Taking Advantage of Consumers

Update: See prior post

See the story from the Toronto Star:

It was late December, 2009 when Ms. Madeline Leonard went to Mazda of Orangeville to replace the tires on her 2004 Mazda3. She had no intention of purchasing a vehicle.

Ms. Madeline Leonard, is 56 years old, who is intellectually disabled and draws a monthly disability pension (less than $2,000) and who lives in a small subsidized apartment; was convinced by salespeople at the Mazda Orangeville dealership, to trade in her 2004 Mazda3 towards the purchase their “used” demonstrator model, with about 6,000 kilometres already on the odometer.

Mazda of Orangeville sold Ms. Madeline Leonard a black 2010 Mazda6 sedan at the incredible price of almost $66,000, after taxes and the value of her trade-in vehicle.

Mazda Canada lists the base price of this new Mazda6 sedan at $39,969 on its national website, but the dealership allegedly posted a sticker of $45,846 on the car.

Ms. Madeline Leonard described the salesman at the dealership as “slick” and the process mesmerized her. But after signing a contract and driving the vehicle away, she checked prices at other Mazda outlets.

“The differences were shocking,” she said. “I felt very disappointed how I was treated.”

In response to Ms. Leonard’s investigation and her findings, she complained.

The Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council, which regulates new and used car dealers, took action after she complained. Its investigation found she should have paid about $41,000 for the vehicle — which wasn’t even new.

“In my eight years here, I haven’t seen a case like this,” said Carey Smith, the regulator’s director of investigations. “The deal was way over the top regarding pricing.”

Smith said the salesmen also billed Leonard, who is intellectually disabled, about $4,500 for a “protection package” that included fabric guarding, rust and sound proofing and window etching. Other dealers charge about a third of that for the same items, he said.

Mazda Orangeville, that’s no way to treat a lady!

Smith has charged Mazda of Orangeville and two senior employees with breaching Ontario legislation that protects consumers. The dealership could face a fine of up to $250,000 if found guilty.

The regulator charged the dealership; Trung, 38, of Vaughan; and sales manager Mohammed (Moe) Shaikh, 46, of Mississauga with “engaging in unfair practice by making an unconscionable representation,” contrary to the Provincial Consumer Protection Act.

Trung said the defendants will plead not guilty when they appear in court this month.

Under the act, the employees could receive fines up to $100,000 each and/or two years less a day in jail if found guilty. The defendants could also be liable for damages to Leonard.

The regulator could also revoke the registrations of the dealership and salespeople involved.

Mazda of Orangeville has also popped up on the radar screen of the Better Business Bureau (even though Mazda Orangeville is understandably not a member) and the BBB has given it a D+ rating on a scale from A+ to F, since January 2008.

Salespeople wishing to make a quick buck should never take advantage of the vulnerable or the disadvantaged. If they do, however, in Ontario, they should know that there is legislation that protects these individuals from predators.

Here is a list of basic Consumer Rights, which every consumer in Ontario should know.

It should be noted that the Auditor General of Ontario, Jim McCarter noted in his 2009 Annual Report that Ontario’s Ministry of Consumer Services isn’t doing enough to attract the confidence of consumers and found that most consumers in Ontario don’t make enough inquiries or complaints and will most likely go elsewhere to deal with consumer issues, versus the Ontario Ministry of Consumer Services. The Auditor General found that the Ministry had hired four (4) or fewer inspectors to investigate problems businesses brought to their attention and that the Ministry has one (1) inspector for every 100,000 businesses. He noted that in 2008/2009 that the Ministry had not made one (1) proactive visit to business types in the Top Ten (10) Complaint List.

If you want to access the Ministry of Consumer Services “Consumer Beware List” click onto this link. If you want to check out companies on the Better Business Bureau, click onto this link.

Update: May 14, 2010 – Mazda Canada has terminated a dealership in Orangeville for breaching the company’s business practices including an incident where the store sold a car to a woman for more than $25,000 above its real value. See story.

Update: How to Win Your Consumer Complaint
November 11, 2010 – Follow six (6) easy steps: 1. Be polite but persistent, 2. Ask to speak to a manager, 3. Propose a solution, 4. Be respectful, 5. Speak to retention, 6. Keep notes.

Update: January 5, 2011 – Sue Keefe is one of eight people who filed a complaint against National Benefit Authority to the Better Business Bureau in 2010. She agreed to give the company a 25 per cent share, plus HST, of her retroactive disability tax credits, not realizing it was a service H&R Block offers for just $27. This Agency charged woman $10,000 for tax claim she could have filed for free

Digital Textbooks in the Classrooms of Ontario


See the source, the Globe and Mail

It’ll be some years before Ontario follows California’s lead and starts phasing out school textbooks to replace them with digital media, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Wednesday.

Toronto School Trustee Michael Coteau wants the school board to start phasing out hard-copy textbooks in middle and secondary schools within five years to save publishing costs.

McGuinty said that will likely happen eventually, but he’s worried not enough families are equipped to make the switch to electronic textbooks or other digital media.

“I think that over time we are probably going to make a transition to more technology-based reading and learning for our students, but my fear is that at this point in time it may be a little premature,” he said.

“I’m not comfortable (that) all kids have access to that in their homes right now. Until we can be assured of that, I’d be very reluctant to move ahead.”

School boards can explore the idea to see if savings from not printing textbooks could be used to pay for netbooks or electronic book readers for students, added McGuinty.

“It’s up to the board to take a look at those kinds of things,” he said.

“I like the idea and I think it speaks to where we’re going to go in the future, but I’m just not sure our families are all there right now.”

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger introduced a program last year to have the cash-strapped state stop buying textbooks and instead give students free digital copies.

Schwarzenegger’s plan calls for the state to develop digital open source textbooks for high school math and science classes and make them available for free at public schools across California.

At least two U.S. schools, one in California and another in Minnesota, have already introduced iPads for students to replace textbooks in the classroom.

The belief is that the iPad offers features that will enhance the curriculum such as photos, access to newspapers and other resource material that a traditional textbook does not have.

American educators say the iPad is expected to save schools precious dollars because electronic textbooks cost only one-third as much as the printed version.

The iPads are also considerably lighter than the heavy textbooks many students carry around in their backpacks.

Update: December 28, 2010 – The Toronto District School Board is looking at moving to digital textbooks as early as 2011.

Trustee Michael Coteau’s motion to reduce costs spent on printed textbooks was recently approved, which could save the board up to $100 million in the next decade by going digital.

Digital textbooks could give more students better access to textbook and course material as well as more updated versions of the information.

The school board is looking to present a plan in January to increase access to digital course material in middle and secondary schools.

Update: December 28, 2010 – Canadians spend more time online than any other country

To Serve and Collect

See the story in the Toronto Star

The  release of the 2009 Public Sector Salary disclosures, shows the list of 1,329 Toronto police uniform and civilian employees, (380 constables) who last year earned more than $100,000 – a more than 30 per cent increase from the year before. The Public Sector Salary disclosure, only discloses monies paid from the public purse and does not include “paid duty” that goes directly into police officer’s pockets from private and sometimes public sources. See Paid Duty Request Form with all payment details and fee schedules. These “paid duty” opportunities are paid in cash and the police officers accepting the “paid duty” are not required to provide their temporary employers (those paying for the “paid duty”) with their social insurance numbers. Salaries and benefits for 5,588 uniform and 2,000 civilian employees represent 90% of the police operating budget, which is closing in on $900 million a year (soon to be a billion dollars a year).

The Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act, 1996 (the act) makes Ontario’s public sector more open and accountable to taxpayers. The act requires organizations that receive public funding from the Province of Ontario to disclose annually the names, positions, salaries and total taxable benefits of employees paid $100,000 or more in a calendar year.

The act applies to organizations such as the Government of Ontario, Crown Agencies, Municipalities, Hospitals, Boards of Public Health, School Boards, Universities, Colleges, Hydro One, Ontario Power Generation, and other public sector employers who receive a significant level of funding from the provincial government.

The main requirement for the organizations covered by the act is to make their disclosure or if applicable to make their statement of no employee salaries to disclose available to the public by March 31. Organizations covered by the act are also required to send their disclosure or statement to their funding ministry or ministries by the fifth business day of March.

The highest paid Toronto police officer in 2009, as would be expected, is Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair at $309,491.00. The highest paid police constable, is Michael B. Thompson, a breathalyzer technician at $168,928.00.  The Toronto Police $ervices Board said that of the 1,329 employees who earned more than $100,000.00 in 2009, the Board said 900 include staff, whose base pay was under the threshold.  The gap, however, between pay scales and the $100,000.00 threshold has narrowed, since the Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act, 1996 was passed in 1996. The current top rate, before any overtime or premiums for court for a plainclothes constable is $92,970.00, while sergeants peak out at $98,387.00. Toronto Police Services Board Chairman Alok Mukherjee said there have been discussions of raising the $100,000.00 benchmark to $130,000.00, to account for rising wages. Mr. Alok Mukherjee is satisfied that the service is managed well and there was little that concerned himself or other Board members (this excerpt came from the 24H Toronto- e-edition – Fri. March 26 to Sunday March 28, 2010 – Page 5)

A first-class constable’s annual wage is $87,500.00. Pursuant to the Toronto Police Union’s Collective Agreement with the City of Toronto, most of the overtime which has caused an officer’s yearly wage to exceed the $100,000 mark is due to the officer’s presence in court, mainly to deal with traffic tickets that he/she issued. When an officer issues a ticket, he or she is then required to be in court to testify as to the reasons why that ticket was issued to a specific motorist. This is the way that it works:

  • If a police officer shows up to a provincial court on a day off – he or she will receive a minimum of four (4)  hours overtime, paid at time and a half of their wage – even if the matters that were scheduled were all adjourned or settled before hand, or;
  • If that same police officer is scheduled for a shift and shows up to court before their scheduled shift commences, he or she will be compensated with three (3) hours of pay at time and a half of their wage.
  • With all forms of crime  down and all forms of traffic tickets up, you would think that the City of Toronto would attempt to find ways of dealing with the matter of police in the courts, dealing with traffic tickets that they generated, in a more efficient way; with cost cutting measures carefully looked at.

    Numeous others that have made the 2009 Public Sector Salary Disclosure (that have made $100,000.00 or more) are now being referred to as having made the Sunshine List. See various stories from the Toronto Star (April 2, 2010, April 1, 2010, April 1, 2010, April 1, 2010,March 31, 2010,March 31, 2010,March 31, 2010,March 31, 2010,March 30, 2010,March 27, 2010,March 21, 2010 ).

    Toronto wants to Rake in Millions from Motorists

    Update: See page and previous post.

    The City of Toronto’s Auditor General, Mr. Jeffrey Griffiths, C.A., C.F.E. made a number of recommendations to the City of Toronto’s City Council with respect to Toronto’s 2010 Operating Budget . The City of Toronto faces a shortfall of approximately half a billion dollars in revenue and is attempting to find additional monies by carefully reviewing it operations and untapped sources of revenue.

    In his November 2009 findings (CONTROLS OVER PARKING TAGS NEED STRENGTHENING), released on January 27, 2010(see report ) the Toronto’s Auditor General noted several facts and made many recommendations designed to generate the maximum revenue for the City, at the expense of motorists.

    Here are some of his observations and recommendations:

    Value of Parking Tickets

    The Auditor concluded that the annual value of parking tickets issued in Toronto is about $110 million.

    He also noted that the value of parking tickets have increased 75% from 1998 to 2008. In 1998, the City issued 2.6 million parking tags valued at $63 million. Since that time, the number of parking tags issued has increased from 2.6 million to 2.9 million or 12 per cent. The value of parking tags issued in 2008 exceeded $110 million, an increase of 75 per cent from 1998.

    Some of the Reasons why Parking Tickets are Cancelled:

    In 2008 the City of Toronto issued 2.9 million parking tickets and cancelled 425,000 of those parking tickets, potentially valued at over 18 million dollars in 2008. The City of Toronto staff cancel 15% of parking tickets issued for various reasons.
    Various reasons why parking tickets are cancelled:

  • The City must cancel parking tickets that are issued, but given to the vehicle operator or not placed on the motor vehicle windshield. Due to legislative requirements, the City cannot mail the ticket to the registered vehicle owner’s home. In 2008, the City lost a potential of approximately 5 million dollars (by cancelling 111,000 parking tickets), due to vehicles driving away, before the parking ticket could be placed on their windshield or hand delivered to the operator of the vehicle.In 2007, much like the following year, the City lost a potential $4.53 million dollars (119,000 parking tickets), due to “drive-away” vehicles that couldn’t be ticketed by parking enforcement officers.  In the last decade, the City of Toronto has twice approached the Province of Ontario, to amend the Ontario Highway Traffic Act to allow the City to send parking tickets, that could not be served upon the operator or vehicle, to the registered vehicle owner’s home, but both times the request has been made (in 1999 and 2002), the Province has not amended the legislation.The Auditor urged the City of Toronto to mail tickets to drive-away motorists, as is the current practice in cities such as Vancouver and Edmonton. The Province of Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General is signalling that they would be open to working with the municipalities and amending the laws to allow parking authorities to mail parking tickets to the registered vehicle owner’s home.What the Auditor’s report stated “Depending on the success of negotiations with the Province and other third parties, there are opportunities to increase revenues in the administration of parking tags. On a conservative basis assuming that the number of drive-aways could be reduced by 50 per cent, the potential of increased revenues to a level of over $2.5 million is likely attainable.”
  • The City also cancels parking tags issued to out-of-province vehicles because owner address information is not available. In 2008, the City cancelled 93,000 tags exceeding $4 million for vehicles registered outside of Ontario. On average, 85 per cent of parking tags issued to out-of-province vehicles remain unpaid and are subsequently cancelled. This is a long outstanding issue at the City of Toronto. If reciprocal agreements do not exist with other Provinces and Territories and States, the free exchange of information (relating to the registered owner and his/her residential address) cannot take place and attempts to collect on unpaid parking tickets is futile and unproductive.In 2007, in an effort to collect parking tags issued to out-of-province vehicles, the City initiated a pilot project with several American states including New York, Pennsylvania, Maine and Ohio. The pilot project provided for an exchange of vehicle-owner address information. In 2008, City management determined that the project was not cost effective due to the significant administrative work and cost in collecting the necessary information.In April 2009, Council approved the discontinuation of the out-of-province parking ticket collection process because the cost of the program exceeded revenues realized. Council also approved that the Province of Ontario be requested to continue negotiation of data transfer and data exchange agreements by the Province of Ontario with other provincial and state governments as this remains an effective and viable option. The report tabled in November 2009 indicates that the City will continue to work with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Big 12 Police Services Boards in Canada in order to secure support for data-exchange agreements with other jurisdictions.What the Auditor’s report stated “if the City were able to recover 25 per cent of out-of-province tags a further $1 million in revenue would be possible.” While we support these initiatives, the City should also consider reviewing best practices in other organizations including the collection methods used by 407 International Inc., the company that manages the operation of the 407 Highway in connection with out-of-province road toll charges. During our discussions with management of 407 International Inc., we were advised that 407 International Inc. has entered into various agreements with organizations such as the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators in Canada and in the United States with various vehicle licensing authorities to obtain vehicle-owner address information. 407 International Inc. uses this information to mail toll charge fees to out-of-province drivers. We have not been able to determine the success rate of this initiative as this information is not available to the public. 407 International Inc. has an arrangement with the Ministry of Transportation to share registered plate owner information with collection agencies for collecting outstanding road toll charges. The City does not have such an agreement with the Ministry.
    In addition, we were further advised that 407 International Inc. uses collection agencies to collect revenue for out-of-province vehicles. The minimum threshold for the collection of revenue is $30, which is in the range of the City’s average parking tag amount.” 

    Ontario’s privately owned highway, Highway 407, has been subjected to heavy criticism, given its collection methods and practices and overbilling and the fact that it is private but has agreements within the government, normally reserved for other forms of government.

  • First appearance facilities accept payments, process trial requests and address parking tag disputes.
    In 2008, of the 425,000 cancellations, the City’s “discretionary cancellations” at first appearance facilities totalled 12,000 parking tags valued at over $500,000. These cancellations are categorized as “discretionary” because City staff are allowed to exercise a degree of judgement in cancelling parking tags. Examples in which tags are cancelled relate to bylaw exemptions, missing signs, educating first time offenders and medical emergencies.
    The Revenue Services Division has developed guidelines to waive fines in this cancellation category. However, current policies and procedures do not adequately specify the documentation requirements to support the cancellation. In some cases, when cancelling parking tags certain staff obtain documentation to support the offender’s claim while others cancel tags without requiring documentation.
  • The Good News:
    Motor Vehicle Operators are beginning to understand that the only way to win their parking tickets is to fight their tickets.
    In his report, the Auditor noted that the City of Toronto staff members review pre-court filing documents for accuracy prior to submission to Court Services. The number of trial requests has increased over the past several years. For example, in 2006, 125,000 parking tags resulted in trial requests, while in 2008, requests for trial almost doubled to approximately 248,000. This means that motorists are beginning to exercise their rights and contest the City’s parking tickets and more tickets are being won.  Remember to always http://fightyourtickets.ca

    P.E.I Defendant demands trial in French to fight 8 Parking Tickets

    Update: See page “Right to Trial in French”

    Prince Edward Island

    On Thursday, December 3, 2009 a defendant went to the Provincial Courthouse in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island (P.E.I) to challenge eight (8) parking tickets.

    Mr. Charles Duguay, the defendant, is French-speaking. Mr. Duguay has lived on Prince Edward Island for twenty two (22) years.

    When Mr. Duguay arrived at the Provincial Court, he argued that he was entitled to a trial, wherein he could challenge the parking charges he was facing,  in French.

    Apparently the Court was not in a position to accomodate Mr. Duguay, who began to speak French at the commencement of the hearing.  In response to Mr. Duguay’s use of the French language, the Chief Provincial Court Judge presiding, Justice John Douglas responded, saying “Je ne suis pas bilingue” (meaning “I am not bilingual.”).

    Mr. Duguay then began to state his position in French, as to why he thought that his trial should be held in French.

    This hearing was observed by lawyers from the Province and the City and they are concerned that this could be a precedent setting case and that there may be other people who would demand that their cases be held in French.

    The Province of Prince Edward Island is concerned about the financial responsibility of importing an out-of-province bilingual (French & English) Judge to conduct trials in French in P.E.I.

    The proceeding was put over until 2010 to provide the courts with the opportunity to produce a transcript of the hearing (to be provided to the Province and the City) and to have the transcript translated. Once this is done, the City and the Province will have an opportunity to state their position in response to Mr. Duguay’s arguments in the new year.

    Jacques Cartier discovered the island in 1534. As part of the French colony of Acadia, the island was called “Île Saint-Jean”. Roughly one thousand Acadians lived on the island. However, many fled to the island from mainland Nova Scotia during the British-ordered expulsion in 1755. Many more were forcibly deported in 1758 when British soldiers– under the command of Colonel Andrew Rollo — were ordered by General Jeffery Amherst to capture the island, according to Wikipedia.

    According to the 2006 Census, conducted by Statistics Canada (who are scheduled to conduct the next Census in 2011) out of P.E.I’s population of 134,205 people, 97.1% (130,270 people) of the population spoke English, well 2.1% (2,755 people) spoke French. View Prince Edward Island.

    Nine years ago, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in a case from P.E.I (Arsenault-Cameron v. Prince Edward Island, [2000] 1 S.C.R. 3) in which section 23 (Minority Language Educational Rights) of the Charter was involved. The Supreme Court ruled that Francophone students in Summerside, P.E.I had a Constitutional right to an education in French, despite the Province’s refusal to build a French school.

    See story