Consumer protections 

Many clients contact our clinic after they experience problems with a product or service that they have purchased. The following article will discuss some of the most common problems we hear about and also provide advice about how you can protect yourself when you enter into an agreement to purchase a product or service.

Purchase of Vehicle 

When buying a new or used car, the law provides little protection for the purchaser. Purchasers should note that there is no cooling-off period when buying a car. To put it simply, once you have paid the money to the seller, whether a deposit or the full purchase price, it is usually not possible to get your money back if you later change your mind. 

When you buy a vehicle from a dealer, a dealer must give you the most accurate information available about a vehicle’s history and key features. If certain information is missing, you have 90 days to cancel the contract. If any of the information below is not accurate, you can cancel within 90 days of signing the contract: 

  • Odometer reading (or a statement of distance travelled)
  • Make, model and year
  • Whether the vehicle has been “branded” by the Ministry of Transportation as salvage, rebuilt or irreparableWhether the manufacturer has cancelled the warranty on the vehicle
  • Accurate details of past use (e.g., if the vehicle was used as a taxi, limousine, rental car, police or emergency vehicle).

In addition, if you discover a problem with the car, it is unlikely that the contract can be cancelled or compensation be provided if that particular problem or issue is not mentioned in a written agreement of sale.

Some of the ways you can protect yourself when buying a used car from a private individual include: 

  • Take the car to an independent mechanic for safety inspections before agreeing to buy the car
  • Get a Used Vehicle Information Package which has a report of the vehicle’s history to ensure the vehicle is not actually reported stolen.
  • Ask the seller for multiple pieces of identity and request to verify the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN).
  • Ensure that important elements of the agreement are listed in a written agreement with the seller, for example, whether the car has been in an accident.

Door-to-Door Salespersons and Contracts

Door-to-door salespersons commonly sell water heaters, air conditioner, or services such as snow removal, lawn care, or driveway repairs.

Often a contract is given immediately to the homeowner to sign after a short and high-pressure sales pitch without much time for the homeowner to review the terms. Not surprisingly, most consumers complain about the misleading nature of some door-to-door sale contracts. It is therefore especially important in such scenarios for a consumer to know his/her rights and review the contract thoroughly. It is also important to keep in mind that local municipalities (such as the City of Toronto, the City of Markham, etc.), regulatory agencies (such as the Ontario Energy Board), and local utilities (such as Enbridge) do not send salespersons door-to-door. 

To avoid getting entangled in misleading contracts, the consumer should consider the following: 

  • Ask for the salesperson’s identification and the name of the business the salesperson is representing.
  • Do not be tempted by the free offers or the representation that his/her neighbor has just purchased the same good/service.
  • Never give out electricity or heating bills which contain personal information unless you intend to sign a contract.
  • At any time when a consumer feels pressured or intimidated, it is within his/her right to ask the salesperson to leave their home and call the police if the salesperson refuses to leave.

General Tips When Agreeing to Buy Products or Services

The buyer should not rely on oral statements made by the seller (such as the promise of a refund if the service provided is unsuccessful or that the product or service is to be provided for “free”) since such oral statements are usually not enforceable.  All terms should be made in writing, including the length of the contract or agreement, whether and how either party can cancel the agreement, the amount of the fees, any installation costs, repair costs, and any other extra service charges.

The buyer should be suspicious if he or she is presented with a pre-printed contract, and the seller is not willing to write the oral statements into the contract.  If the seller honestly intends to fulfill the terms of the contract, he or she should be willing to revise the contract to include the conditions made orally to the buyer. The buyer should keep a copy of the agreement.

The buyer should ensure that he or she clearly understands any agreement before signing it.  Once signed, the contract is usually considered to be binding and the buyer will be responsible for making the payments as stated in the agreement.  The fact that the buyer is not fluent in English will not, by itself, result in the cancellation of the agreement.

The buyer should not enter into any agreement if the seller engages in high pressure or threats of any kind.

Buyers have the right to negotiate for more favorable terms on the contract. Buyers do not have to outright accept the contract of sale.

Cancelling a Contract

Ontario’s Consumer Protection Act provides the consumer with certain rights. Under the Consumer Protection Act, consumers may cancel the contract and receive a full refund in the following situations:

For products or services purchased from a door-to-door salesperson, the cooling period is:

  1. 10 days after receiving a written copy of the contract. In other words, within 10 days of receiving a written copy of the contract, a consumer may cancel the agreement for any reason by providing notice in writing to the seller. Note however, cooling period for water heaters is 20 days. 

  2. If the seller provided false information about themselves (such as fake certifications) or the product or service they are providing (such as recommending unnecessary repairs or replacements), a consumer has the right to cancel the contract and receive full refund within a year. 

  3.  If the products or services are not provided within 30 days of the promised delivery date, the consumer can ask for a refund. Note however, if the consumer accepts the delivery after the 30 day period, then he or she will lose the right to ask for a refund. 

Making a Complaint 

You can file a complaint with the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services if your rights were violated under the Consumer Protection Act

1. The consumer should review his/her rights under applicable consumer protection laws. A list of consumer protection acts and organizations that protect consumer rights can be found on the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services website. Consumers can also directly call the Ministry at 1-800-889-9768 or 416-326-8800.

2. A complaint letter should first be addressed to the business. Be sure to send the letter by registered mail, email or fax so there is a record of communication.

The complaint letter should: 

  1. Be legible, either typed or handwritten.
  2. Explain objectively what happened.
  3. State how the consumer wishes to solve the problem.
  4. Specify the date by which the consumer expects a response from the business.
  5. Include copies of receipts, invoices, contracts, or other relevant documents.
  6. Includes the consumer’s signature and date of delivery. 

A sample letter can be found at this website:  http://www.ontario.ca/consumers/filing-consumer-complaint

3. If the letter sent to the business does not resolve the issue, the consumer can file a complaint online or by mail with the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services.  The form can be found at this website:  http://www.ontario.ca/consumers/filing-consumer-complaint 

The letter should be sent to:

Ministry of Government and Consumer Services
Consumer Protection Branch   Box 450
1201 Wilson Ave Building A
North York ON  M3M 1J8
Email: consumer@ontario.ca           
Fax: 416-326-8665

Changes to Citizenship Act effective June 11, 2015

Below is a summary of recent changes to the Citizenship Act: 

Before

After

Residence for three out of four years (1,095 days);

Residence for four years (1,460 days) out of six years;

No requirement that resident be physically present;

183 days minimum of physical presence per year in four out of six years;

Time as a non-permanent resident (non-PR) may be counted toward residence for citizenship;

Eliminates use of time spent in Canada as a non-permanent resident (non-PR);

No "intent to reside" provision

Introduces the  “intent to reside” provision

Adult applicants aged 18–54 must meet language requirements and pass knowledge test;

Requires applicants aged 14–64 to meet language requirements and pass knowledge test;

Applicants can meet knowledge requirement with assistance of an interpreter

Applicants must meet knowledge requirement in English or French

Most “Lost Canadians” had their citizenship restored in 2009, but some  were not covered by that  change and are not eligible for citizenship

Extends citizenship to “Lost Canadians” born before 1947 as well as their 1st generation children born abroad

Bars getting citizenship for people with domestic criminal charges and convictions

Expands bar on getting citizenship to people with foreign criminal charges and convictions

Consultants not required to be registered or regulated in order to represent individuals in citizenship manner;

 

Defines who is an authorized representative and provides authority to develop regulations to designate a regulatory body whose members would be authorized to act as consultants in citizenship matters;

Few tools to deter fraud and ensure program integrity;

 

Fines and penalties for fraud are a maximum of $1,000 and/or one year in prison

Authority to deny applicant for reasons such as fraud; fines and penalties for fraud are a maximum $100,000 and/or five years in prison

Governor in Council (GIC) final decision maker for citizenship revocation

Gives Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) Minister authority to decide on routine revocation cases

 

Complex revocation cases such as war crimes, crimes against humanity, security, other  human or international rights violations, and organized criminality decided by the Federal Court

GIC final decision maker on discretionary grants of citizenship

Gives CIC Minister the authority to decide on discretionary grants of citizenship

Limited authority to define what constitutes a complete application

Establishes authority to define what constitutes a complete application and what evidence applicants must provide   

Citizenship grant is a three-step decision-making process

Changes citizenship grant to a single-step process that reduces duplication and improves processing times.

 

No requirement to file Canadian income taxes to be eligible for a grant of citizenship

 Requires adult applicants to file Canadian income taxes, as  required under the Income Tax Act, to be eligible for citizenship
 No authority to revoke citizenship for acts against Canada’s national interest

Establishes the authority to revoke Canadian citizenship from dual citizens and deny it to PRs who were members of an armed force or an organized armed group engaged in armed conflict with Canada

Authority to revoke Canadian citizenship and deny  PRs who are convicted of terrorism, high treason, treason, or spying offences, depending on the sentence received

 No fast-track mechanism for citizenship for members of the military to honour their service to the Canadian Armed Forces and address deployment challenges  Creates a fast-track mechanism for citizenship for PRs serving with—and individuals on exchange with— the Canadian Armed Forces to honour their service to Canada

 Exploring “Intent to Reside” Provision in the New Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act

Background

Canada’s new citizenship laws came into effect on June 11, 2015. Canada’s Citizenship Act was amended on June 11, 2015 by Bill C-24 or the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act.

The bill is aimed at reducing the processing time for citizenship application and cracking down on citizenship fraud and misrepresentation.

To accomplish these objectives, the Act brought many sweeping changes to the nature of Canadian citizenship and the process of obtaining Canadian citizenship. For example, the residency requirement for citizenship has been lengthened and a statement of intent to reside in Canada clause is now required as a new condition for citizenship.  The Act also increased the penalty for persons who advise and counsel fraud and misrepresentation in the application process.

The Intent to Reside Provision

According to the new changes, all residents of Canada who wish to become citizens must now declare in his/her citizenship application “an intent to continue to reside” in Canada.

Applicants must continue to hold this intention to reside in Canada from the time they sign their application until the time they take the oath of citizenship. So far, it is unclear what factors Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) will look at to determine whether an applicant does not intend to reside in Canada. However, once citizenship is granted, CIC has indicated on their website that the new citizen has the right to enter, remain in, and leave Canada as they please.

The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Chris Alexander, also previously stated in Senate hearings that the “intent to reside” provision is only a condition for obtaining Canadian citizenship. He went further in confirming that there is “no requirement for a citizen of Canada to remain physically in Canada once granted citizenship.”

Criticisms of the Provision

Despite this, a number of individuals and groups have express concerns about the “intent to reside”

provision. For example, a prominent law professor has argued that the provision allows immigration officers to speculate about the future intentions (and actions) of applicants. As a result, applicants’ grant of citizenship could be denied on the basis of mere speculations. She also argued that because the provision only applies to naturalized citizens and not citizens born in Canada, therefore creating a group of second-class citizens. Finally, the Canadian Bar Association (CBA) raised the concern that an officer may declare that a naturalized citizen misrepresented his/her initial intention to reside and possibly revoke his/her citizenship.

Looking for Applicants to Challenge Citizenship Language and Knowledge Requirements

Last year, the government expanded the number of people who have to pass language and knowledge tests as a requirement for citizenship. In the past, only adult applicants aged 18–54 had to meet language requirement and pass the knowledge test. Now however, the language and knowledge requirement of citizenship has changed to include all applicants aged 14-64. 

Our Clinic is considering challenging the new Citizenship Act’s language and knowledge requirement. The clinic believes that this new requirement is unconscionable and unduly burdens many citizenship applicants. The clinic is reviewing submissions from potential candidates to launch this challenge. We are looking for people aged 55-64 who were refused or unable to acquire citizenship because of this new language and knowledge requirement.

Examples of potential candidates may include: women who have never worked outside of home or learn English because of their obligations, older immigrants who have difficulties acquiring a new language due to their age, low income immigrants who cannot take English lessons because they have to work long hours to make a living, or a combination of the above. 

Please contact us if you are interested in joining this challenge!