Area of Law: Consumer Law
Answer # 813
Making consumer complaintsRegion: Ontario Answer # 813
If you have been the victim of a consumer scam or bad business practice, you have rights and remedies under the law. Ontario’s Consumer Protection Act, 2002 sets out a detailed list of activities that are regarded as improper business behaviour toward consumers called “unfair practices.” Unfair practices are divided into two categories: “false, misleading or deceptive representation”; and “unconscionable representation.”
False, misleading or deceptive representation
False, misleading or deceptive representation covers misrepresentations made to a consumer by a business to get the consumer to buy a product or service. These misrepresentations may include:
- saying that used goods are new or unused
- saying that goods or services are sponsored or approved when they are not
- saying there is a price advantage when there is not
- saying that a service or repair is needed that isn’t
- failing to state important facts about the goods or services
- promising that an item can be returned or a refund obtained when it can’t be
An unconscionable representation happens when a business takes advantage of a consumer because of the consumer’s weaker position. For example, if a seller knows that a buyer cannot read English, and has them sign an English language contract that says something different from what was promised, this would be an unconscionable representation.
Other examples include:
- if the seller knows that the goods or services will not be of any use to the consumer
- the seller knows that the consumer will not be able to pay
- the seller uses undue pressure to get the consumer to sign an agreement or to purchase goods
- the seller takes advantage of a consumer’s disability, illiteracy or ignorance to make the sale
Federal Competition Act
Under the federal Competition Act, it is against the law to make any false or misleading representation to the public for the purpose of promoting a business interest, particularly if it is done deliberately or recklessly. This Act applies to advertising cases in both civil and criminal courts. If it’s not deliberate or reckless, the federal government may simply tell the business to “cease and desist,” pay a fine of up-to $750,000 for individuals and up-to $10,000,000 for corporations (for a first offence), and publish information notices to the public telling of its errors.
If it is determined the misleading advertising was “criminal”, the penalties include fines of up-to $200,000 or imprisonment for up-to one year (on summary conviction), or both; or fines and imprisonment for up-to 14 years (on indictment) or both.
If a consumer believes that an individual or company has contravened the Competition Act, they can make a complaint to the Competition Bureau, the independent law enforcement agency that administers the Act and investigates complaints. It is important to note that the Competition Bureau cannot help you settle any dispute you may have with the party you are complaining about, and they cannot help you obtain reimbursement. For more information on making a complaint with the Competition Bureau, visit competitionbureau.gc.ca.
Rights and remedies under provincial law
If you have been the victim of an unfair business practice, you have several options.
1. Cancel the contract: The Consumer Protection Act gives you the right to cancel your contract within one year of signing it, and to receive back any money you paid. Initially, you may try speaking with your salesperson and cancelling the contract verbally. If this doesn’t work, it is best to write a letter confirming that you have cancelled the contract. State the reasons why you cancelled it and give the company a date by which you expect to receive payment. It is advisable to keep a copy of the letter in case the business does not refund your money and you need to take further action.
2. If you do not get a satisfactory response to your letter, or no response at all, you can then file a complaint against the business with the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services. You cannot make a formal complaint by phone or e-mail, you must complete a Ministry complaint form available online at ontario.ca. The Ministry will help you try and get your money back.
3. Another option is to sue the business in Small Claims Court. In Ontario, the Small Claims Court can hear cases for amounts up-to and including $35,000. Even if more than one year has passed, you may still be entitled to go to court and sue the business for your money on the basis that they took money from you under an invalid or improper contract.
4. You can also make a complaint with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) by completing their form online at bbb.org. The BBB does not get involved with:
- cases already in the courts
- complaints being dealt with by another agency
- situations regarding employment
- debt collection
Making a complain against a bank or financial institution
If you are unhappy and wish to make a complaint against a bank or financial institution, to make a consumer complaint of any kind, visit, contact the bank or institution that you wish to make the complaint against. If you are not satisfied with their response, there are two options consumers have to escalate the complaint. You can contact:
- The Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments (OBSI) – a national, not-for-profit and independent organization); and
- ADR Chambers Banking Ombuds Office – a for-profit business
More information on business practices and your rights as a consumer can be found from the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services. For information on making a consumer complaint, visit Consumer Protection Ontario.
For legal assistance, contact a lawyer.
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