Bell Mobility Inc., and its parent company, BCE, were served this morning with a $100 million lawsuit, which alleges the expiry dates on its pre-paid wireless services are illegal. A copy of the Statement of Claim and more information about the lawsuit can be found online.
The lawsuit alleges that Bell systemically breaches its contracts with its pre-paid wireless customers by seizing credit balances, and that Bell engages in “unfair practices”, contrary to Ontario’s Consumer Protection Act. In particular, the lawsuit alleges that pre-paid wireless services payments are “gift cards”, as defined by the Act, and cannot have an expiry date; and that Bell’s communications to its customers about expiry dates are misleading. The allegations in the lawsuit have not yet been proven in court.
The proposed representative plaintiff, Celia Sankar, is a resident of Elliot Lake, Ontario, and the founder of the DiversityCanada Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that promotes social justice. Ms. Sankar is a Bell pre-paid wireless customer who had her credit balance seized on two occasions, in September 2011 and February 2012.
If the case is certified as a class action, Ms. Sankar will represent all persons in Ontario who purchased or otherwise acquired pre-paid wireless services under the brands Bell Mobility, Virgin Mobile Canada and Solo Mobile since May 4, 2010.
“Because the prepaid wireless service is the least expensive way to have a phone, and does not require a credit card or a bank account, it is often the only option for youth, new immigrants, workers on minimum wage, the unemployed, people on disability, and seniors on fixed incomes,” Sankar said. “These are the people who can least afford to have their funds forfeited or to have their mobile services cut off.”
Ms. Sankar has retained the Toronto law firm of Sack Goldblatt Mitchell LLP to bring the claim.
“The Consumer Protection Act exists to prevent companies from engaging in ‘unfair business practices’ that harm their customers,” said lead counsel Louis Sokolov. “We are asking the Court to decide whether Bell’s systemic practice of seizing credit balances is unlawful. If it is, then the practice must stop and the money must be returned.”