OTTAWA — A consumer watchdog group says Canada's telecom regulator is abdicating its responsibility by refusing to launch a public inquiry into the sales practices of the country's major telecommunications service providers.
The Public Interest Advocacy Centre called for the inquiry early last month to investigate media reports about high-pressure sales tactics used by at least one major company.
PIAC executive director John Lawford said vulnerable consumers, including older Canadians, grieving spouses and blind customers were being targeted by aggressive sales people.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission responded earlier this month, telling Lawford that consumers already have a number of places to turn if they feel they've been wronged by their telecom service provider, including the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecom-Television Services (CCTS).
CRTC commissioner Ian Scott noted that the complaints body experienced a high satisfaction rate for resolving complaints last year among both consumers and service providers.
The CRTC letter also said Canadians may contact the Competition Bureau with their concerns.
But Lawford said the CRTC neglected to mention that the complaints commission doesn't normally deal with sales practice complaints, and explicitly refuses to deal with misleading advertising.
"The CRTC refusal to inquire into the shocking sales practices of Canada's major telecommunications and broadcasting companies says to consumers 'You're on your own,'" Lawford wrote in response to the CRTC's Feb. 12 letter.
"Sending Canadians to these bodies to try to extract themselves from poor deals after the fact instead of proactively investigating them and restoring the public trust in the market is a major abdication of responsibility by the CRTC," he added in a media statement under the headline "CRTC throws consumers to telco sales dogs."
Scott noted, however, that the CCTS reviewed over 8,600 complaints in 2017, and consumers received compensation in 74 per cent of the complaints, totalling $2.3 million.
He also hinted at possible future action in response to consumer complaints, saying the CRTC also monitors reports from the complaints commissioner to identify emerging issues "which may require further regulatory intervention."
Lawford launched his call for an inquiry after CBC news reported last fall that dozens of Bell customers had voiced various complaints about misleading sales practices, and that a "flood" of past and present Bell employees had later spoken out about the stress they felt from pressure to meet sales targets.
A Bell Canada spokesman at the time defended the carrier's customer service record and said the tactics described by the Bell employees would be "completely contrary" to the company's culture, values and code of conduct.
The Canadian Press