Toronto man wins court case against Bell over misleading sales tactics

The judge decided Bell can't verbally promise one thing and bill for another


A Toronto man named David Ramsay has emerged victorious from a court case with Bell over alterations to his contract that were made without his consent.

Ramsay told CBC News that on November 30th, 2016, he made a deal with a Bell call centre representative for a Fibe TV and internet package that would cost $112.90 per month, for a term of 24 months.

Shortly after, he received a confirmation email from Bell with the fine print stating that the company was going to raise the monthly rate by $5 after the first two months.

When Ramsay reached out to Bell to protest the contract changes, he was met with resistance. Ramsay decided to ask for a transcript of his original call which showed that he was offered $112.90 for 24 months. This move helped Ramsay win his case, because it gave him evidence of a verbal contract.

“Contracts are designed to bring stability to transactions.”

Ramsay’s next action was to call the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-Television Services (CCTS), but he was once again told that Bell had the right to increase prices since it had given him notice, which is all a telecom has to do to comply with CCTS rules.

Ramsay wasn’t deterred and decided to take further action because he had seen recent news reports showing many others were having the same issues with the major telecoms.

His next step was the small claims court. In court, Ramsay chose to represent himself and use his “smoking gun” — the transcript between him and the Bell sales rep.

The transcript contained two major lines that Ramsay was banking on according to the CBC News report.

One line stated: “Your total cost for the 24 months will be $112.90 per month.”

The second said: “You’re going to get an email confirmation of everything that was just discussed.”

In court, Bell stood its ground and argued that Ramsay had received his services, accepted installation and made payments to Bell as they invoiced him, including the price increases.

Bell also said that Ramsay had “accepted the terms of service and the price increases are all captured into a legally enforceable contract,” according to a transcript from the Ramsay v. BCE Inc. court case.

Judge William C. De Lucia stated that the transcript of the telephone call where Ramsay was originally offered the $112.90 per month rate “demonstrates the essential elements of a contract.”

“This case is really emblematic of a bigger problem with our telecom market in Canada.”

The judge also found that Bell “cannot unilaterally insert or impose new terms,” and if they do try to add terms to a customers contract without “fresh consideration” the new terms are unenforceable.

Judge De Lucia clarified that while it isn’t the court’s place to interfere with Bell’s right to impose price changes, the company can’t change the terms within a contract’s lifespan.

“Contracts are designed to bring stability to transactions, and in particular a consumer transaction as such as we have here,” said Judge De Lucia.

Consumer advocacy groups weigh in

“This case is really emblematic of a bigger problem with our telecom market in Canada,” said Laura Tribe of consumer advocacy group OpenMedia in a phone interview with MobileSyrup.

A recent CCTS report detailed that there were almost 1,900 complaints about Canadian telecoms either failing to disclose their terms or presenting users with misleading information about their terms. These complaints were filed across all service offerings and included wireless, internet, local phone, and television services.

Tribe took a positive view of this case and what it could mean for Canadians going forward.

“I think that it’s really encouraging to see that this could potentially result in the CCTS actually reopening a number of cases that could have been ruled in the other direction,” said Tribe. “I hope that this will be a ground-shifting moment for how telecoms treat their customers and their contracts moving forward.”

John Lawford, executive director and general counsel for the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) took a less optimistic approach on what this case means for Canadians.

“Based on what CCTS is allowed to do, the first level of CCTS gave [Ramsay] the right answer.”

Lawford told MobileSyrup that misleading sales tactics like Ramsay was faced with are not going to be solved by people bringing complaints to the CCTS unless it gains the power to decide what is fair.

“In my view a better result would have been when a customer comes with a different interpretation than what is written in the contract and has some evidence of that other deal or interpretation,” said Lawford in a phone interview with MobileSyrup. “Generally speaking, on a one-off basis the CCTS finds [in favour of] the consumers. If they’re using the principles of the Wireless Code, any doubt goes to the consumer.”

That’s where Lawford believes the issue stems from, though. There is no real code to help mandate the internet-selling business like there is for the sale of wireless services.

“The way the CCTS rules are written, it’s very tight. It just says that they will listen to the customer and take all that evidence and they will talk to the company and they will decide,” said Lawford.

“Based on what CCTS is allowed to do, the first level of CCTS gave [Ramsay] the right answer.”

Ultimately, Lawford commented that though this is an interesting case, the real issues stem from misleading sales practices, the lack of power the CCTS has in relation to TV and home internet market and the fact that neither the Competition Bureau nor the CRTC have agreed to investigate these sales practices further.

CCTS and Bell respond

The CCTS has issued a statement regarding their involvement in the case.

The Commission states: “The CCTS is an impartial and independent ombudsman organization, outside of the legal system, that provides a free service for Canadians to help resolve complaints about telecommunications and TV services. Our rules allow us to investigate and resolve complaints based on whether a Canadian telecommunications or television service provider reasonably performed its obligations pursuant to the applicable contract and followed its usual policies and operating procedures.”

Meanwhile, Bell responded with a comment suggesting the issue was only related to the call centre agent’s ignorance of an upcoming price change.

In its comment to MobileSyrup, Bell wrote: “The call centre agent handling the customer’s order was not aware of an upcoming price increase. However, the price increase was noted when the customer received his order confirmation immediately after the order was placed. Order confirmations contain all details of a customer’s order, including pricing, that prices are subject to change and are subject to the terms of service. We offered to cancel the customer’s order without penalty several times, even after the installation was complete, but the customer decided to proceed with the order as outlined in the order confirmation.”

Via: CBC News