A Manitoba government agency that is supposed to protect the public from bad debt collectors does not publicly name companies that break the law.
The Consumer Protection Office, which licenses and registers collection agents operating in the province, says debt collectors were caught violating the Consumer Protection Act 25 times in 2011.
See our interview with Jim Rondeau, Manitoba's minister responsible for consumer affairs, on CBC News: Winnipeg starting at 5 p.m. on CBC Television.
While every other province across Canada releases the names of companies that are the subject of complaints, that is not the case with Manitoba's protection office.
"I'm not sure that there is any way that that provision is protecting consumers," said Gloria Desorcy of the Consumers' Association of Canada's Manitoba branch.
In an email to CBC News, a provincial government spokesperson said the Consumer Protection Office believes releasing the names of penalized debt collectors "would serve no public interest."
As to why it would not be in the public interest, an official with the protection office said all complaints have been resolved, all the debt collectors in question have come into compliance, and no charges have been laid.
It would be only in cases of ongoing non-compliance that the office would look at asking justice officials to consider laying charges.
Woman feels harassed by calls
Of the 25 cases in which debt collection companies broke the law last year:
- Fourteen cases involved improper licensing.
- Five cases involved over-collecting.
- Five cases of mistaken identity.
- One case involved a phone call made before 7 a.m. on a Sunday.
Theressa Francois said she has spent years saying no to debt collectors that have been chasing a long-lost relative with unpaid debt.
Francois said she married, changed her name and got an unlisted phone number, but the collectors were able to track her down by contacting an elderly uncle.
"I actually called back and said, 'You guys tricked an elderly man into discussing all kinds of private details of my life, as well as giving away my phone number,'" she said.
After the debt collectors found her, Francois said the number of phone calls exploded again, with companies calling because they are looking for anyone with a similar name.
"I was starting to get really angry and they weren't believing me when I told them I wasn't this person they were looking for," she said.
"It only stopped when I actually lost it."