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BCPCA

The primary consumer protection law in British Columbia is called the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act.

Most jurisdictions include the words "consumer protection" in the name of the statute. In Saskatchewan, Quebec, Prince Edward Island, Manitoba, Northwest Territories, Ontario, Yukon and Nova Scotia, the statutes are called, simply, the Consumer Protection Act.

The portal to the protection afforded by the BCPCA is the definition of a consumer transaction related, as could be anticipated, to:

"... the solicitation, offer, advertisement or promotion or supply of goods or services or real property by a supplier to a consumer for purposes that are primarily personal, family or household."

A consumer transaction includes a supply of goods, services, membership in a club or organization, or real property as between a merchant and a consumer.

Camel cigarettes doctor adNote that most jurisdictions also exclude certain transactions, usually because there is other legislation in place. For example, the BCPCA does not include coverage of insurance contracts or stocks and bonds.

In British Columbia, as is the case elsewhere, there is also special legislation which acts as add-on requirements when a car is sold.2

The purchase of a van for family purposes would be a consumer transaction. But that same van, bought by a taxi driver to serve as his taxi vehicle, would not be a consumer transaction.

The statute gives the consumer a quick 'n' dirty grievance procedure: a complaint made to a government agency called the "director" as in "the Director under the BCPCA". Once seized with a complaint, that office can investigate and sue the offending merchant on the consumer's behalf. The statute gives the bureaucrat extraordinary powers including to investigate, to compel the attendance of witnesses or to require that a supplier produce records.

Or, the aggrieved consumer retains the right to proceed directly to small claims or, if the amount at issue is significant, to the Supreme Court of British Columbia, for relief under the statute.3

Deceptive Practice

A trigger for the BCPCA is an allegation that the supplier has engaged in a deceptive or unconscionable trade practice (§4), defined as a representation that has the capability, tendency or effect of deceiving or misleading a consumer. The act lists, at §4(3), some 20+ examples of deceptive trade practice including falsely listing components, uses or benefits and "that a service, part, replacement or repair is needed if it is not".

There is a plethora of cases on this area of consumer law but here are the highlights:

  • The merchant must maintain a high standard of candour with their customers (4)
  • To be considered deceptive, it is not necessary that the consumer actually be deceived or misled so long as the act or practice has the “capability, tendency or effect of deceiving or misleading a person”.(5)
  • A deceptive act may occur before, during or after the transaction.(5)
  • The deception must be in regards to a material aspect of the transaction which will depend on the individual circumstances of the transaction (4).

Unconscionable Practice

The statute embraces the common law of unconscionability and specifically prohibits consumer transaction which are marshalled under "undue pressure" or, at §8(3)(b):

"… the supplier took advantage of the consumer or guarantor's inability or incapacity to reasonably protect his or her own interest because of the consumer or guarantor's physical or mental infirmity, ignorance, illiteracy, age or inability to understand the character, nature or language of the consumer transaction, or any other matter related to the transaction."

Quick Cancellation

The BCPCA protects consumers from hasty decisions. First, it defines a phenomena of a direct sales, which is simply when a salesperson approaches a consumer directly, such at his or her residence, as opposed to the consumer seeking the merchant out.

The statute defines a direct sale as:

"… a contract between a supplier and a consumer for the supply of goods or services that is entered into in person at a place other than the supplier's permanent place of business...."

When a consumer agrees to a direct sales, the statutes gives her a temporary super-power: that of being able to cancel the contract without giving any reason provided only that she do so in writing, within a strict time limit (10 days), and then returns the goods undamaged. If these three conditions are met, a full refund is required - within 15 days - no questions asked, and without any deduction.

Also called a consumer remorse period, this is to give the consumer the time to consider whether that $1,500 vacuum cleaner is really a god purchase.

The 10-day grace period for consumer remorse also applies to contracts where some or most of the goods or services are to be delivered in the future such as travel or vacation clubs, book-of-the-month” or recorded music clubs.

Unsolicited Goods

Perhaps the most delicious and least-known feature of consumer protection law is the receipt of unsolicited goods. Where a consumer does not order goods but receives them unsolicited, and there is no indication that they were intended for someone else, the consumer can keep the goods outright! The key words in the statute are at §12(1):

"A consumer has no legal obligation in respect of unsolicited goods or services…."

The Internet

British Columbia has a statute that recognizes electronic contracts as if they were in hard-copy, written form. The Electronic Transactions Act:

"[A]n offer or the acceptance of an offer, or any other matter that is material to the formation or operation of a contract, may be expressed by means of information or a record in electronic form, or by an activity in electronic form, including touching or clicking on an appropriately designated icon or place on a computer screen or otherwise communicating electronically in a manner that is intended to express the offer, acceptance or other matter."

MATERIAL REPRESENTATION/CAVEAT EMPTOR: THIS ARTICLE REVIEWS GENERAL LEGAL INFORMATION ONLY. IT CANNOT POSSIBLY, AND BY DESIGN, DUST OUT ALL THE NOOKS AND CRANNIES OF CONSUMER LAW, OR BE WARRANTED AS 100% UP-TO-DATE AT ALL TIMES, OR BE USED TO ANSWER A SPECIFIC QUESTION SINCE THE UNIQUE FACTS OF ANY CONSUMER TRANSACTION MIGHT MAKE A RULE OF LAW SET OUT HEREIN INOPERATIVE. IF YOU HAVE A REAL LIVE KICKING CONSUMER PROTECTION ISSUE, CONTACT YOUR LOCAL CONSUMER PROTECTION AGENCY AND IF NONE IS AVAILABLE, THEN CALL A LAWYER.

This page is page 2 of 2, a continuation of Consumer Law, presented in two web-pages. Click here to return to page 1.

REFERENCES:

This page is page 2 of 2, a continuation of Consumer Law, presented in two web-pages. Click here to return to page 1.