New Law to Protect Consumers in Ontario
As of Jan 1, 2011, the new Energy Consumer Protection Act (ECPA) became law which provides more protection to consumers when dealing with companies that offer retail energy contracts to residential and small business electricity and natural gas consumers in Ontario.
ECPA strengthens the power of Ontario Energy Board (the Board) and gives consumers more rights.
An Overview of ECPA
ECPA applies to all retail energy contracts signed after Jan 1, 2011. The ECPA introduces many Board approved new standards that apply to companies as well as their sales representatives. Such standard includes:
Standard training for sales representatives,
Standard language in the terms of contract,
Standard information in the salespersons’ ID batches, their business cards, and
Standard scripts by salespersons to sell contract
If a company does not follow standards, it can be sanctioned by the Board.
ECPA also sets out “unfair practices”, which purpose is to allow vulnerable clients to get out of the contract they have signed under certain circumstances. Unfair practices are business practices that are “unconscionable”. Examples of unfair practices are:
Failure to recognize the consumer’s mental or physical disability, illiteracy, consumer’s inability to understand the contract particularly because of language barrier
The use of undue pressure by the company
Where there are “unfair practices”, the contract will become invalid.
Also, companies cannot make deceptive or misleading terms of the contract.
Further, all marketers have a Code of Conduct that they have to be abide by. For instance, the Code requires all salespersons:
To carry an ID with contact information,
Show which utility they are affiliated with,
State the company is not associated with the government.
Failure to do so would give consumers the right to back out of contract.
If requested by the customer, companies must provide a copy of all the documents and all promotional materials discussed. The company must provide a copy of the written contract, if it is signed.
ECPA spells out very detailed and specific requirements for contract.
The contract must also be accompanied by a Disclosure Statement prepared by the Board. The Disclosure Statement tells consumers how to get out of contract if they change their mind. If a contract does not include this statement, it is no good.
The contract must also include a Price Comparison Form which compares prices from different companies.
The Contract (plus the Price Comparison Form and Disclosure Statement) must all have to be signed and initialled by the consumer or else the contract is not valid.
Verification of Contract
Once a contract is signed, to be binding on both parties, there has to be a next step: verification.
Verification is a telephone call from the company to ask the client to confirm the client still wants to stay in. It is mandatory.
The company cannot verify contract earlier than 10 days, and later than 45 days after the contract is signed.
The verification phone call must be recorded and a record of it must be provided to client if requested, within 10 days.
If a client decides during the verification that they don’t want to enter the contract, then the refusal to verify the contact will end the contract, without any cancellation fee.
It is a good idea to put your request for recording in writing and keep a copy of it. If verification itself shows a client does not understand the contract (e.g. because of language barrier), then the client can back out of the contract without any cancellation fee.
There is a 10 day built in cooling off period, no question asked, if a client wants out after signing the contract. It is preferably for a client to do it in writing. You should keep a copy of your request.
In Electricity cases only, clients have up to 30 days to back out of the contract.
But if at any point, one of the following applies, you can back out, with no time limit:
If the contract does not meet the requirements of the Act
The company fails to provide a copy of the recording of verification within 10 days
Should any of one of these apply and you want out, do it in writing and keep a copy.
If a client has no ground to cancel the contract, a client can still walk away from contract, but may face cancellation fee. The law specifies what the cancellation fees are. In electricity contract, a company can only charge $50 for each year for the remainder of contract. For gas it is $100 per year.
Enforcement of Consumer Rights
Four things clients could do to enforce their rights:
First, just refuse to deal with the company when they come to the door.
Second, there are various ways to cancel contract.
Third, sue the company in small claims court. The Ontario Energy Board does not push the company to pay the difference in price between the original service provider and the new provider. If a client wants to collect the difference, he or she has to go to court.
Finally, file a complaint with the Ontario Energy Board.
The Board can investigate the complaint and can encourage the company to release the person from contract without any fee. The Board can also levy administrative penalty against the company for engaging in unfair practices.
Companies who want to continue in the business will have to comply with the law.
To find out if the company you deal with is registered, and to find out more about this new law, go to the Ontario Energy Board website at: http://www.ontarioenergyboard.ca
Important Changes to Sponsorship of Parents
As of November 5, 2011, Canada Immigration will stop accepting any new sponsorship applications for parents and grandparents for a period of up to 24 months so that Canada Immigration will have a chance to reduce the current backlog of approximately 165,000 sponsorship applications. Many parents and grandparents in this backlog have been waiting over 7 years for their sponsorship application to be processed.
As of December 1, 2011, a new “parent and grandparent super visa” will come into effect whereby those with children and grandchildren in Canada can apply for this super visa which is a multiple entry visa valid for up to 10 years. This visa will be issued within 8 weeks of application. Applicants have to show that they have obtained private Canadian health care insurance for the duration of their stay in Canada. Applications are made through Canadian visa offices abroad.
Canada Immigration will also increase the number of sponsored parents and grandparents that will be admitted into Canada in the next year from 15,500 in 2010 to 25,000 in 2012.
Bill C-11: The Balanced Refugee Reform Act
Bill C-11, also known as the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, is a new law that was passed on June 29, 2010. This Bill changes the way refugee claims will be processed and decided and also affects humanitarian and compassionate (H&C) applications.
Most of the changes contained in the Bill will not take effect until the end of 2011 or June 2012 at the latest but the changes affecting H&C applications are already in effect.
CHANGES TO HUMANITARIAN AND COMPASSIONATE APPLICATIONS
Officers who are deciding H&C applications made after June 29, 2010 will not consider risk factors relating to the applicant’s refugee claim but must consider elements related to the hardships that affect the applicant. How this will actually be done is not clear yet considering that H&C applications often include evidence that shows the applicant is a person in need of protection or meets the definition of refugee. Whether this evidence will be excluded or considered as evidence of hardship is not known yet.
In addition, a person cannot have two H&C applications occurring at the same time and an H&C application is complete only when the appropriate processing fee has been paid. Failed refugee claimants whose final decisions on their refugee claim were rendered within the last 12 months cannot request Temporary Resident Permits for 12 months from the date that their claim was rejected (or deemed to be abandoned or withdrawn). However, requests for Permits made before June 29, 2010 will be assessed under the previous legislation.
CHANGES TO THE REFUGEE DETERMINATION SYSTEM
These changes have not yet been implemented. The Bill says that the changes must take effect no later than June 29, 2012. The refugee determination system after the implementation of Bill C-11 will be very different than the system that is in place now and the processing of a refugee claim will be much faster than before if the time limits set out in the Bill are followed.
1. The New Process
The process for making a refugee claim will consist of the following steps:
1. When a claimant indicates to immigration officials at a port-of-entry or at a Canada Immigration Centre that he/she wishes to make a refugee claim, Canada Immigration will make an eligibility determination and refer the claim if eligible to the Refugee Protection Division (RPD) of the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) within 3 working days
2. RPD will schedule an interview for the claimant with an IRB officer no earlier than 15 days from the date of this referral
3. RPD will schedule a hearing not later than 60 days after the interview for claimants from a designated country of origin and not later than 90 days after the interview for any other claimant
4. Attend a Refugee Protection Division (RPD) hearing
5. If RPD decision is negative, may file an appeal to the Refugee Appeal Division (RAD) of the IRB no later than 15 working days after the day the claimant or the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration receives the written reasons for the RPD
6. RAD must issue a decision no later than 30 days after the day on which the appeal is perfected if the RPD stated the claim was manifestly unfounded or theclaimant is from a designated country of origin. RAD must make a decision for any other claim no later than 120 days after the appeal if perfected. These time limits apply only if RAD has decided not to schedule a hearing for the appeal.
7. If RAD decision is negative, may appeal to Federal Court of Canada for judicial review.
2. Significant Changes to the New System
a) The Interview –
The purpose of the interview is to gather details about the bof the refugee claim and to provide the claimant with information about the IRB processes. This interview replaces the Personal Information Form which claimants had to complete to detail the reasons for their claim. At the interview, the claimant should bring all documents pertaining to the claim and be prepared to explain to theinterviewing officer why they are making a refugee claim. The RPD will provide an interpreter free of charge for the interview. The claimant has a right to be represenby legal counsel but the interview will not be adjourned if there is no legal counsel present. Legal aid may not be available for this interview but a duty counsel lawyer may be available at the IRB to assist during the interview. The interview recorded. After the interview is over, a statement of what was said during the interview will be printed out and the contents reviewed with the claimant. The claimant will then be asked to sign the statement if there are no changes. Thestatement will be used as evidence during the RPD hearin
b) Refugee Appeal Division –
This is a new division of the IRB created by Bill C-1to decide appeals from the RPD. Evidence submitted with these appeals must be new evidence and evidence that was not available at the initial hearing. The claimant can appeal a negative decision and the Minister can appeal a positive decision.
c) Designated Country of Origin –
Claimants who come from a designated couwill face significantly shorter timelines for their hearing and appeal. Designated countries of origin includes countries that do not normally produce refugees, have a robust human rights record, offer strong state protection and have democratic, judicial and accountable systems that are likely to provide the necessary protections to citizens.
CHANGES TO THE PRE-REMOVAL RISK ASSESSMENT (PRRA)
Under the former refugee determination system, an unsuccessful refugee claimant was allowed a Pre-removal Risk Assessment (PRRA) prior to being removed from Canada. Claimants were given the opportunity to complete a PRRA application wherein any information pertaining to risk of persecution, torture or risk of being subjected to cruel and unusual punishment the claimant would face in their home country should be included. Officers deciding PRRAs were immigration officers.
Bill C-11 transfers the decision making authority for PRRA to the Refugee Protections Division of the IRB. This transfer will take place one year after the implementation of the other provisions of the Bill. Under the new PRRA provisions, Claimants removed within 12 monthfollowing the rejection, withdrawal or abandonment of the claim will not be given a PRRA. However, the Minister may grant exceptions to nationals of specific countries. As was the case before, the decision maker will consider new evidence or evidence that was not presented with the claimant’s refugee claim when doing the PRRA.
Claimants will not be eligible for a PRRA if they are:
- Subject to extradition (extradition is a formal request that Canada return you to another country because you are a suspected or convicted criminal),
- A repeat refugee claimant or PRRA applicant, where less than six months have passed since you left Canada after your removal order came into force,
- Ineligible for a hearing at the Immigration and Refugee Board because you came to Canada from a safe third country
- Already recognized as a protected person, or
- Recognized as a Convention refugee by a country in which you can return
If the PRRA officer accepts a claimant’s PRRA, he or she may receive the status of “protected persons.” This allows the claimant to stay in Canada and apply for permanent resident status.
If the PRRA officer rejects your application, you will receive written notice and your removal order comes into effect again and you are legally removable from Canada. You may apply to the Federal Court of Canada for a review of the PRRA officer’s decision.
JUSTICE FOR CHILDREN AND YOUTH
Justice for Children and Youth provides select legal representation to low-income children and youth in Toronto and vicinity. They are a non-profit legal aid clinic that specializes in protecting the rights of youth facing conflicts with the legal system, education, social service or mental health systems. They give summary legal advice, information and assistance to young people, parents (in education matters), professionals and community groups across Ontario.
They have lawyers that represent and advocate for youth under 18 with issues involving welfare, education, the children’s aid, getting off the street, family or the criminal law. They are located at 415 Yonge Street, Suite 1203 (north of Gerrard Street). Their phone number is 416-920-1633. Their website address is www.jfcy.org.