Consumer Law in Canada

Natalie Fraser for The Lawyers Weekly

Most Canadians have experienced the frustration of discovering they have purchased an unsafe or defective product.

Discussing the problem with the salesperson who sold the product or the business from which the product was purchased can often resolve the issue without further formal action.

If the problem remains unresolved, complaining to the customer service department of the company that produced the product may achieve a more satisfactory result.

Asking for assistance from the Canadian consumer organizations in the province in which the product was purchased may also help to resolve the problem.

Taking Legal Action in Canada

In Canada, the next step involves taking legal action, particularly if the defective product has caused an injury. Bringing a lawsuit against the company that produced the product may bring financial compensation. Generally Canadian courts award money to compensate an injured party if they agree the company negligently sold a defective product that caused the injury.

Canadian small claims court can resolve disputes for smaller consumer law claims. Limits for claims range from several thousand dollars to over twenty thousand dollars, depending on the laws of the Canadian province or territory. Expenses will include fees for filing the claim, serving orders, paying witnesses and travel expenses. Small claims court in Canada allows for self-representation, although a consumer lawyer may assist in most Canadian provinces. For lawsuits involving larger amounts, consulting a Canadian consumer lawyer becomes necessary.

When a large group of people in Canada have suffered injuries or losses from an unsafe or defective product, they should consider a class action. Canadian consumers who cannot afford to sue on their own can band together with others in a similar position to launch an action against the same defendant. Often the Internet can assist Canadian consumers to find others who have been injured by the same product. If they agree to bring a class action, they will share both the expenses of hiring a Canadian consumer lawyer and the rewards of the lawsuit. Each Canadian province has different rules regarding class action lawsuits and a Canadian consumer lawyer could assist with understanding these rules.

Legislation and Warranties in Canada

Legislation such as the Hazardous Products Act, enacted by the Canadian federal government, may apply to the defective product. This Act creates standards of safety that apply across Canada for many consumer products such as child restraint systems and hockey helmets. The Food and Drugs Act regulates the sale of food, drugs, cosmetics and medical devices in Canada in order to set standards of safety for these consumer products.

Many products come with warranties from the manufacturer, guaranteeing some aspect of the product. As well, several provinces in Canada have legislation stating that every sales contract includes an implied warranty. For example, in Saskatchewan, the Consumer Protection Act deems retailers to give minimum warranties whenever they sell a product. The implied warranty guarantees the product is of acceptable quality, reasonably durable, and fit for the use intended. The consumer affairs office in the Canadian province where the sales contract was made can advise as to whether implied warranties apply in that province.

In Canada, bringing a legal action backed up by legislation and a warranty, implied or otherwise, increases the chance of the courts awarding financial compensation to those who have suffered loss or injury due to an unsafe or defective product.

Fitness Memberships in Canada

Fitness clubs in Canada generally require participants to sign a written contract before allowing the use of their facilities. As a legally enforceable agreement between two or more parties, contracts are generally difficult to cancel. Unfortunately, Canadian consumers who sign contracts with fitness clubs often find their initial enthusiasm waning, especially if they encounter problems such as restricted or unsuitable hours, crowded facilities, broken equipment or monthly costs that increase substantially once the introductory time period expires.

In order to protect Canadian consumers who find themselves in this position, some provinces in Canada have enacted laws that create an automatic cancellation period for certain kinds of contracts, including fitness memberships. The time frame for cancellation generally referred to as a "cooling-off period", and its length varies among the Canadian provinces that have enacted the laws. Canadians may cancel their contracts within the time period for any reason.

Canadian consumers should contact their provincial consumer affairs office to determine if legislation creating automatic cancellation periods for contracts exists in their jurisdiction. If so, those who choose to join new fitness clubs should take advantage of the time to test the suitability of the club's facilities.

Problems in Home Renovation in Canada

Planning ahead provides Canadian homeowners with the best protection against unsatisfactory home renovations. In anticipation of a renovation, homeowners in Canada should prepare a budget, inquire as to the required permits at local building inspection departments, and choose contractors only after reviewing several quotes.

After selecting a contractor, Canadian homeowners should ask for a written contract, and make sure they understand and approve it prior to signing. In Canada, a good contract will include, at a minimum, the following information: a detailed list of the work to be done, a statement of any subcontractors to be hired, the total cost of the project including taxes, the start date and date of completion, a statement regarding responsibility for clean-up, and the name and address of both the contractor and the homeowner.

Some Canadian provinces have business practices legislation covering inadequate or incomplete workmanship in home renovations. Under this legislation, the government may order Canadian contractors to pay restitution to homeowners for unsatisfactory work, and sentence contractors to jail terms for false consumer representations. However, if the contractor is bankrupt, the consumer remains out of pocket for the costs of hiring another contractor to finish or repair the work.

Many Canadian provinces have construction lien legislation that sets out a scheme providing for the holdback of payments to ensure homeowners don't become responsible for unpaid subcontractors (people the contractor has hired to do some of the work). For example, the Construction Lien Act in Ontario allows homeowners to hold back 10 per cent of the contract price for 45 days after substantial completion of the project. Any construction liens registered against the property by unpaid subcontractors expire after this time period, so Canadian homeowners can safely pay the contractor the final 10 per cent.

Most home renovators in Canada provide good workmanship and fulfill the terms of their contracts, but Canadian homeowners must use good judgment and planning to protect themselves from the few who do not.

Natalie Fraser practised law in Whitby, Ontario for seventeen years and is now a freelance legal writer. She often writes for The Lawyers Weekly.

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