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Ontario Superior Court decides in Bell's favour
February 12, 2015
By Celia Sankar
I am stunned and disappointed by the blow to consumers which the Ontario Superior Court delivered when it dismissed our class action lawsuit against Bell Mobility, today.
Justice Edward Belobaba determined that Bell was justified in seizing the funds in our prepaid wireless, pay-per-use accounts at dates and times that were earlier than the expiry dates the company communicated directly to us via text messages and via our accounts.
(Click here to read the full judgement.)
Obviously, I do not agree with this decision. I believe our lawyers put forward solid and cogent arguments that our funds should not have been seized because these sums qualified for protection under Ontario's gift card regulation, and that Bell breached its own contracts by seizing these funds earlier than it was entitled to.
I'd like to publicly thank our lawyers for all their hard work, particularly lead class counsel Louis Sokolov, who has been championing our cause since early 2012. I'd also like to thank the Class Proceedings Fund, which has been quite important to our case as they have provided the financial backing which has made this fight for our rights as consumers possible.
As the class representative, I am also extremely grateful for the feedback and encouragement I have received along the way from class members and other consumers who have followed the website http://BellGiveOurMoneyBack.com.
With the assistance of our lawyers, I will be studying today's decision carefully to determine what should be our next steps.
Despite Bell Mobility's Ontario customers having faced disappointment, today, prepaid wireless, pay-per-use consumers across Canada have a beacon of hope still on the horizon.
This is because the Prime Minister and Cabinet are due to issue a decision concerning banning expiry dates on prepaid wireless, pay-per-use account balances within the next few days.
As you would recall, the DiversityCanada Foundation (of which I am the executive director) and the National Pensioners Federation (an organization that represents over a million seniors) have submitted a petition on this matter to the Governor in Council (which is the Prime Minister and Cabinet in their capacity as advisers to the Governor General).
While the Ontario court had to look at only Bell's contracts with its customers and one piece of Ontario legislation, the Prime Minister and Cabinet have to decide on the prepaid wireless, pay-per-use services of all service providers across Canada. Furthermore, we have asked them to exercise the power to formulate federal policy.
There are a couple of reasons to hope that the Prime Minister and Cabinet will stand with us, consumers.
First, the Federal Government has made protecting consumers against the wireless services providers a pillar of its campaign to “put consumers first”. Some 3.7 million Canadians, a large number of seniors among them, are prepaid wireless customers. Banning expiry dates on prepaid wireless, pay-per-use account balances is entirely in harmony with the Federal Government's campaign to improve wireless services and reduce rates.
On the other hand, giving wealthy and powerful (and much reviled) companies the green light to continue to seize consumers' funds in a manner that consumers have complained to them is unfair, would go totally against the grain of the Federal Government's campaign to put consumers first.
Second, it was only last year that the Federal Government looked at the issue of expiry dates on funds in consumer accounts and stood with consumers.
As of May 1, 2014, the Federal Government brought a new law into effect that prohibits banks from placing expiry dates on the funds of consumers who acquire so-called prepaid credit cards. Prepaid wireless, pay-per-use accounts function in the same way, as wireless services providers tell consumers in plain words printed on top-up cards and on company websites that consumers can “deposit funds” into or “add funds” to their accounts and use those funds to purchase goods and services.
It would be entirely consistent policy-making for the Federal Government to prohibit wireless companies from doing what they have already banned banks from doing.
The Prime Minister and Cabinet's decision is due by March 04.
We don't have to just sit by and wait for it. If enough of us raise our voices and urgently tell our Members of Parliament that consumers expect the Federal Government to stand with us in this specific decision, then the will of consumers cannot be ignored.
Please send a targeted message to your MP by filling out the form at http://BanExpiry.com . Please send this link to all your family and friends and ask them to support us in this call.
I would like to add one final point. Despite today's disappointing result, I still believe that when we, as consumers, feel we have been wronged by powerful corporations, our best response is neither to withdraw and fume in silence, nor to lash out in anger at society, but to seek redress through the structures and systems that have been established to offer the hope to all citizens that justice is accessible to all.
In my view, it is this hope that is the foundation of any civilized society: it is the belief that all are equal before the law – that every individual and entity is subject to and protected by the law to the same extent – which ensures that a society does not slip into either apathy or anarchy.
So, I will keep the faith, and trust that you will, too.