Last November Professor Michael Deturbide presented a “mini-law school” session for the general public at the Schulich School of Law on the perils of online buying. “The word ‘perils’ might be a bit strong,” he says, as most online consumer transactions do flow smoothly. “However, when things go wrong, it’s not possible to get an immediate refund like you would at your local department store. The vendor may very well be in an entirely different country.”
Buried in the small print of most online agreements are clauses that likely bring the purchaser within the jurisdiction and apply its laws of another province, state, or country. Moreover, courts in Canada usually uphold these clauses…
Most provincial consumer protection legislation in Canada has been amended to address some of the specific issues of online consumer purchases. For example, a consumer must be given an express opportunity to accept or decline a purchase and correct any errors immediately before finalizing the agreement. That is why websites that sell to consumers provide a summary of purchases before the contract is finalized. The consumer is also given the right to cancel an agreement in certain circumstances (for example, if the purchase is not delivered within 30 days). “Use a credit card, as opposed to a debit card, for online purchases,” says Professor Deturbide. “If there is a problem, consumer protection legislation often requires credit card companies to reverse the charges.”
Professor Deturbide plans to further address consumer protection issues in the context of electronic commerce through a project with Industry Canada. Some of the topics he will investigate include pre-contractual disclosure, “drip” pricing, and unilateral modification of contract terms.