Carol In Your Corner: An Ounce of Prevention…

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PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN CURE, that’s what Desiderius Erasmus, the Dutch Renaissance humanist said in 1523, and he’s still right. However, there are times when in spite of following all the rules, you feel you have been misled, or the product hasn’t lived up to expectations.

Every province has a Ministry of Consumer Affairs, with advice about how to register a complaint. Your chief interest, of course, is to resolve the problem.   Some companies have a toll free number for complaints. If you do find that number, keep track of the conversation, time and date of your call, and the name of the person who handled your call. If that approach is unsuccessful, write to the company, outlining the problem in detail, starting with the person you initially dealt with, then – if necessary – someone who handles complaints or the manager. Some government websites also include tips on how to write a letter that will help solve the problem. Here’s one example from the B.C. Ministry: how to write an effective complaint letter.

It can take a lot of perseverance, but even if the problem isn’t taken care of immediately, you should be treated courteously, and it should at least be addressed in a reasonable time. If you still are not satisfied, a complaint to your provincial government could be your next step. While the process varies slightly from province to province, if you type consumer affairs, then the name of the province into your browser, you will be directed to the right department. For example, in Alberta, you must visit the Service Alberta website; In Nova Scotia you’ll find it via the Access Nova Scotia website. In Ontario, you’ll find help via this website (the Consumer Protection Ontario website).    If all else fails, media attention might be the next step. Some newspapers and television and radio stations have columnists or broadcasters who cover that beat, or who will, at least give it some attention if the case is strong. Ellen Rose man, at the Toronto Star, has been particularly successful in getting results on consumer issues, and also dispenses advice regarding personal finance. You can contact her at [email protected]

Another experienced consumer advocate is Dale Goldhawk, whose Goldhawk Fights Back is heard regularly on Toronto Radio 740, part of Zoomed Radio. You can reach him at [email protected]

CBC’s The National Go Public has also been getting results. Their focus is public issues, including those affecting consumers. You can reach them at [email protected] or by filling in the submission form on their website:

If you signed up for the Do Not Call List, and suddenly have been receiving rob calls from a cruise line, offering a free trip if you answer a survey, the CRTC has put a stop to that. The Canadian regulator, together with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, found that Caribbean Cruise Line committed telemarketing violations in both countries. While political and survey rob calls are permitted, commercial calls to any of the 12.7 million Canadian on the Do Not Call List are not. Along with the agreement to stop the calls, the settlement calls for a $200,000. fine.

On the subject of travel, what can you do if your dream vacation turns into a nightmare? Three provinces, Quebec, Ontario and B.C. have organizations which can go to bat for you and will mediate between you and travel agents registered with their organizations.

In Quebec, it is part of the Office de la protection du consommateur and has tips on the ins and outs of booking the exact vacation you want, cancellation policies, and what to do if the trip does not live up to the contract. For that there is a special fund for customers of travel agencies that are registered with their office. The site outlines how to complain, and some insight into what kinds of cases they handle.

In Ontario, you would apply to TICO, the Travel Industry Council of Ontario.

This is a self-managed, not-for-profit corporation, which manages the Ontario Travel Industry Act of 2002, for the Ontario government. There are some 2,500 travel retailers and wholesalers registered in Ontario, covered by that legislation. TICO also administers a Travel Compensation Fund. The TICO website is extensive, including a handy checklist regarding how to research differences in what carriers will allow onboard, checked baggage, protecting your security, Visa requirements, and even a list of items travellers most often forget to pack.

In British Columbia, travellers can apply to the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Authority, This covers a variety of businesses, but also information for travellers and a compensation fund as well, similar to that offered by Quebec and Ontario.

Other Canadian provinces do have legislation for consumer protection, as I mentioned earlier in this item, but not specifically for travellers.

If your problem is with a bank, an insurance company or even the Canada Revenue Agency, and have exhausted all avenues for recourse, there are Ombudsman Offices in a variety of businesses. You can find a list of them all at

The best thing, of course, would never to be in the position of needing any of the information outlined, but just in case…’s better to be prepared.