| Dec 08, 2005

Legalese - December 8, 2005

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Legalese - December 8, 2006

Holiday Legalese Part 1

by Susan Irwin, Lawyer/Executive Director

A column of general information and opinion on legal topics by the lawyers of Rural Legal Services, Box 359, Sharbot Lake, ON, K0H2P0, 613-279-3252, or 1-888-777-8916. This column is not intended to provide legal advice. You should contact a lawyer to determine your legal rights and obligations.

The holiday countdown is on. It seems that every time you open a newspaper, turn on the radio or T.V., or pick up the mail, you are being bombarded with ads urging you to BUY! BUY! BUY! for that special someone. The motto of any wise shopper, especially during the season ahead, must be “Buyer Beware”!

In this and our next column, we will take a brief look at some consumer issues that should be borne in mind during the season of joy and plastic money.

CAN I BRING IT BACK? Ask, before you buy. If it’s an unfamiliar retailer, have the clerk confirm that the item may be returned by having him or her make a note on the receipt. Make sure it’s signed or initialled.


Unless it’s part of the contract of purchase, consumers do not have an absolute right to return goods. Many people think all retailers are like the major chains where liberal return policies are traditional.

Unless asked, the retailer is under no obligation to post a sign or otherwise inform the purchaser of its “return” policy. Many retailers will not accept returns. Others may accept returns but only for “credit” against other purchases and still others may refund less than the full purchase price after deducting a service charge (sometimes called a “restocking” fee). Other stores have limited time periods for accepting returns – a special punishment for well-organized people who have probably already finished their shopping!

Under some very limited circumstances, you may be able to force a full refund regardless of store policy. The right could be triggered, for instance, if you relied upon the expertise of the seller in selecting the goods (“Oh yeah, this baby will keep on working, even at 50 below – no problem!”), or if you were unable to inspect the goods prior to purchase (mail order), and it turned out that the items were either defective or unsuitable for the purpose for which they are ordinarily used.

WHEN THE GRINCH STRIKES! Unfortunately, the products do not always match the expectations created by the advertisements, and even the most cautious shopper may be taken in by false or misleading claims.

The Ontario Consumer Protection Act, 2002 declares it to be an “unfair practice” to make a false, misleading or deceptive representation. Such representations include claims about “sponsorship, performance characteristics, accessories, uses or benefits” that the goods or services do not have.

The Act allows several remedies, depending on the circumstances, including a return of the goods for a full refund, sometimes with “damages” payable to the wronged consumer.

There are also fines and other penalties under the federal Competition Act for false or misleading advertising.

DOUBLE STICKER DILEMMA: If an item has more than one visible price sticker on it and at different prices, the store is required to sell the item to you at the lower price. Under the federal Competition Act, double ticketing for sale at a higher price is prohibited.

The rule only applies if both stickers were put on the item by the seller and both price stickers are visible. You can’t peel off the one on top and claim a different price. If a person intentionally moves a lower priced sticker from one item to a different item and then tries to take advantage of the double sticker rule, it’s called fraud and it is a criminal offence.

The rule may also apply to differences between signs over racks or bins and the actual pricing of the items on the racks or in the bins. In some cases, the sign may be seen as false or misleading advertising and the retailer may have to sell at that price.

WHO TO CALL: If you believe that you have been subjected to an unfair consumer practice, or false advertising, you can launch a complaint with the Ontario Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations at 1-800-268-1142 and/or with the Market Practices Branch of Industry Canada at 1-800-348-5358.

- Susan Irwin, Lawyer/Executive Director

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