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Purchasing tourist packages and vacation trips via the internet: How are you protected?


Civil and commercial litigation

With the summer season rapidly approaching, many of us will be arranging vacations, trips and excursions. Many of us will also arrange purchases over the internet with travel agencies, travel companies, hotels or other suppliers situated outside of Quebec.

In doing so, Quebec consumers still have many of the protections provided in the Consumer Protection Act. Article 2 of the law specifically provides that it applies to every contract for goods and services entered into between the consumer and the merchant in the course of his business.

Article 3149 of the Civil Code of Quebec provides that Quebec courts have jurisdiction to hear an action based on a consumer contract if the consumer has his domicile or residence in Quebec, and the waiver of such jurisdiction by the consumer may not be invoked against the consumer.

Article 3117 of the Civil Code of Quebec states that the choice of the law applicable to a consumer contract cannot result in depriving the consumer of the protection afforded to him by the mandatory rules of the law of the country or province or state where he has his residence if the contract was made or solicited or offered while he was in his province of residence.

How does the Consumer Protection Act of Quebec cover consumers?

In general, the Consumer Protection Act of Quebec is considered a law of public order and consumers in Quebec cannot be deprived of their rights or cannot waive their rights under the Consumer Protection Act. So, for example, a distance contract, which is a contract entered into without the merchant and the consumer being in the presence of each other, is deemed to be entered into at the address of the consumer. Therefore, all such consumer contracts made while the consumer resident of Quebec was in the province of Quebec are deemed, under Quebec law, to have been made in Quebec and subject to the laws of Quebec.

This means that, under Quebec law, one might successfully sue the travel agency, the airline or the provider of accommodations or hotel rooms if the contract was made over the internet, or by email, or by fax, or by text message, or by long distance phone call, so long as the consumer has his residence in Quebec and was in the province when he made the contract.

However, the problem that most consumers may face in such a situation, should they get a judgment in their favour (being an order to be paid a certain amount of money) is whether or not they will be able to collect on the judgment. If the defendant travel agency or transportation provider or accommodation provider has assets in the province of Quebec, it then becomes a matter of seizing assets or of executing the judgment against such assets, which may well carry problems and questions of their own.

However, if the defendant does not have assets in the province of Quebec but only has assets in another province, or, for example, in the United States, or in another foreign country, then it becomes a matter of taking the Quebec-issued judgment to an outside jurisdiction in order to have it enforced and executed. Each country will have its own specific rules about how and in what manner foreign judgments can be enforced and executed, and how assets of its residents, whether persons or companies, can be seized or executed upon.

It may also be true that one would have to start a second lawsuit in that foreign jurisdiction or perhaps even skip entirely the process of starting a lawsuit in Quebec and proceed directly to start a lawsuit in the jurisdiction of the travel agency, or transportation provider or provider of accommodations.

Nevertheless, the Consumer Protection Act contains many rules that apply to such contracts and it is probably a very wise idea to not only check the content of the Consumer Protection Act in such situations, but to consult your lawyer for more details as to the sections of the Consumer Protection Act that apply to your situation and may be useful to you, in order to collect compensation or reimbursement should you be dissatisfied with the vacation-related goods and services that you have purchased.

Franco Tamburro, Attorney-at-law
Alepin Gauthier Avocats Inc.

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