Being an Informed Consumer
in Québec IMMIGRATION AND CONSUMER ISSUES

In Québec, the Consumer Protection Act governs transactions carried out between consumers and merchants, among other things. For example, car dealerships, furniture stores, financial institutions and telephone service providers have different obligations toward consumers.

The Office de la protection du consommateur is a Québec government body. It ensures that merchants comply with this law. The Office helps consumers make informed choices to avoid any problems, and informs them of their rights and recourse options when the need arises.

Start by getting all the information

When you do business with a merchant, various problems can occur: an item is defective, a delivery is delayed, unforeseen costs pop up, a merchant fails to abide by a contract, etc.

How can these problems be avoided? How can they be resolved when they occur? By getting all the information concerning your rights before making a purchase, accepting an offer or signing a contract.

You will find many tips covering a variety of topics below.

Assessing your needs

Credit cards

Before purchasing goods or services, or entering into a contract with a merchant, carefully assess your needs:

  • Are the needs to be fulfilled essential?
  • Can these needs be fulfilled more economically or in an eco-friendlier manner?
  • If you do not make any purchases right away, what are the consequences?
  • What could replace the desired goods or services?
  • Could you obtain the item otherwise than by purchasing it new (trade with a friend, purchase a used item, rent, loan, etc.)?

Are you planning to purchase a product? Generally speaking, all sales are final. However, merchants often have an exchange and reimbursement policy, even though the law does not require them to do so. Deadlines and conditions may vary depending on the store. Before making a purchase, it is therefore recommended to find out about the policy in effect.

Are you about to enter into a contract? The Office recommends that you not sign any documents or enter into any contracts as long as you have not made a firm decision. Take the time to think, even when faced with an enticing offer. Contrary to popular belief, you do not always have 10 days to cancel if you change your mind.

Points to remember

In all cases, keep in mind that advertisements that promote products or services that are free or sold at a special price are quite common. Always check the conditions that apply to take advantage of such offers. Also, keep in mind that offers that seem too good to be true… often are.

A credit card consists of pre-approved credit that a financial institution (such as a bank) makes available to you.

Before choosing a credit card, it is suggested that you:

  • evaluate your ability to pay. The financial institution may try to offer you a credit limit that is much higher than what you really need;
  • check whether there are any membership or renewal fees;
  • find out what the credit rate is. This is the percentage of the card’s balance you will have to make as an additional payment if you do not pay the balance off in full every month.

When you use your credit card, you will receive a statement of account at the end of each period (usually one month). You can then pay off the amount shown in full or in part. In the latter case, a set minimum must still be paid. This is known as the “minimum payment,” “minimum instalment” or “minimal payment.”

Important!

If you only pay the minimum amount each month, you will reimburse very little of your debt and pay high credit fees. You can calculate this yourself on this page: Minimum Payment: Maximum Intere$t!

To find out more, refer to the section titled Credit Cards and Lines of Credit.

Cellular phone services

Used cars

Questions to ask yourself

Before subscribing to a cellular phone service, determine your budget as well as your needs. Will you be making long calls? International calls? At what times during the day? Do you want to send and receive text messages? Will you be using the Internet? This will help you find the plan that is right for you.

Keep in mind that there are 2 types of contracts:

  • With a fixed-term contract, you will be tied to a service provider by an agreement for a fixed period of time, e.g. 2 years. During this period, the service provider cannot increase the price of your services. If you cancel your contract before the end of the period, the service provider may charge you a fee, but the amount is limited by law.
  • With an open-ended contract, you will not be tied to a service provider for a fixed period of time. You will therefore usually not have to pay a fee if you cancel your agreement. However, the provider may increase the price of your services over time.

You could also choose services with prepaid cards. You cannot be charged any fees to activate them. However, the minutes to which you are entitled have an expiry date, which is usually between 30 and 90 days.

To find out more, refer to the section titled Cellular Phone Services.

Before visiting a used car dealer, you should first:

  • Determine the total price you can pay. A small payment that comes back over several weeks or months can add up to a pretty large expense! Also think about the cost of insurance, winter tires, fuel, vehicle registration, etc.
  • Determine the type of vehicle that meets your needs.
  • Find out which car manufacturers are known for their reliability. For example, you can get information in Protégez-Vous or from the Automobile Protection Association.

Then, once you have found a vehicle, remember to:

  • Make sure the dealer holds a licence from the Office de la protection du consommateur. This licence provides you with financial protection if the dealer fails to abide by its obligations. Refer to the Get information about a merchant tool to check whether a dealer holds a licence.
  • Examine the vehicle carefully, in daylight, and make sure the accessories are in working order.
  • Take the vehicle out for a test drive. The dealer is required to let you do so.
  • Have the vehicle undergo a mechanical inspection, even if the dealer claims to already have done so. An inspection at the garage of your choice is done at your expense, but it will indicate whether the vehicle needs any immediate or upcoming repairs. If the dealer refuses, do not purchase the vehicle. The dealer may be trying to hide an important problem from you.
  • Check to make sure the vehicle has been paid in full by consulting the register of personal and movable real rights (RDPRM).
  • Make sure the vehicle has not been reported as stolen by consulting the Canadian Police Information Centre.

To find out more, refer to the section titled Before Buying a Used Vehicle From a Dealer.

Registering for a course

Furniture and appliances

You may be interested in taking language, drawing, dance or music lessons…

First of all, check the price of the course. The total amount of all of the fees to be paid to take the course must match the price advertised by the merchant, taxes not included. “Surprise fees” are prohibited.

Certain merchants who offer series of courses have other obligations. These merchants include:

  • private institutions;
  • non-profit organizations;
  • educational institutions that offer courses outside of their educational program, e.g. a university that offers swimming lessons at its sports centre;
  • municipal recreation departments, but only when they call on the services of a partner that is independent of the municipal authorities to give the course (e.g. dance lessons given by a dance school as part of a municipality’s recreation program).

Before registering for a course with one of these types of merchants, keep in mind that:

  • No payment can be required before the first class is held.
  • Payment in a single instalment may only be required in 2 situations:
    • the total value of the course is $100 or less (taxes included);
    • the course is given over 3 consecutive days or less, regardless of its total value.
  • If you must purchase materials, you are free to purchase them wherever you choose, even if the merchant who gives the course sells these materials.
  • You can cancel your registration at any time:
    • before the course begins, you will not have to pay any fees;
    • if the course has begun, you will have to pay the cost of the classes taken as well as a penalty.

To find out more, refer to the section titled Courses.

If a merchant is asking you for a deposit to purchase a piece of furniture or an appliance, try to negotiate the smallest amount possible. It is safer, as the store could close or go out of business before your purchase is delivered.

In addition, to avoid having the delivery of your purchase being delayed, make sure your invoice indicates:

  • a specific delivery date;
  • a clause that provides for a cancellation of the purchase and a reimbursement of the deposit if this date is not respected.

Exchanges and reimbursements

Before paying anything, find out about the merchant’s exchange and reimbursement policy. Will you be reimbursed if you change your mind? Or if the piece of furniture does not fit in your home? Merchants may choose to have such a policy, but they are not required to. Merchants that do are required to abide by the rules provided for in their policy.

To find out more, refer to the sections titled Furniture and Appliances.

Warranties

Daycare centres

All goods (furniture, appliances, cars, telephones, etc.) purchased from a merchant are covered by warranties provided for by law. In fact, before offering you to purchase an additional warranty (sometimes called an "extended warranty"), all merchants must inform you of the existence of other warranties. These include certain warranties provided for by law and, if applicable, the warranty offered free of charge by the manufacturer of the goods in question.

The warranties provided for by law allow you to require, among other things, that the goods you purchase:

  • can be used for their intended purpose;
  • have a reasonable lifetime, given the price paid, the contract and the conditions of use;
  • do not have any hidden defects;
  • match the description you were given.

Defective goods

If your item is defective, you can inform the merchant, the manufacturer or both. In a situation where the warranty provided for by law applies, the merchant or manufacturer must, depending on the circumstances, repair the item or have it repaired free of charge, exchange it or reimburse you.

Also find out about the merchant’s or manufacturer’s warranty. It may be free of charge. If a document exists that describes this warranty, ask the merchant to give you a copy. If not, have the details written down on your invoice, receipt or in your contract.

To find out more, refer to the section titled Warranties.

Before registering your child with a childcare provider (daycare centre), check whether the establishment to which you wish to entrust your child is recognized by the Ministère de la Famille.

Then, keep the following points in mind:

  • When you register your child, the establishment is required to give you a contact that details all of the conditions of the agreement. Make sure that this contract accurately reflects what was agreed upon and any promises made to you.
  • The childcare centre may not require payment or a deposit before your child attends the establishment.
  • The childcare centre must allow you to pay the fees in at least 2 relatively equal instalments, claimed at regular intervals (unless the total value of the contract is $100 or less).
  • All amounts claimed from you must be specified in the contract. Some optional services, such as outings, must, under certain circumstances, be the subject of another contract and invoiced separately.
  • You may cancel the contract:
    • before receiving any services, in which case you will not have to pay any fees;
    • once any services have been received, the childcare centre may charge you a penalty, which is limited by law and cannot exceed $50.

To find out more, refer to the section titled Childcare Services.

Offers to go into business

Offers to work from home

Online advertisements, junk email and classified ads in newspapers or on the Internet are full of offers for business opportunities. They often amount to the same thing: you are being offered to pay for the opportunity to sell a product or service. You could be offered a distribution contract, to purchase a franchise, an agreement to become a dealer, etc.

Beware of the offer if:

  • the address provided in the ad only includes a post office box;
  • you are being asked for money even before you know what the offer is all about;
  • you are being promised big profits for a small investment;
  • they want you to sign a contract quickly, before having read it all the way through or shown it to another person.

Before you sign a contract, get the information you need!

Certain government bodies can provide you with information on the business concerned. For example, you can consult the website of the Registraire des entreprises to find out how many years a company has been in business and the names of its directors.

To find out more, refer to the section titled Occasions d’affaires (in French only).

Are you being asked for money to work from home? You do not have to pay to work! This is often a tactic to sell you material or get money from you. Serious businesses provide you with everything you need free of charge.

Get advice

Before answering a classified ad offering people an opportunity to work from home, study it carefully. If in doubt, seek advice from an informed person. You can also contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

Beware of any businesses that:

  • ask you to send them your banking information;
  • promise high income for little effort;
  • remain vague as to the nature of the work to be done;
  • ask you for an electronic transfer or remittance of funds.

To find out more, refer to the page titled Offres de travail à domicile (in French only).

Price accuracy

Debts and collections

A price accuracy policy applies in establishments that display the price of the items on the shelves and use an optical scanner at the cash register.

If the price claimed at the cash register is higher than the price indicated in the store:

  • the item is given to you for free if it costs $10 or less;
  • you get a $10 discount on the price indicated in the store if the item costs more than $10.

You can have the policy applied on the spot in the store. All you have to do is ask for it. If you notice the error after making the purchase, you can go back to the store to claim the compensation provided for under the policy.

The price accuracy policy does not apply if:

  • the price at the cash register is lower than the price indicated in the store;
  • the bar code scanned at the cash register is not for the item purchased;
  • an item is placed near a label that describes another item;
  • the expiry date on the label indicates that the discount period is over;
  • you are purchasing clothing, an item without a bar code (e.g. fruits and vegetables sold in bulk), cow’s milk, certain medications or alcohol sold by establishments other than the Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ);
  • you are purchasing identical items (the policy only applies to one item).

To find out more, refer to the section titled Price Indicated in the Store.

Is a collection agent contacting you? Who is this person? What does he or she do?

Let’s say you have $2,000 worth of unpaid bills with a merchant. The merchant could ask a collection agency to try to recover this amount from you.

The ways in which a collection agent can recover a sum of money are regulated. Among other things, a collection agent:

  • must first send you a notice of claim on paper, and then wait 5 days before contacting you by telephone. You have the right to ask the agent to provide you with written information on the amount of money he or she claims you owe;
  • is not allowed to contact anyone who is close to you (friends, loved ones, etc.), other than once to obtain your contact information; and
  • is not allowed to threaten, harass or intimidate you, or claim a higher amount than what you owe. You have recourse options to stop this behaviour.

To find out more, refer to the section titled Debt Collection by an Agency.

Purchasing from an itinerant merchant

Online purchases

An itinerant salesperson rings your doorbell. Obviously, you are not prepared for this person’s visit. The salesperson could try to make you believe that his or her offer is a real bargain, and that this opportunity will never come again.

Before you sign a contract and commit to purchasing, for example, a heat pump, follow these tips:

  • Take the time to compare the asking price with at least two other providers to make sure the offer is competitive.
  • Ask the salesperson to give you a copy of the documents pertaining to the contract you are being asked to enter into. You can then read them and determine the value of the offer with a clear mind. If the salesperson refuses, beware!
  • Take the time to check whether you are eligible for the various government programs the salesperson is telling you about. Financial aid or tax credits may indeed be available… but it is your responsibility to determine whether you meet the conditions to benefit from these programs.
  • Make sure the merchant holds a permit from the Office de la protection du consommateur. This permit could serve to provide you with financial protection if the merchant fails to abide by its obligations. You can use the Get information about a merchant tool to check whether the merchant has such a permit.
  • Avoid doing business with any merchant that does not provide a complete address, or only provides a telephone number as contact information. You may have difficulty finding this merchant should you encounter any problems.

Point to keep in mind

It is easy to say no on the spot and say yes later. The reverse may be more complicated!

To find out more, refer to the section titled Itinerant Sales.

Before making an online purchase, certain precautions could help you avoid many inconveniences. Here are a few tips:

  • Make sure you are on a secure site. How can you tell? The website address begins with https:// and an icon (usually a small, locked padlock) appears next to the address bar or at the bottom of the page.
  • Check whether the merchant provides complete contact information and customer service information: company name, address, phone number, email, etc. This will make it easier for you to assert your rights if there is a problem. You can even test the company's phone number or email address before making a purchase.
  • Find out about the merchant’s exchange and reimbursement policy. Unless an internal policy states otherwise, the merchant is not required, for example, to reimburse you for an item you no longer want simply because you have changed your mind.
  • Beware of "free" sample offers and offers that are too good to be true. If it’s free, you shouldn't have to take out your credit card! Be particularly wary of unsolicited offers.
  • Only give out information that is relevant to the transaction. If you have doubts about a request for information, you can contact the merchant to find out how the company intends to use this information.

Cancelling an online purchase

If you have not received your purchase within 30 days after the date indicated by the merchant in the contract, you have the right to cancel. If no date is indicated in the contract, the 30-day period that follows the date of purchase is considered. You also have the right to cancel if the merchant fails to provide you with certain information about the company and the transaction.

To find out more, refer to the section titled Online Purchases.

Other Topics

Housing

Landlord/tenant relations are governed by the Tribunal administratif du logement. Its website provides information on your rights and obligations, whether you are a tenant (lessee) or a landlord (lessor).

Insurance, investment and savings

The Autorité des marchés financiers can provide you with information on various financial products and services. Among other things, its website provides a kit designed for newcomers titled L’essentiel des finances personnelles (available in French only). This kit contains all the information you need to understand Québec’s financial system and effectively manage your personal finances.

Opening a bank account

To help you make an informed choice when opening a bank account, refer to the website of the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada.

The rules for opening an account at a credit union (caisse populaire) are different from those that apply to a bank account. You can visit the Desjardins website on this subject.

Taxes

For questions concerning federal taxes, refer to the website of the Government of Canada.

For questions about provincial taxes, refer to the website of Revenu Québec.

Budgets and financial problems

Some consumer protection organizations offer budget consulting services free of charge. They can show you how to set and manage your budget, and advise you on how to settle your debts.

Contact your local Association coopérative d’économie familiale or consumer association. The contact information for these organizations and much more information can be found on the website Tout bien calculé (in French only) of the Coalition des associations de consommateurs du Québec.

Electric or natural gas heating

For questions about electric heating, refer to the website of Hydro-Québec.

For questions about natural gas heating, contact natural gas companies.

Vehicle registration and transfer of ownership

Vehicle registration and transfer of ownership are under the responsibility of the Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec.

Product testing

You can refer to Protégez-Vous. This media publishes evaluations, comparative analyses and tests for various categories of products. This could help you choose one product over another.

Getting information about a merchant

The Get information about a merchant tool provides you with the following information:

  • the Office’s monitoring actions with regard to a merchant (violation notices, criminal prosecutions or voluntary commitments) and the results of these interventions;
  • the number of formal notices a merchant has received from consumers and of which the Office has received a copy.

How to resolve a problem with a merchant

Are you having a problem with a merchant? Contact the Office to file a complaint. We will inform you of your rights and recourse options. We will also provide you with tools to assist you.

You will probably be asked to try to negotiate with the merchant. If the negotiation fails, you can send the merchant a formal notice. In certain cases, you may be able to use PARLe. This is a quick and free service offered entirely online that could help you settle your litigation with the merchant.

To find out more, refer to the section titled Resolve a Problem with a Merchant.

Quiz: True or False?

To contact the Office

The Office can provide you with information and assistance on many other consumer topics, such as trips or gift cards.

If you experience a problem, you can also contact us. An agent can guide you through the steps you can take to resolve the problem.

You can write to us, call us or even come in person to one of our offices.

You will find our contact information in the section titled Contact Us.