As a consumer, you might have experienced problems: delay in the delivery of a mattress, a defective vacuum cleaner, repairs or work poorly done, misinformation given by a seller, a contract with missing required information… and the list goes on!
What can you do to solve your problems and enforce your rights in these kinds of situations? Here’s a guide to help you learn more about the legal remedies and other solutions available to you as a consumer.
My Remedies as a Consumer
Consumers often hesitate to enforce their rights for several reasons, including
- avoiding the cost of going to court,
- a lack of time, or
- because they don’t feel they have the same power as the other person they are dealing with.
You should know that consumers have a lot of ways to enforce theirs rights or repair harm they’ve suffered.
Whether you’re a consumer protected by the Consumer Protection Act, a buyer not covered by the Act, a client or someone leasing goods, there are remedies for you!
Important! Special Protection under the Consumer Protection Act
A law called the Consumer Protection Act has solutions and special remedies for people considered to be consumers under this law. These remedies include the possibility of cancelling a contract in some situations.
To find out whether you’re a consumer protected under this law, read our article How Does the Consumer Protection Act Help Consumers?
Also, the Office de la protection du consommateur (consumer protection bureau) can help you find out what remedies are available to you and guide you with certain steps. Its website has an interactive tool you can use to find out your remedies depending on your problem. You can also report an illegal business practice or file a complaint against a merchant.
The possible solutions to your problem can vary depending on:
- the type of contract you have, such as a purchase, rental or service contract;
- the type of goods or service involved, for example, a car, washing machine, trip or membership in a health club;
- the people involved, for example if you’re a consumer protected by the Consumer Protection Act, or if you did business with a professional seller;
- the obligations that weren’t respected, either when the contract was made or while it was being carried out;
Here are a few examples of possible solutions, depending on your problem:
- cancel an contract that was improperly made as if it had never existed, or simply cancel it for the future
- replace goods
- have an item repaired
- reduce your obligations, for example, by reducing the price you paid
- force someone to respect an obligation
- get damages (money to compensate you for harm you’ve suffered)
- get exemplary and punitive damages (money to discourage someone’s bad behaviour)
If you were to go to court, the judge could use several solutions at the same time. For example, the judge could cancel the contract or reduce your obligations, and give you punitive damages.
Also, a judge who thinks that the solution you’re asking for isn’t appropriate can give you a different one. You can also decide to change the solution along the way.
In any case, to get help with the steps you have to take, it is a good idea to consult a professional, such as a lawyer or a consumer rights organization.
Before You Begin!
When a problem arises, take time to make a note of all the steps you take, the people you talk to and the details of your conversations (date, time, what was discussed, etc.).
Out of Court
First, the answer to your problem might be right before your eyes…in your contract! Take the time to read it and have it with you as you take steps to enforce your rights.
Be sure to act quickly since, in some cases, you don’t have much time! For example, to have a warranty respected after you buy a used car from a merchant, you have three or six months, depending on the situation.
Here’s what you can do before you go to court:
- If possible, call or write to customer service to try to solve the problem. If necessary, ask to speak to a supervisor. Find out about the company’s internal complaint procedure. Also, it’s best to go see them in person if you can.
- Try to negotiate with the merchant. To become a good negotiator and find out what’s involved in negotiating, see the six-step guide of the Office de la protection du consommateur.
- If the situation allows, fill out the Office de la protection du consommateur complaint form.
- Depending on your situation, check whether another organization can help you. (See the table below.) Here are some examples:
- a board (the rental board, etc.)
- an ombudsman in charge of receiving complaints and investigating in a neutral way
- a body supervising a profession (the order of engineers, etc.)
Sometimes you can file a complaint directly to these organizations.
- Before you apply to a court, give the merchant one last chance to resolve the situation by sending a formal demand letter.
- Check whether you’re in a situation where arbitration could be used. This possibility is often provided for in the contract, but a merchant can’t require it.
Going to Court
You’ve tried everything to avoid going to court, but nothing has worked?
If the amount at stake $15,000 or less, you can take legal action against the merchant in Small Claims Court. If the amount is higher, you can go to another court. The court to choose depends on the amount of your claim.
When a problem arises, you usually have three years to take legal action. This deadline is called prescription.
Knock on the Door of the Manufacturer, Supplier or Distributor
It is sometimes possible to contact or sue the manufacturer, supplier or distributor directly. Here are some examples:
- the item is defective
- the item is dangerous
- the warning about the risk or danger of using an item was not provided
- the manufacturer or supplier offered an extra warranty on the item you bought
- you weren’t the purchaser, but you were the victim of a defect on an item
- the law provides for this possibility
Check whether you’re in a situation that allows you to apply to the Office de la protection du consommateur, a lawyer or any other consumer rights organization.
When a large number of people have a similar problem, a class action allows a single consumer or organization to represent and defend all of them at the same time, in a single lawsuit.
The purpose of a class action is generally to compensate everyone who had the problem covered by the legal action and to avoid having to pay a lot of legal fees.
Do you want to find out what kinds of class actions have been taken and whether any affect you? Check the Class Action Register or the Canadian Bar Association directory, or call the Fonds d’aide au recours collectif.
Groups Helping Consumers
You can also get help from non-governmental consumer rights organizations. Have youheard about the Coalition des associations de consommateurs du Québec, the Union des consommateurs and Option consommateurs ? Visit their websites to find out more about the defence of consumer rights in Quebec.
Topic or Problem
Other Useful Resources
Protection of and Access to Personal Information
Commision d’accès à l’information du Québec (access to information commission)
Banks, Financial Products and Investments
Régie du logement (rental board)
Régie du bâtiment du Québec (construction standards and permits)
Association des consommateurs pour la qualité dans la construction (consumers group devoted to quality in home construction and renovation) (website in French only)