Mark Silverthorn successfully lobbies Ontario Government to enforce ban on collection calls to cell phone users

After prodding by consumer lawyer Mark Silverthorn, the Ontario Government has announced it is going to ban collection agencies from calling Ontario residents on their cell phones to demand payment of a debt. In a letter dated March 10, 2009, to Mark Silverthorn, Brian Pitkin, the Ontario Registrar of Collection Agencies, stated that he was going to write a letter to collection agencies advising them that once an Ontario resident advises a collection agency that the consumer was being charged for a cell phone call that the collection agency would no longer be permitted to call the consumer at that number. Subsequently, Brian Pitkin wrote a letter dated
April 28, 2009, to collection agencies operating in Ontario advising them of his office’s new position regarding cell phone calls.

Most Ontario residents pay for their incoming phone calls on their cell phones. Subsection 22(b) of the Ontario Collection Agencies Act prohibits collection agencies from communicating with consumers in circumstances where the recipient of the communication incurs an expense. Therefore, it is illegal for collection agencies to phone Ontario residents in circumstances where the consumer is incurring a charge for the call to their cell phone.

The following quotation is taken from Mr. Pitkin’s letter of March 10, 2009.

Your letter of November 2, 2008 to the Premier has been referred to me for reply.

I appreciate your comments and have reviewed this matter with counsel. As a result I will be writing to collection agencies that calls to cell phones resulting in the costs of the call being payable by the person are prohibited by section 22 of the Collection Agencies Act. Once a collection agency knows the person is being charged the costs attributable to the call I will expect the agency to cease calls to the cell phone number.This announcement by the Ontario Registrar in this letter is a significant change from his earlier position which he staked out in an interview with Ellen Roseman of the Toronto Star in her November 5, 2008 article titled “Cellphone calls about bills illegal”. In his interview with Ellen Roseman Brian Pitkin indicated that if a consumer objected to being called on his cell phone the collection agency would be required to stop calling that number provided the consumer provided the collection agency with an alternate phone number the consumer could be reached at. In his letter dated March 10, 2009, the Registrar drops his earlier requirement that a consumer objecting to receiving calls on his cell phone must provide a collection agency with an alternative phone number.

Mark Silverthorn wrote a letter to the Premier, the Honourable Dalton McGuinty, dated November 2, 2008, complaining that the Ontario Registrar was not enforcing the law in Ontario prohibiting collection agencies from phoning Ontario residents on their cell phones in circumstances where the consumer incurred an expense. This letter was subsequently referred by the Premier to the Minister of Small Business and Consumer Services who then referred the letter to the Ontario Registrar of Collection Agencies. Toronto Star columnist Ellen Roseman, in her column dated May 16, 2009,
credits Mark Silverthorn with successfully lobbying the Ontario government to enforce the law in Ontario banning collection agencies from calling Ontarians on their cell phones.

What you should do if you are receiving collection calls from a collection agency on your cell phone
If you are receiving collection calls from a collection agency on your cell phone you should ask the collector for the following information:

Name of the creditor
Account number
Name of the collection agency
Name of the collector
If you can learn the name of the creditor on whose behalf the collector is calling it is usually relatively simple to identify which collection agency is phoning you. It is also helpful if you can learn the account number the collector is calling about.

You should advise the collector they are calling you on your cell phone. Unless you have a cell phone plan under which incoming calls are free you should advise the collector that you are being charged for this call and the collector should not call you at this number again. Furthermore, you have every right to terminate this phone call at any time. Under most cell phone plans in Canada consumers pay for both incoming and outgoing calls.


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