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Finance Minister Keeps Mum on Directing Agency to Investigate Bank Customer Complaints

Access to Information records indicate that the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC), which is responsible for protecting consumers’ rights and interests, did not respond personally to any of the more than 27,000 bank customers who had written complaint letters, and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland would not comment on whether she will take any action.

Ms. Freeland’s office did not respond to questions, according to Blacklock’s Reporter, when asked on Sept. 6 if she would use statutory powers to ensure the FCAC investigates public complaints.

With 182 staff members and a $37.1 million annual budget, records show that of the 27,323 bank customers who complained to the FCAC about various breaches of the Bank Act in the last five years, none received any response besides a form letter suggesting they talk to their bank.

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The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada Act states that the finance minister “may give a written direction to the Agency if he or she is of the opinion it can strengthen consumer protection and the public’s confidence.”

The commissioner of the FCAC would not provide an interview but in a statement said, “Consumer complaints play an important role in identifying concerns in the market conduct of federally regulated entities and gathering information on trends and emerging issues.”

“FCAC is committed to promoting, monitoring and enforcing the compliance of regulated entities,” said Ann-Marie Epps, manager of the agency’s consumer services centre. “FCAC uses information from complaints to help monitor and evaluate trends.”

John Lawford, general counsel with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, a consumer advocacy group, said the FCAC “is largely ineffective with not much justification for its existence.”

“Most people give up after getting stonewalled,” he added.

The FCAC has only issued three fines since 2021 against banks found to have breached consumer protection regulations. Mr. Lawford said that “one or two a year is not a good place.”

Formed with the passing of the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada Act in 2001, the FCAC has a mandate to “strive and protect the rights and interests of consumers of financial products and services.”

The agency did not respond to requests from The Epoch Times for comment by press time.

According to its website, as part of its mandate, the FCAC investigates complaints about federally regulated financial institutions. These include banks, federal credit unions, authorized foreign banks, insurance companies, and trust and loan companies.

As a federal agency, the FCAC does not investigate complaints about financial institutions that fall under provincial jurisdiction. It also does not supervise provincially regulated credit unions, finance companies, mutual fund dealers, and securities dealers.

“FCAC investigates complaints about financial institutions that relate to possible breaches of market conduct obligations. This can be a breach of a law, regulation, code of conduct or public commitment,” the agency said on its website.

“Any consumer can file a complaint about a federally regulated financial institution with FCAC at no cost. Keep in mind that FCAC doesn’t resolve individual disputes and doesn’t provide redress or compensation,” the agency added.

As far back as 2016, the FCAC was criticized by New Brunswick Senator Pierre Ringuette for “not really” protecting Canadian consumers. Mr. Ringuette told a hearing of the Senate national finance committee at the time that he had not “seen in my years here any instance where the Financial Consumer Agency had a real impact on the financial consumer.”

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