes complaints such as the Competition Bureau.
2487 So you know, we don't necessarily have a strict format or template to suggest, but in terms of some ideas, we see this as being some kind of document or tool that would be in plain language so consumers are -- consumers of all levels are able to understand it, including a description of the steps and options if they are unsatisfied or have concerns or complaints regarding their telecommunications services or carriers, including, you know, phone numbers that they can call, online tools, the entities to which they can complain, what they can actually complain about, and what the different entities are empowered to do, and the type of remedies that can be requested. I think there's a lot of -- it is a confusing kind of maze currently as to those various tools.
2488 So another item we see along with this would be sort of a frontline or a one‑stop shop for complaints and concerns relating to telecommunications services, in our view, would benefit consumers to try to streamline some of these processes for them.
2489 COMMISSIONER LEVY: Finally, you mentioned that you feel that there's -- market dominance by a few companies has contributed to some problematic sales practices. We've also heard from others, who were very reluctant, even in the face of egregious practices, to switch to others in a competitive market because they were concerned that they might not do any better. So I just raise that with you as a cautionary note from somebody else's experience.
2490 Those are all of my questions. I thank you again for the comprehensiveness of your research on such short notice. And is there anything else that you would like to add at this point before I turn it over to others?
2491 MS. DESORCY: I would like to just take one moment, if we could, to kind of mention how important we think it is for consumers to be engaged in whatever plan comes out of this proceeding. And you know, not just engaged at the end of the process when a decision is made for information purposes, but engaged in the development and design, for example, of a code, or a one‑stop complaint shop, or a complaints roadmap or any of the potential tools that we've mentioned, because after all, no one can tell you better what they need than they can tell you themselves.
2492 And I think also that it's important for consumer engagement to happen more than once. Before a plan is hatched we need to hear from consumers. Once a couple of plans are being considered, we need to hear from consumers, and maybe at the end we -- as people who take their ideas and their input, need to be responsible for recording what they said and explaining why we did or didn't use the things that they offered us.
2493 So that would just be my humble suggestion as to how -- one thing that might be important in this process.
2494 And another thing I'd like to say is thank you so much for the opportunity to be here today from Manitoba and to share the concerns of Manitobans.
2495 COMMISSIONER LEVY: Thank you very much.
2496 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you.
2497 Commissioner Dupras?
2498 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: Oh, just one quick question. Have you seen a difference since Bell has taken over MTS in Manitoba?
2499 MS. DESORCY: That's a good question. I'm going to say it might be a bit early for us to know what the differences will be. And so, you know, have we seen some increases in prices? Yes, but other jurisdictions have as well. And so we don't really feel that there's been enough time passing, and particularly with the sales practices, enough time passing for us to really comment on that. At least that's how I feel.
2500 Do you have other thoughts, Katrine?
2501 MS. DILAY: So I think there are -- some of the research that we had done around the time of the merger between Bell and MTS did show that Manitoba and Saskatchewan, which had a very strong regional carriers, had significantly lower prices. And so, you know, we are trying to monitor, but there are some difficulties there also in terms of kind of new products coming in, going out, so there are some difficulties in knowing that.
2502 And I think, as Gloria mentioned, it will take some time, especially as contracts expire, consumers change over to newer plans, I think it will take some time to see whether there will be significant changes in the marketplace.
2503 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: Thank you.
2504 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you. I have a few follow-ups.
2505 I noted in your submission today you specifically reference that companies should not have the ability to check credit ratings and report to credit rating companies. I wonder if you can give me a little more of an explanation as to why and how you -- I guess how that matches up with the fact that, for example, in the case of someone obtaining -- signing up for a two-year contract and getting a subsidised handset that that wouldn't be potentially problematic for the service provider. I'm just trying to understand why it's a problem and what you think the sort of necessary minimum requirements might be.
2506 MS. DESORCY: One of the concerns with the credit check certainly is that some consumers, and particularly some of the consumers we're discussing in this proceeding, have difficulty with credit history.
2507 So, for example, newcomers have no credit history. And very often, I just gave you an example, of what sometimes happens to them because of that. They may be good payers. They may not be good payers. We don't know. But they are -- they find it more difficult and they pay more for what we are basically saying is pretty much a necessity.
2508 The other thing I think I would say is that other necessities, at least in Manitoba, like electricity, natural gas, those kinds of things, your credit is not checked and you are not denied those products because of your credit history and you are not charged a different price for those products because of your credit history.
2509 And so if we are saying that access to communication services is a need, then it doesn't seem appropriate that the credit history come into it. That would be our starting position.
2510 Do you have something to add?
2511 THE CHAIRPERSON: Okay. Thank you for that.
2512 You also referenced the somewhat -- I say "somewhat" -- the quite opaque federal and provincial oversight of telecom retail sales practices. We have the Commission. We have CCTS. We have Competition Bureau. Do you have any detailed suggestions for how that can be explained in a consumer friendly manner to individual Canadians?
2513 MS. DESORCY: I think that it is complicated and I think that one solution might be going forward to look at some way to harmonise some of those pieces of legislation so at least they are not overlapping, because I think what we have now is not just a number of different providers of legislative oversight, but also overlaps and gaps; right? So places where there's nothing, no protection. Places where you got two different things competing here. And that, you know, in fairness, is not just hard for consumers. That's hard for companies; right?
2514 And it creates a -- and this is not the only industry where we see it. You know, you see it in many other industries, but it creates extra expense and difficulty. And then for consumers, yes, they never know who to call.
2515 So, you know, my suggestion would be, as much as possible, harmonise those pieces of oversight and, again, the one stop for every complaint. Maybe they're not administering all of those protections, but one stop that can guide and direct consumers through the process of accessing those protections would really be helpful.
2516 THE CHAIRPERSON: Understood. I think filling gaps may be easier than dealing with overlapping ---
2517 MS. DESORCY: I hear you.
2518 THE CHAIRPERSON: --- jurisdiction and responsibilities, both in terms of explaining it and dealing with it.
2519 You also mentioned that there was a higher level of issues with young customers in your survey, research. I wonder if you can elaborate a little bit on that and also any potential measures or specific approaches that you have contemplated.
2520 MS. DILAY: So I think that was in the quantitative ---
2521 THE CHAIRPERSON: Your report.
2522 MS. DILAY: Yeah.
2523 THE CHAIRPERSON: Yes, in the quantitative report.
2524 MS. DILAY: Exactly. In the quantitative survey, which was a very interesting finding. And in the qualitative research that we did, we really focussed more on the vulnerable groups that had been identified by the Commission, so low income, persons with disabilities.
2525 And so, yeah, having the younger generation, I think what we would say to that is that if you have a marketplace that is sort of accessible or fair for consumers that are vulnerable due to disability, due to age, to language barriers, that will increase the fairness and the accessibility of the marketplace for all, including younger people who may be facing different or similar barriers.
2526 And I think what -- in our client's view, it really comes down to information. If adequate information is being presented to consumers at different points of sale, at different decision making steps, that will benefit all consumers including younger consumers as well.
2527 MS. DESORCY: And the only thing I would add is, you know, when you're looking at physical marketplace designs, sometimes you talk about universal design and how, you know, what design that is good for consumers with limitations is good for all consumers. And I think it's kind of the same way with this.
2528 Yes, there probably are some other consumers who are disadvantaged, but making the marketplace more accessible for telecommunication services will assist all consumers.
2529 THE CHAIRPERSON: Okay, but staying on the youth segment issue for a moment, I noted that in particular you -- the survey results suggested that they were more likely to purchase services in stores. And I just -- are there specific issues in your mind related to in store activities and how it relates to youth? Do you have suggestions for us in that regard?
2530 MS. DESORCY: What I can say is it was not something that we pursued in the consumer engagement, so we didn't manage to dig deeper on that like we did on some of the other questions. We saw it at the survey, but didn't manage to.
2531 I think it's certainly an interesting finding because I think we sometimes think young people are more tech savvy and, therefore, should have less trouble purchasing these services, but clearly that may not be the case and I think that it's just a reminder that clear, accurate information helps everybody, and sales practices that are straightforward help everybody.
2532 And I think you want to add something.
2533 MS. DILAY: Yeah, maybe just two small points. Like Gloria mentioned, this is a finding that came out of the quantitative report, and so the qualitative work had already been either starting to be undertaken or done. So we did not have the opportunity to explore that finding, but it is a finding that we flagged that would deserve, you know, further conversation.
2534 The second aspect I would say is just based on some other research that -- and literature I've read, is that perhaps for the younger generation, it’s also kind of newness to the marketplace. So, new interactions, you know, experiences of negotiating, knowing when to negotiate, knowing what you can do, knowing how to advocate for yourself, sometimes that can come with experience. And so, just anecdotally, I think that that could be a factor that's at play here as well.
2535 THE CHAIRPERSON: Understood. Although my personal experience with children seems to be that they're quite capable of arguing for themselves.
2536 You already mentioned -- it’s a bit on the same line -- you mentioned the issue of mobility impairments and what changes could take place, but you also mentioned specifically -- I have to find my note here -- that there was an issue around incurring additional charges with respect to the return of company equipment. Can you just provide a little more information on that point, what was the issue?
2537 MS. DESORCY: I believe you're referring to the consumer who was not able to -- physically not able to take her, you know, TV set box and internet modem back to the supplier. And so she incurred charges because she was not able to take it back, she kept it past the date she was allowed to keep it. And then I’m almost -- I’m sort of saying this from memory, so I don't want to swear to it -- but she may have also had to incur a charge to have someone take it back for her.
2538 THE CHAIRPERSON: Okay, I understand.
2539 MS. DESORCY: So that was an issue ---
2540 THE CHAIRPERSON: It was an issue -- it was the actual physical ---
2541 MS. DESORCY: Yes.
2542 THE CHAIRPERSON: --- returning of the equipment, now I understand better. And maybe one last one, you do recommend in the report periodic reviews of the CCTS similar to that done by the ombudsman for banking service and investment. In your view, what would that involve, what kind of frequency, what suggestions again might you have for us?
2543 MS. DILAY: I think that's something that should again be brought back to consumers to see, you know, what -- what frequency they believe should be undertaken. But as sort of preliminary comments, you know, there are examples of regular reviews of legislation, of different legislative schemes, so I think there are best practices around there. I mean, you know, for example, one area that we work in is Payday Lending in Manitoba, there's a periodic review set in legislation for every three years. So, you know, that could be an example.
2544 In terms of what would be involved, we don't have necessary concrete suggestions, that would really depend on, you know, the outcome of this proceeding I think, because it depends on what kind of protections are in place, what the processes if changes are made or anything like that. But I think it would be looking at monitoring of how consumers -- the awareness of consumers, consumer success, how complaints are resolved, the areas that are being looked at, and that should all be publicly reported so that it’s transparent to consumers.
2545 THE CHAIRPERSON: So the Commission obviously periodically reviews its own codes and practices, CCTS, you weren’t -- you were talking about our reviews, not some additional review process outside of the Commission’s normal reviews? You weren’t proposing some additional new process?
2546 MS. DILAY: I think it could be an additional process if needed, but if the Commission’s reviews already encompass those steps, then it could be worked in to the same reviews.
2547 THE CHAIRPERSON: Okay. Thank you.
2548 MS. DESORCY: If I can just say, I think ---
2549 THE CHAIRPERSON: Oh, yes.
2550 MS. DESORCY: --- we were contemplating a review that involved public access. And I’m going to just, you know, say that I'm not sure if what you're talking about is a review that involves public access and stakeholder access, but that is definitely what we were talking about.
2551 THE CHAIRPERSON: Commission processes are always public and transparent.
2552 MS. DESORCY: Okay, so then -- yeah.
2553 THE CHAIRPERSON: It certainly would be if it were held by the Commission.
2554 Counsel, do you have any further questions?
2555 Then we’ll take a -- thank you, thank you for taking the time to be with us and sharing your comments and suggestions.
2556 We’ll recess for 15 minutes, returning at 3:15.
2557 Thank you.
--- La séance est suspendue à 15h00
--- La séance est reprise à 15h20
2558 THE SECRETARY: Please take your seats.
2559 THE CHAIRPERSON: Madam Secretary.
2560 THE SECRETARY: Thank you.
2561 We’ll now connect via Skype for the next presenter. We will hear the presentation of Democracy Watch. Mr. Conacher, can you hear me well?
2562 MR. CONACHER: Yes, I can, you're perfectly fine.
2563 THE SECRETARY: Perfect. You may begin your presentation.
2564 MR. CONACHER: Thank you very much for the invitation today to speak to the Commission with regard to this important topic of stopping abuse and gouging by large telecom companies in Canada.
2565 Democracy Watch is here representing as well the Corporate Responsibility Coalition, which is made up of more than 30 citizen groups across the country, with a collective membership of more than three million Canadians in total.
2566 And you have heard today from several organizations and individuals yesterday with hundreds of stories about abuse of sales practices and gouging by Canada’s large telecom companies. And they have been also proposing various solutions, which Democracy Watch and the Corporate Responsibility Coalition also support.
2567 Stronger rules, stronger enforcements, stronger penalties, all of those things would help, but wouldn’t do enough. And the reason they wouldn’t do enough, is that those have been tried in other industries in Canada. And it’s simply a model that doesn’t work, and it doesn’t work because of a huge gap overall with the system. And the gap is that consumers are not empowered, fully informed, and as a result are essentially on their own without the resources to even shop around effectively to get the best price and the best service, let alone actually hold these large companies, these regulated oligopolies, which we have in several industries in Canada, hold them accountable for wrongdoing, for abuse or gouging.
2568 The companies drive the prices and the service in whatever direction they want essentially. And the regulators there are sitting between consumers and the companies trying its best to do things, usually with limited powers and penalties that are far too low to ever discourage wrongdoing from multibillion dollar companies. And they're pushed by lobbyist who -- and lawyers from the companies. The companies are doing massive ad campaigns telling everybody that everything is fine. And the overall problem is that everything isn’t fine, but the whole marketplace is -- essentially rate in favour of the companies and against consumers. And that's because consumers are not empowered and are not -- also have the resources that the companies have to -- and push their agenda and ensure their concerns are addressed.
2569 And so, whether you have an interventionist approach to the market, any marketplace, or you have a “laissez faire” approach, both theories are based on consumers being fully informed and empowered in the marketplace. So, that's what's missing in Canada in many sectors.
2570 And what's been proposed today in terms of solutions, are things that have already been tried in the banking sector, in the insurance company sector, and in other sectors where essentially we also have regulated oligopolies. And the reason that it doesn’t work is because stronger rules, stronger enforcement and stronger penalties are not enough to essentially thwart the ability of companies and their power to gauge and abuse in a regulated oligopoly. Without consumers, again, being empowered and having the resources to fight back, to shop around, to be educated enough easily, to find out where the best prices are and what the best products are, and to have a place to call when they have a complaint that is dedicated to helping them complain, helping them shop around, providing legal services for free to sue, and also, to represent them in policymaking processes like this one.
2571 So you've heard from various groups. They're trying their best. But if you'd ask them what resources they have, they have very, very few resources. All of us are taking on issues like this along with 20 other issues. So we're working one‑twentieth of our time trying to help more than 20 million telecom customers, and collectively, we add up to about two people actually dedicated to trying to help telecom customers across the country in terms of full time hours.
2572 And on the company side, they have millions of dollars. They have advertising dollars. Lobbyists -- money to pay for lobbyists. Money to pay for lawyers. And political donations, and on and on.
2573 They even have -- one company, Shaw, has enough money to spend -- to pay $500,000 as a pension for Jim Shaw every single month. Not every single year, every single month he's getting almost $500,000 from Shaw. That's how much money they have, which is all you need for evidence that there's gouging out there if a company can afford to pay one person 500,000 bucks a month in their pension.
2574 And so how do you balance the marketplace? This is Democracy Watch's proposal and the coalition's proposal, which also is supported today in the submission made by the other coalition that's presented today as well. Not the one from Manitoba, but the Fair Communications Sales Coalition. The four groups in that coalition also call -- whether they mentioned for it in their submission today -- presentation today, but it's in their written submission -- also call for the creation of this telecom consumer organization.
2575 What would the telecom consumer organization be, and how can the CRTC help to create it? Well, it would be a national organization that would actually give an easy place for consumer -- telecom consumers to band together all their resources into one group that could serve them, help them shop around, help them complain, help them sue, and represent them in policymaking processes.
2576 As well, the organization would be an umbrella for the existing groups that you've heard from today and would be able to provide funding for them for their work that they do at a provincial level, a local level, or on specialized parts of the industry.
2577 How would it be formed? Using an innovative method that has worked well and effectively in the U.S. to form similar watchdog groups that are consumer funded, consumer directed, and dedicated solely to representing consumers in the marketplace, helping them shop around, helping them complain, providing all the services that people are missing now, and free legal service as well if they needed to actually sue to undue some wrong.
2578 It would be at no cost to the government to form this. The government simply passes a law creating the organization, essentially sets out the constitution of the organization in the law and gives the group the right to have its notices sent by telecom companies to all their customers, by email and by mail.
2579 And that's where the CRTC comes in. The CRTC already has the power to order companies to issue notices in mailings to customers, and in emails these days.
2580 No cost to the companies at all to have the telecom consumer organization exist. All they're required to do is send out an email every so often. That costs them nothing. And to send out a pamphlet from the group once or twice a year to those customers that still receive their bills by mail or other notices.
2581 This is an example of the pamphlet from the organization that was formed by the Illinois State Government, and the utilities in that state were required to send out this pamphlet once or twice a year. It was formed in 1985. There wasn't the Internet then. Now, it's much easier just to be sending out emails, and the email at the top would say, "Do you want to join a group that will help protect you as a telecom customer? Click here." And a click through would go to the website of the group, and people would be able to join for a nominal annual fee.
2582 The group -- these notices would reach more than 20 million people. If only 5 percent responded, the group would have a million members at a nominal $30 annual membership fee, a $30 million annual budget.
2583 Then telecom customers would have the same resources that the companies now have to advocate their interests in the marketplace. They would have staff lawyers. With a $30 million annual budget, they would be able to provide free legal service to anyone who needed it. Complaint handlers, professional people shopping around, and consumer education there to call. You call up, say my member number is this, and you would get all these free services.
2584 Cost you 30 bucks a year, but the value of service that you would get through this no cost method -- again, it wouldn't cost the government anything, it wouldn't cost the CRTC anything, it wouldn't cost the telecom -- any telecom company anything.
2585 And what would it do? It would solve every problem that you have in the marketplace right now. Because people would have a place to call, they would all be banded together into a force that would be able to counter the power of the industry lobby, which you're going to hear full force in the next few days, and after that I'm sure. They'll be lobbying and doing everything they can to stop any effective action.
2586 This is the most effective action. It solves every systemic problem that you've heard from today, and will also lead to better rules, better enforcement, and better penalties, and will help ensure telecom companies serve everybody fairly and well at a fair price. And if they don't, that that person is not on their own anymore trying to deal with a regulator or file a complaint without knowing how to do it. Trying to shop around and switch without knowing the information that they need and trying to find it. And that person would have a place to call that would be dedicated to them.
2587 You need this as the CRTC, as the regulator, because you're sitting there between the customers and consumer groups and the industry, and it's all -- it's just -- the balance is way off. The industry has far more power. Customers need it. Government needs it for policymaking in the whole area. Everybody needs this, and this can be done at zero cost to the government, to the CRTC, and to the companies, and would solve almost every problem.
2588 So more than 30 organizations representing millions of Canadians are calling for this. It was recommended by a house committee for the Finance Committee and the Senate Banking Committee back in 1998 for financial consumers. Paul Martin didn't do it. He set up the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, which has essentially been a lapdog, not a watchdog. That is -- there have been stronger rules, there have been supposedly stronger enforcement with that agency and stronger penalties.
2589 But it hasn't stopped problems with thousands of bank customers because that model doesn't work because the missing ingredient is empowered, informed consumers, and using this method that's worked effectively in the U.S., this no cost method, is the way to close that gap and get the marketplace working the way it should.
2590 I hope you will recommend this strongly and work with the federal government to establish this. Lots of groups, including groups presenting today want this for customers so that customers will be better protected, again, at no cost to the government, no cost to the business, no cost to the CRTC.
2591 I welcome your questions. All the information is in my submission about -- including a model statute from the U.S. for how to implement these organizations and all the history in the U.S. And happy to answer any of your questions now, or in the future, as you deliberate on these matters. Thank you very much.
2592 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you and thank you for your submission and taking the time to be with us.
2593 I don't know, based on my personal recollection, if you've ever intervened in a CRTC proceeding before, but whether you have or not, welcome.
2594 MR. CONACHER: I have not, actually. I don't specialize in telecom issues. I've been focused on the other big -- another big regulated oligarchy, the banking industry, with the same recommendations through the last 25 years, and the same models that are broken in the same way. And calling for the Number 1 change right now as the federal government reviews banking in -- the banking industry laws, which is the creation of a financial consumer organization using this same innovative method.
2595 THE CHAIRPERSON: I had a number of questions that I wanted to ask you about your proposal, the vast majority of which you have -- you've answered in the course of your presentation over the last few minutes. But let me probe your suggestions a little bit, and then I'd like to go back.
2596 If -- I don't know if you've had an opportunity to follow the proceeding over the last couple of days, but if you had, you will have noted that we have asked most, if not all, intervenors some questions about definitional issues, and so on.
2597 MR. CONACHER: Yes.
2598 THE CHAIRPERSON: So I'd like to come back to those in a moment.
2599 But maybe we'll start with the proposal. As I said, you've answered many of my questions. You draw the analogy to financial institutions, but I guess clearly there are differences with respect to barriers to entry in the financial sector as compared to telecom in particular, yet we have heard from a number of parties that switching suppliers may or may not make a difference. Do you have any comments first about that? Given that there are more entrants and there is a greater ease of entry in the telecom market, is it different?
2600 MR. CONACHER: No, I don’t think it’s very different at all. And just to give you an example about how difficult it is to shop around, Industry Canada, the Office of Consumer Affairs now, 15 years ago tried to set up a survey online for shopping around for a credit card, and they wanted people to just answer questions and then they’d get the answer at the end, this is the card for you.
2601 They had to have the person answer 15 questions and even with that their programmers still had to slot people into four categories. They couldn’t actually tell them exactly which card would be best for them. They could only slot them into four categories, a high user of a credit card, maybe you want the points, whatever.
2602 And so to expect someone on the weekend to first of all even come up with the 15 questions that they would have to answer to figure out which package is better for them, let alone go through the whole process and compare every provider, even Industry Canada could not do that to make it simple for customers and make it online so that they wouldn’t have to take the call from someone and actually sit down and shop around with them.
2603 So it’s very similar in that way when you’re comparing these packages, and it’s just ridiculous that every consumer is doing this. Millions of consumers are doing this on their own and wasting their leisure time when at no cost the government could create an organization that would do this for them, and all they would have to pay is a $30 membership fee and they’d get all sorts of services along with this kind of service.
2604 THE CHAIRPERSON: And, in your view, such a consumer organization would be able to fulfil those fairly complex demands? I mean, I appreciate the intent, but at a practical sense do you think that they would be able to answer all consumer questions and simplify, you know, the myriad offers that are out there in a manner that would consistently help consumers?
2605 MR. CONACHER: The groups that have been created in the U.S. about five percent of people have joined, five percent of households, or individuals in some of the cases who are customers.
2606 And with that you would have a million members in Canada roughly, and you would have roughly a $30 million budget, and it would cost almost nothing to raise that $30 million, if you remember, because the telecom companies would be sending out emails, which don’t cost them anything, it wouldn’t cost the group anything. They’d have to set up a click through site where people would donate and join an online forum. There’s some administrative cost of that. But essentially the group would be able to keep roughly 80 percent of the $30 million and the rest would be admin and other costs.
2607 Of the $24 million annual budget yes, the group would be able to have people constantly shopping around. That would be their full time job, tracking packages, tracking changes to packages, so that when someone called they would be able to go through with them and actually help them figure out what to buy. That would just be one service they would provide though as well.
2608 They’d have people who would be professional complaint handlers who would call the companies on behalf of someone who calls and no how to deal with the company and not have the person wasting their evening, as lots of people have, including myself, spending hours online trying to get an answer and get service.
2609 And the companies would all act better because they know there’s a group out there that can send out a notice to its members saying here’s the record of company service for the last year from best to worst. Well, you don’t think that’s going to make companies wake up when they get those -- they know that a million customers are going to learn which company is the best and which one is the worst. It solves every problem.
2610 Again, whether you have a laissez-fair approach to the market or an interventionist approach, this group is needed to actually have a market work, and it can be formed with no costs to the government, CRTC, or the companies.
2611 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you.
2612 I hope you will be patient with me, because I’m -- I find it -- you know, it just -- it is a great proposal on its face but if -- I’d simply -- at no cost and a perfect solution, I hope that’s true, but can we discuss it a little more.
2613 So, in your view, have these organizations that have been created at the state level in the U.S. have they had that desired effect, and if they have, you know, why is it not more widespread, why are there -- I think it’s four that have been organized at the state level?
2614 And I guess an ancillary question would just be this doesn’t sound very difficult in the way that you describe it, and I’m wondering why it hasn’t been set up in the financial sector in Canada, or the transport sector, or indeed in this sector, as it sounds like a perfect solution.
2615 MR. CONACHER: Well, it hasn’t been proposed in this sector before. It’s been proposed in the airline sector. Instead they set up the Airline Transportation Complaints Tribunal, which, you know, if a survey was done likely one percent of Canadians knows about it, so of course it’s not going to get many complaints from people.
2616 It was recommended by a house committee, the MacKay Task Force on the future of the financial sector that Paul Martin set up, a senate banking committee that at the time almost every member of that committee was actually on the board of a bank or insurance company and even they saw the sense of this. Paul Martin set up the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada instead. So you’d have to ask him why he didn’t do something that his own task force and the house committee and senate committee recommended.
2617 The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada it’s record compared to the U.S. and U.K. agencies really is a lapdog, and it really -- most people don’t even know about it surveys have shown as well.
2618 This is the solution. So that’s why it hasn’t been set up, politicians just have decided they don’t want this group. But if you don’t want this group you don’t want consumers to be empowered and educated, because this is the way to do it.
2619 And what happened in the U.S.? Well, four states set it up and then a referendum was won in California to set it up for the state utility in California. The state utility challenged the requirement to enclose pamphlets in its billing envelopes. The challenge went all the way up the Supreme Court. Their argument was the pamphlet is provocative because it says having problems with the utility join this group. And there’s a negative right to freedom of speech, which is a right not to respond, and that it violated their negative right to free speech because it was a provocative pamphlet and the utility didn’t want to respond to the pamphlet.
2620 In a five/four split decision the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the utility. Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote the descent and said it was a scathing extension of the rights of personhood to corporations to imagine that a corporation would be offended by a pamphlet that’s urging people to join a consumer watchdog group so much so that it’s negative right to free speech rights would even be offended let alone that they would even have that coverage as a corporation.
2621 That kind of chilled things in the U.S. essentially as state legislators heavily lobbied and financed by industry groups. We all know, I’m sure, about the problems of political finance in the U.S. and how essentially it’s a system that allows people to be bought off with donations. They hid behind this U.S. Supreme Court decision and said we can’t do this because of -- it’s unconstitutional to do it. And that’s what’s happened.
2622 And in Canada governments have known about it for 20 years and haven’t acted on it. You’d have to ask the politicians who say they’re concerned about the concerns of 20 million voters why they haven’t done something to help 20 million voters. Because this is the best thing they could do, again at no cost to the government and no cost to the companies.
2623 THE CHAIRPERSON: Just another couple of quick questions on that, if I may. But other than, under your proposal, very modest CRTC intervention, you don’t need politicians or government to set up such a consumer organization. Could it not be set up if it’s that straightforward, or is the issue of communicating it via the regulated companies the key to the establishment of the organization?
2624 MR. CONACHER: That is key, yes.
2625 Let’s start, first of all, where the companies get their money from. Consumers pay for all the advocacy the companies do. When you buy a product or service you’re paying for the lobbyists, the advertising that’s telling you everything is hunky-dory and that they’re providing great service to you, and you’re also paying for the lawyers that will defend the lawsuits that you may file. You’re paying for their lawyers, their lobbyists, their advertising, their wining and dining, their political donations. Customers are paying for all of that. So we’re not asking the companies to give money to pay for a consumer group, just facilitate it at no cost to them, by sending out the notice.
2626 Now, if you could get that list of 20 million customers from the telecom company, and you tried to send out a mailing yourself, if you had the email list that would be great. If the CRTC wants to order the companies to turn over the email list to a national group so that it can send out a notice to everybody for free inviting them to join, that would be great.
2627 If you’re trying to mail to 20 million people, it’s going to cost you a buck and a half each. So it’s going to cost you $30 million to reach 20 million people. The companies are already mailing out envelopes, so it’s better to just include the pamphlet, this pamphlet. Printing even 2 million of these would cost one cent each, so $20,000 to reach 2 million people instead of $3 million to reach 2 million people.
2628 So the beauty of this method, which Ralph Nader actually conceived of is the fact that it’s piggybacking on notices the companies are already sending out. And therefore, it’s a very low-cost way to reach everyone who might want to join. No one’s forced to join. They join, become a member, they get a vote. The Board is elected from amongst the members, a democratically structured group that then goes on to do all the things that I’ve talked about.
2629 So it really is key to just require the companies to do this one thing that costs them nothing, which is facilitate the creation of the group, in the same way the consumers facilitate all of their advocacy by paying for it all.
2630 THE CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Maybe one last question on that.
2631 So is the difference between the activities of existing consumer groups today and this, really the question of funding? Is that the distinguishing feature? Because otherwise, presumably the existing consumer advocates would be -- would be fulfilling this role, sorry.
2632 MR. CONACHER: Yeah. I mean, I heard some of the submissions today, I didn’t hear all of it. But if -- I don’t think anyone was asked, what’s your annual budget? And most of them would have said, air, and hopes, and dreams. Because they don’t have much money at all and it’s not that they’re trying -- their doing a bad job, they’re doing a great job. It’s just there’s no way any of them could provide a service of helping people complain or shop around, because they -- you need staff to be specialists in that and ready on call to take calls all the time. And the cost of running that is enormous. That’s why you need this efficient fundraising method of having the companies send out the notices.
2633 So the government, in the past, provided far much -- far more money to consumer groups, then cut it in ’95, like everything was cut in the ’95 budget. But when government gives money to groups, you’ve got groups that have money, not enough certainly, but no connection to consumers.
2634 That’s the other beauty of this method. The group would have a million members and who would be voting members. So it would be democratically structured and have an automatic built in feedback loop from consumers, just by surveying their members, would have the money to do general surveys as well. And really it just solves all of the problems in a way that creates a group that’s representative, as opposed to a group that just gets government grants.
2635 As well, the government grants have been handed out by Minister’s in the past and, frankly, the pattern has generally been, we’ll hand out grants to groups that aren’t going to cause us as much trouble as other groups, because the Minister’s don’t want the trouble. So this really solves everything. There’s no argument against it. I’m just -- really I’ve been thinking 25 years and I’ve never heard an argument against it.
2636 The -- this would be a democratically structured group, consumer run, consumer directed, consumer funded, dedicated to consumers formed at no cost to government and the business. And balancing the marketplace in every way and solving almost every market problem.
2637 THE CHAIRMAN: Thank you, again.
2638 Moving a little bit, maybe towards some of those specific questions, but as I do I just ask you -- I assume you would then draw a distinction between organizations like the CCTS, which are effectively -- well, not effectively. Which are attempting to address consumer complaints with their telecom service providers, as that’s distinct from this type of organization, which really goes to consumer advocacy, education, awareness, and so on.
2639 MR. CONACHER: Yes. And helping people complain. When a consumer calls, those commissions, the CRTC, any financial consumer agency of Canada, transportation complaints tribunal, airline passengers ones, all these models, the reason they don’t work is first of all, people don’t know about them.
2640 So with this model I’m advocating that everyone learns about it through the notice that comes. So they know the organization exists, even if they don’t join. Then maybe some day they’ll join when they have a problem.
2641 Two, those groups are all there to make regulatory decisions, essentially, about whether it’s a valid complaint or not. And consumers can’t be on their own in that process, because they’re facing a lawyer from the company and they’re paying the lawyer’s fees with part of the product and service price, and that’s just unfair. That companies can just take money from consumers.
2642 And, you know, so we could say to companies, you have to lower all your prices so that you can’t pay for your lobbyists, or lawyers, or advertising anymore, because that’s all your advocacy and consumers shouldn’t have to pay for that. Well, you’re not going to do that. So what do you do?
2643 The best thing you can do is form this group because it will provide the funding to consumers, so they have a place to call and they’re not on their own when they’re going through all of these processes of shopping around, complaining, trying to right wrongdoing, and also make their voice heard in policy making and regulatory processes.
2644 THE CHAIRMAN: Thanks. I said I was moving on, but I’m going have one more -- one more question on it.
2645 Just -- and would you envisage this as being specifically for the telecom sector, or do you envisage one that is more broad, as akin to some of the U.S. organizations that would deal with other utilities, or your examples, financial services, transportation sector and so on? Does it make sense if you were to pursue this model that you would have two, or three, or four such organizations, or would it make more sense to have a single organization?
2646 MR. CONACHER: No, there should be one for each sector. Because different consumers will join each different organization. Someone may be very concerned about banking and feel like they don’t know how to do anything in the banking sector and need help, and join that group. And another -- may feel perfectly fine with dealing with telecom companies and so wouldn’t join the telecom group.
2647 There are about 10 sectors in Canada where these could easily be formed, and there should be 10 different groups. It would solve problems in all of those separate marketplaces. So one big group, no would not be able to do it, and it should be formed sector by sector. One group for airlines, one for telecom, one for the food industry.
2648 You can even go on the government side for healthcare, you know, there’s been lots of stuff in the news recently about patient advocacy groups actually being under the influence of funding from pharma companies because they have no funding. This is the way of solving that and getting actual patient advocacy groups that are representative of patients, because patients are members.
2649 So sector by sector, this is a generic method that can be used at no cost to government, no cost to the businesses or institutions in the sector, and it forms a broad based organization that’s democratically structured, run by citizens, funded by them, and dedicated to them. It’s the missing piece in the marketplace, in all of the sectors in Canada.
2650 THE CHAIRMAN: Okay. Thank you. That’s very helpful. So now I will move over to some of the other issues, if I may.
2651 So in your written submission you also proposed rules that -- sorry, you proposed that rules could be strengthened to ensure that telecom service providers are prohibited from selling anything to a customer that the customer doesn’t need or want. And you may have heard some discussion, we’ve had several over the course of the last couple of days, on that subject.
2652 What are your specific recommendations? How is that to be done, and again, is that back through the organization you just described, or is this through CRTC rules? And if so, in what form?
2653 MR. CONACHER: I’m just going to generally defer in this whole area of rules, enforcement, and penalties, to the groups that have presented with support in particular, the Fair Communication Sales Coalition’s proposals. Because I’ve talked with those organizations, PIAC and the others, and they’re far more -- John Lawford, obviously a leading expert in this area and has been for a long time. I defer on the specifics.
2654 Those recommendations are in there really to endorse what these other groups are calling for. I would just say one thing in terms of penalties, no regulator, no government across Canada has taken penalties seriously with regard to corporate wrongdoing, ever in the history of Canada. The standard rule of enforcement, the standard of approach to enforcement, the theory, is that if someone is doing something -- considering doing something that's wrong, what they'll take into account is the chance of getting caught, multiplied by the penalty, taking into account their ability to pay the penalty. That's the standard theory of enforcement.
2655 And I can tell you, for example, in the banking area, which I know much better, there's a one in a thousand chance of getting caught. There's only been three prosecutions by the FCAC since 2003. So the chance of even being penalized, if you are the one in a thousand that gets caught, is pretty much zero. The maximum penalty is $500,000. So -- and the banks each make in revenue more than $10 billion annually.
2656 So it essentially amounts to a $500 penalty according to the standard theory of enforcement for a bank, and if a bank is going to make more than $500 from violating the law, then they will violate the law because they'll look at it and say we're going to only pay $500 penalty but we're going to make more money doing that.
2657 That's not a serious penalty for companies. Again, Shaw is paying its former CEO $500,000 a month for his pension. That's a lot of ability to pay for fines.
2658 So that's the one thing I would emphasize, is penalties have to be increased to realistic levels, taking into account the actual chance of getting caught, and the actual chance of being -- the maximum penalty being imposed on any company for the infraction. And no government, no regulatory agency has taken this seriously in the history of Canada, which is why we have so many problems and so many people being abused and gouged.
2659 So that's the one submission I would make in detail; but otherwise, I defer to the submissions that have been made by other groups in terms of the details about how to change the rules and how to change the enforcement.
2660 I note -- I would just say again, overall, change the rules, change the enforcement, strengthen the penalties. You're still not going to have consumers being able to shop around effectively or complain. They'll be on their own or suing, and again, you need this group to solve that problem, and that's a big problem in the marketplace.
2661 THE CHAIRPERSON: So I understand and appreciate that you have suggested that we turn to the Fair Communication Sales Coalition and others on the specific questions, and we certainly have asked them those questions, and they've given us their responses. But let me throw at least a couple at you.
2662 MR. CONACHER: Sure.
2663 THE CHAIRPERSON: So do we need an industry-wide set of rules, mandatory rules, to address misleading or aggressive sale practices? I won't get into -- I won't ask you to define them. We do have a lot on the record, and as you've said, you'll defer to them. But do we need industry-wide mandatory rules?
2664 MR. CONACHER: Yes. Industry Canada, a guy by the name of Kernaghan Webb was a Industry Canada at Office of Consumer Affairs now 20 years ago. They actually did a survey. KPMG was commissioned to do a survey of industry about voluntary codes.
2665 And the industries overwhelmingly, themselves, companies, said, no, we don't pay attention to voluntary codes because they're voluntary. What gets us to wake up in the morning and pay attention to following rules is the threat of regulatory action by governments, where there will actually be requirements, will it say "shall" instead of "may", and where there's teeth behind it, and we'll pay a penalty. Essentially, they were saying, yes, we agree with the standard theory of enforcement.
2666 And if you want to read a great book, just as an aside, on the problems with the lack of penalties and how it encourages corporate wrongdoing, there's a great book by a guy named Russell Mokhiber called Corporate Crime and Violence. It has a hundred cases where corporations had lax rules, lax enforcement, and lax penalties, and as a result, abused, and in many cases, killed people.
2667 So the companies were saying in this survey that the Office of Consumer Affairs Commission that voluntary codes don't work. And why anyone has suggested in the last 20 years a voluntary code is a solution is beyond me given that that survey was comprehensive and just proved that companies themselves say that they're useless.
2668 So yes, mandatory rules are definitely needed.
2669 THE CHAIRPERSON: And you may be -- I'm not sure how familiar you are with codes that have been developed and put in place by the CRTC. We have a Wireless Code. We have a code for television service providers. And they include rules that address contract clarity, try and ensure that consumers have a reasonable amount of straightforward information.
2670 Do you believe that they have been successful? Do you have a view on that? Do you believe we should expand it to include all communication services?
2671 MR. CONACHER: I haven't done surveys like some of the other organizations that have submitted today. I'm legally trained. I have an LLB. I'm doing my PhD in law right now. I am confused shopping around. So that's anecdotal evidence. I was an English major, so I learned how to read English.
2672 When I was at law school, a contracts prof said what the companies put into contracts very early on were what he called "Himalayas clauses". Why do they call them Himalaya clauses? Because trying to get over them, legally, let alone comprehend them, would be as tough as climbing over the Himalayas.
2673 So you can have all the codes you want, but if consumers are on their own, they're not -- they don't have the expertise to decipher this stuff, even if it is supposedly in plain language. They need a place to call where they can say to the person what does this mean, and the person is expertly trained and has read all of the hundred page contracts, start to finish, and knows what every clause means and has a legal opinion about it, and can say this is what this means and this is why you shouldn't sign that contract and why we recommend not signing it.
2674 And you're only going to get that if this group is set up using this method so that it has a multi-million budget and can afford to have those kind of staff people on call ready to answer consumers' questions. No government agency is going to do this. No commission that takes complaints is going to do this. People need help shopping around is the first thing that this group will solve.
2675 THE CHAIRPERSON: Okay. Again, thank you. Maybe one last question about those types of services and consumer practices, and that -- do you think that a trial period for contracts for all communication services would help resolve this, where consumers would be able to cancel a service after a defined period of time had they not clearly understood what they were buying?
2676 MR. CONACHER: I've experienced it myself, and you've heard from others, saying when you try and call and cancel something, all of a sudden, the line goes dead, and then you're back on hold and then you're hearing music for an hour, and someone comes back on and says I'll get my supervisor, and then the line goes dead and the supervisor never calls you back. No, it won't solve things. Nothing will solve things until consumers are empowered and have the resources and can easily shop around and have a place to call. That's what needed.
2677 The current model is broken. It doesn't work. It's been tried for decades throughout North America, and it doesn't work because the missing ingredients is empowered, informed consumers, which again, is key, no matter what your theory of how markets work, key to having markets actually work.
2678 And this group would also, if it was formed, take some of the money and would be able to fund the existing groups. Not that the existing groups would all fold, they would continue to be able to do what they're doing in serving the people that they're serving, they would just have an umbrella group that's sympathetic that they could work with and get funding from for specialized projects. So it would also support all of those who are out there and have done such great work and great presentations and -- with surveys and other things, presenting all of this evidence today.
2679 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you. Those are all my questions. I don't see any others. Oh, yes, I do. Commissioner Laizner.
2680 COMMISSIONER LAIZNER: Good afternoon. I just had a couple of questions about these utility boards in the States that you mentioned. Do you have -- I don't know if you mentioned the percentage of subscribers that do join them.
2681 MR. CONACHER: Right. It's usually around 5 percent.
2682 COMMISSIONER LAIZNER: Five (5) percent. And how do they arrive at their annual fee? Is that prescribed in the legislation? Is that something that ---
2683 MR. CONACHER: Yes.
2684 COMMISSIONER LAIZNER: --- they set up through their shareholders?
2685 MR. CONACHER: No. It's prescribed in the legislation. The way they've come into being is the statute has been passed, the government has appointed an interim board, usually from amongst the organizations who are pushing for the organization to be set up. The first mailing has gone out. Again, these were set up in the mid‑eighties, so there were there was an email at the time. And actually, part of the legislation is if a certain percentage don't join the group will fold and return the membership cheques of whoever had joined. So if consumers don't want it and wouldn't join, you'd actually have that out where the group would not come into existence.
2686 The interim Board then handles the first mailing and handles the first election of the Board from amongst the members. And then the group goes on from there on to have the mailing go out once or twice a year and people join. People leave, of course. There's turnover. But overall they've been able to get on average a five per cent response rate in terms of people joining.
2687 Some would say, well, that's a huge free rider problem, but it's not because the group has enough money to serve everybody. And if anyone calls, they have to join in order to get the service, so ---
2688 COMMISSIONER LAIZNER: That was going to be my next question.
2689 MR. CONACHER: --- it's not really a free rider -- yeah, it serves ---
2690 COMMISSIONER LAIZNER: Yeah.
2691 MR. CONACHER: --- all consumers, even if only five per cent join.
2692 COMMISSIONER LAIZNER: So -- and actually that was one of my follow on questions that do they advocate for people that are not members? Do they provide information on, you know, offers and packages to everybody or just their members? So ---
2693 MR. CONACHER: Yeah. The different groups -- generally the groups said if you want service, like, legal service, you'd have to join.
2694 COMMISSIONER LAIZNER: Right.
2695 MR. CONACHER: Right? But the stuff that they put on -- especially in more modern times, their websites, disseminating it -- and people are also joining by household; right? So one person will join in the household, but everyone will be able to see the newsletter that says here's the best companies and the worst companies. So it's not like they try to keep that information secret. They just do try to ensure that -- and I've never had a problem with enough people joining that the groups are viable and can actually provide these kind of services.
2696 COMMISSIONER LAIZNER: And they're ---
2697 MR. CONACHER: The group in Illinois has saved ratepayers $10 billion by challenging unjustifiable rate hikes and by doing conservation education in terms of the use of energy and energy utilities.
2698 COMMISSIONER LAIZNER: That's very interesting. And they don't handle -- they don't receive complaints and arbitrate ---
2699 MR. CONACHER: No.
2700 COMMISSIONER LAIZNER: --- those complaints. They advocate for the consumer in whatever complaint process exists, either through a company or through an organisation such as we have, which is the CCTS in Canada on these services.
2701 MR. CONACHER: Yes, that's right. It's an unfortunate name that Ralph Nader came up with for the groups in the U.S. calling them a Board, because in a Canadian context that usually means a tribunal of some sort, but it's a Board just meaning there is a Board that runs it. They probably should have been called, as we're calling this group, the telecom consumer organisation or telecom consumer group or something like that, so that people would be more clear that it's not an arbitrating body. It is there to advocate and help consumers shop around, complain and sue if they need to.
2702 COMMISSIONER LAIZNER: Great. Thank you. It's been very interesting.
2703 MR. CONACHER: Thank you.
2704 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you. Thank you for taking the time to share your proposals with us.
2705 And with that, Commission counsel, you have no other matters?
2706 MR. ABBOTT: Thank you. No further questions.
2707 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you. Then with that, we will adjourn for the day resuming at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow morning.
2708 Madam Secretary? Anything?
2709 MADAM SECRETARY: Nothing. Tomorrow morning.
2710 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you.
2711 Good afternoon, all.
--- L’audience est levée à 16h08
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