Bottom line: The consumer protection regulator in Quebec, the "Office de la protection du consommateur" (the "Office") is proposing modifications to the province's consumer protection laws. Interested parties have until Friday, December 20, 2013 to submit comments or to request an extension to do so. The proposed amendments could move Quebec's regime even further from what currently exists in other Canadian provinces, and afford even greater protections to Quebec consumers.
The following is a brief overview of the proposed changes, which may find their way into the next bill to amend the Consumer Protection Act (the "Act"). The complete document is available at http://www.opc.gouv.qc.ca/fileadmin/media/documents/a-propos/ConsultationPhase4.pdf [in French only].
Additional Privileges Granted to Members of Loyalty Programs
The Office plans to prohibit unilateral amendments to loyalty program terms, treating them more akin to gift cards. This would mean, for example, that merchants could not amend the value of reward points earned. This may also mean that points could not expire.
Arbitration: Who, When and How?
While automatic deferral to arbitration is prohibited in a consumer agreement, when an issue arises, a consumer may consent to arbitration. The Office plans to include minimal standards such as consent to an arbitration agreement, choice and characteristics of the arbitrator, language of procedures, costs, delays, representation of parties and decision.
No More Renewals!
The Office recommends putting an end to automatic renewal clauses without the consumer's written consent, or regulating automatic renewals – for instance, by requiring merchants to send a written notice informing consumers that their contract is about to be renewed. These clauses are often found in long-term leases.
The Office also contemplates requiring merchants to inform consumers about the merchant's return policies, before or during the conclusion of the consumer contract. In addition, subject to certain penalties, deposits on merchandise given by consumers may be refundable if the consumer has a change of heart.
Warranties: Tell Me Everything!
The Office is considering the possibility of establishing a minimal period of time during which the legal, or statutory, warranty will be applicable, and/or forcing the manufacturer to indicate its minimal duration on each product. Legal warranties under the Act could also be applicable to software licensing agreements.
The auto industry (including motorcycles) seems to be at the centre of a considerable number of the Office's proposals. In particular, the Office recommends incorporating "no lemon" provisions in the Act, which would permit consumers to annul a sale and receive a new vehicle or complete refund of amounts paid if a vehicle has many defects within a certain time period.
As for the electronics industry, the Office is considering regulating the practice of locking telephone devices or the conditions to unlock them. Furthermore, the Office is considering prohibiting products to be sold as bundles if and when products are not sold individually. This would have an impact on the sale of computers which often come with embedded operating systems.
The Price is the Law
The Office is considering even further regulating the merchants' offer regarding pricing. In particular, merchants would be obligated to respect the price they announced for a certain period of time, thus preventing price modifications shortly after advertising. We presume that this will mean that merchants will be required to clearly disclose the offer dates for any sales. Furthermore, the Office might exercise tighter control with regard to sales and force merchants to sell more than 50% of their goods at the regular price, or try to do so in good faith for at least 50% of the time before announcing the sale referring to the regular price which sounds suspiciously like the Competition Act.
Moreover, to clarify the existing all-inclusive price advertising provisions, the Office wishes to specify that the mere act of omitting to indicate all the amounts included in the advertised price is sufficient to be considered an infringement.
The Office also plans on imposing uniform measurement units for price display, thus enabling valid comparison of prices.
Silence at Fault
The Office plans to establish a presumption whereby a merchant (manufacturer and advertiser alike) is presumed to have made false and misleading representations, unless it demonstrates the truth of its advertisement's content.
Your Opinion Matters so Send in your Comments!
Once the Office reviews the comments gathered through public consultation, it will propose measures to Quebec's Minister of Justice for implementation. The proposed measures will then become part of a policy document, which the Office will submit, once again, to Quebec citizens and groups for further comments. We anticipate that this process will lead to a new bill, and are watching developments closely to keep you informed.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.