Alberta banning ticket scalping bots in new consumer protection bill

The frustrations felt by Tragically Hip fans last year when they couldn’t buy tickets may be a thing of the past, at least in Alberta, if the legislature passes a new bill introduced Wednesday.

Measures address frustrations fans have faced while trying to buy concert tickets

Tragically Hip fans were angry last year when tickets to the band's final tour were snapped up only to reappear at inflated prices on ticket resale sites. (REUTERS/Kevin Light)

The frustrations felt by Tragically Hip fans last year when they couldn't buy tickets may be a thing of the past, at least in Alberta, if the legislature passes a new bill introduced Wednesday.

Bill 31, A Better Deal for Consumers and Businesses Act, would outlaw software bots that snap up thousands of concert tickets, forcing fans to pay inflated prices on resale sites.

In June 2016, tickets for the Tragically Hip's final tour were sold out instantly, only to appear within minutes on secondary sites.

Under the proposed Alberta law, ticket sellers would have to perform "due diligence" to block bots on their websites, and cancel any tickets snapped up through the software.

Provisions in the bill aim to protect people who purchase cancelled or counterfeit tickets on secondary sites like StubHub by compelling those companies to offer refunds.

"There is a widespread feeling among Albertans that the ticketing game is rigged against them," said Service Alberta Minister Stephanie McLean.

"We believe fans deserve a fair shot at tickets to see their favourite artists without getting gouged or scammed." 

Similar measures are now under consideration by the Ontario legislature, though McLean said the Alberta bill goes further by requiring ticket sellers to perform due diligence at stopping bots. 

Unlike Ontario, Alberta isn't capping the amount tickets can be sold for on secondary sellers. McLean said her department considered a cap but decided the measure is unenforceable. 

Companies caught contravening the act face a maximum penalty of $300,000 and two years in jail. 

Vets have to disclose fees prior to treatment 

Bill 31 doesn't just deal with ticket sales. The proposed legislation renames and updates the existing Fair Trading Act and gives Albertans a consumer bill of rights.

The act protects customers from facing legal action or intimidation for posting negative reviews about a company or service.

Other measures aim to make the purchase of a vehicle more transparent by requiring sellers to disclose a vehicle's history and to provide a standard bill of sale.

Repair shops would have to provide written estimates before performing any work, if the customer asks for one. The bill also establishes minimum warranty protection for repairs.

The bill also requires veterinarians to disclose fees and get the owner's permission before performing medical procedures on pets.

Under the current legislation, veterinary clinics are not allowed to advertise or publicly post their fees online. Bill 31 changes that. 

Lindsay Somerset, an animal rescue volunteer who owns three dogs, said she found it impossible to find the costs of spaying and neutering on the internet for a recent post on her blog.

As the cost of veterinary services are not regulated in Alberta, Somerset hopes wider disclosure of fees will help bring down prices. 

"I'd love to see more low-cost veterinary care options for people," she said. "But I think letting people know the costs ahead of time is a good place to start for pet owners."

AMVIC changes

The bill also transforms the Alberta Motor Vehicle Industry Council (AMVIC) from an industry-based group to a public agency.

That will allow the Service Alberta minister to have more oversight, including a say on representation.

The changes to the AMVIC follow an investigation by consultant George Cuff, who made 22 recommendations to change the organization.

AMVIC came under fire after the owner of Treadz Auto, a now-defunct vehicle consignment company, was arrested in connection with an alleged $1.8-million forgery, theft and fraud ring.

The industry council was named, along with TreadzAuto, in a $5-million class-action lawsuit in 2015. Vehicle owners allege AMVIC didn't investigate their claims.

The review found that the AMVIC compensation fund, created in 2012, had reached its $4-million limit. Yet few claims had been paid to consumers, with only one, totaling $2,000, granted last year.