Quebec Court of Appeal authorizes class-action suit over roaming fees

The Quebec Court of Appeal has given the go-ahead to a class-action lawsuit on behalf of Quebec consumers, challenging the international data roaming fees charged by Canadian cell phone service providers.

Montrealer who paid $250 in roaming charges is representing other users in court

The original application to authorize a class-action lawsuit against Canadian cell phone service providers in Quebec was rejected, but the Quebec Court of Appeal overturned that decision Wednesday. (Carlos Barria /Reuters)

The Quebec Court of Appeal has given the go-ahead to a class-action lawsuit on behalf of Quebec consumers, challenging the international data roaming fees charged by major Canadian cell phone service providers and their subsidiaries.

In September 2012, Montrealer and Fido customer Inga Sibiga went on vacation in the United States.

She used her mobile phone about six times to access Google Maps and hadn't added a pre-paid travel package to her plan.

Sibiga used 40.82 megabytes of data at a rate of $6.14 per MB, which resulted $250.81 of extra charges.

Months later, she was contacted by Trudel Johnston & Lespérance, a Montreal legal firm specializing in class-action lawsuits. The firm was looking into international roaming fees charged to Quebec consumers and was seeking customers who had incurred charges they deemed to be excessive.

With the firm's help, Sibiga filed a motion in January 2013 for authorization of the lawsuit, naming Fido and its owner Rogers, along with Bell Mobility and Telus, as the defendants.

Initial motion rejected

Quebec Superior Court Justice Michel Yergeau denied the application in 2014. Among his reasons, Yergeau said Sibiga did not prove that the roaming fees she paid were exploitative, and because Sibiga only had a contract with Fido, she couldn't represent clients of the other companies.

She appealed the decision, and on Wednesday, the Court of Appeal reversed it.

"We don't know what's the exact cost of providing a megabyte of data while you're outside the country, but we know it's a very small fraction of what they're charging," said Bruce Johnston, Sibiga's lawyer.

Writing for the panel of three appeal court judges, Justice Nicholas Kasirer explains that Sibiga paid $6.14 per MB for roaming, but according to Fido's website, had she purchased a $30, 31-day plan, the roaming rate would have been $1.50 per MB.

Kasirer said that difference suggests the companies are charging exploitative rates to pay-as-you-go customers.

As for the assertion that Sibiga can't represent customers of other telecommunications companies, Johnston said that's not true.

"The requirement to have a contract with each [company] is somewhat artificial, when you think that the same trial can settle the issue against every defendant," he said.

The class action will cover consumers residing in Quebec who were charged international mobile data roaming fees by the defendants at a rate higher than $5 per megabyte after Jan. 8, 2010.

Sibiga is asking to be refunded any amount over $5 per MB. Johnston says some of the people who have come forward have been charged as much as $30 per MB.