A $5,000 Bell bill? Parents struggle with runaway wireless charges

A $5,000 Bell bill? Parents struggle with runaway wireless charges

Heather Gunn-LaBrie is still paying off a surprise $5,000 Bell bill for long distance and talk minutes charges, racked up by her 16-year-old son late last year. 

“It is the most horrific feeling,” said Gunn-LaBrie who lives in Edmonton and shares a small business wireless plan with her son and husband.

“This is an obscene amount of stress put on my family.”

A newly released survey commissioned by the CRTC — Canada’s telecom regulator — suggests many Canadians struggle with surprise wireless charges. Of 1,152 wireless customers surveyed by phone in September, 24 per cent said they experienced bill shock within the past year. That number climbed to 29 per cent for those with shared plans.

Gunn-LaBrie and some other parents recently hit with big wireless bills argue there should be more protections in place to help curb runaway charges, especially when sharing plans with minors. 

The CRTC has implemented regulations to help protect customers from mounting data and roaming fees. However, when it comes to texting, or — in Gunn-LaBrie’s case — long distance and talk minutes charges, the same regulations don’t apply.

“It’s appalling,” she said. “That’s really a double standard.”

‘An absolute shock’

Gunn-LaBrie’s troubles began when, from mid-October to early December, her son ran up $6,774 in charges, largely for long distance calls to his girlfriend who lives 150 km from their home in Edmonton. 

Bell initially forgave $521 of the amount. It then kicked in another $1,163 after Gunn-LaBrie filed a complaint with the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-Television Services — a telecom watchdog.

She’s paying down the remaining $5,090 in installments because that’s all she can afford.

“It’s just a huge weight sitting on us.”

Joy Zylster and her husband, Dave, are struggling to pay an $1,800 wireless phone bill they said they had no idea was coming. (submitted by Joy Zlystra)

When she got her plan, Gunn-LaBrie believed she had signed up her son for unlimited Canada-wide calling. She only learned of the unexpected charges when she opened both her November and December bills in early December.

“It was an absolute shock,” she said. “I had no idea it could get that high that fast and without warning.”

Bell said it sent 11 text alerts about mounting charges to the user racking them up, and that Gunn-LaBrie is listed as the account holder on each line on her plan. 

She said her son recalls receiving a few alerts, but he ignored them because he thought they involved his mom’s bill and that she would get them too — but she didn’t. 

Bell also said it called three times and left messages. Gunn-LaBrie said she received no calls and, after inquiring, her son recalled being contacted by Bell, but was unclear what it was about.

‘I should have received a notification’

Joy and Dave Zylstra in Edmonton are also still struggling to pay off  a big Bell bill: $1,800 in texting charges to the U.S., recently racked up by their 14-year-old daughter on the family’s shared plan. 

Again, only the daughter’s phone received Bell alerts, which she ignored, thinking they weren’t meant for her.

“I should have received a notification,” said Dave Zylstra. “I could have immediately realized there was an issue and dealt with it.”

Desiree Goodwin of Port Elgin, N.B., also wishes she had received a notification after getting a surprise $635 Telus bill in long distance and talk minutes charges. They were run up by her son — aged 18 at the time — from mid-October to mid-November on the family’s shared plan. 

Desiree Goodwin of Port Eglin, N.B., said she was near tears when she received a Telus bill for $635 in overage charges. Telus cut the bill down to $292. (submitted by Desiree Goodwin)

Telus refunded $343 of the amount “as an act of goodwill,” leaving Goodwin with a $292 bill. The telco also said that it helped Goodwin remedy the problem by switching her son’s plan to a similarly priced one with unlimited nationwide talk and text.

“I was almost in tears,” said Goodwin when she first discovered the charges. “There should be a limit that you can set.”

That limit is already in place — but only for data and roaming fees, not for long distance, talk minutes or texting charges. 

The CRTC mandates that telcos must cut customers off once they hit $50 in data or $100 in roaming fees — unless customers consent to further charges.

In the case of shared plans, the account owner must provide that consent — a rule the CRTC introduced in 2017 following complaints about teens running up data charges

‘Pernicious pricing mechanism’

Consumer advocate John Lawford believes the CRTC’s rules for data and roaming charges should apply to all wireless fees.

“Overage fees are a pernicious pricing mechanism,” said Lawford, executive director of the Ottawa-based Public Interest Advocacy Centre.

“You just shouldn’t have to open up your bill and go, ‘Oh, it’s four figures.’ Most people can’t afford that.”

Consumer advocate John Lawford says all fees should be treated equally when it comes to regulations protecting consumers from bill shock. (Jonathan Dupaul/CBC)

In an email to CBC News, the CRTC said that when it created its Wireless Code regulations in 2013 and then updated them in 2017, it was determined that data and roaming charges were the main sources of bill shock.

The telecom regulator said that managing added texting, long distance and talk minutes costs have, “over time, become more intuitive to consumers.”

But that’s not always the case. Respondents in the latest CRTC-commissioned survey cited long distance fees as the third biggest reason for customers’ bill shock, following data and roaming charges. 

In a previous CRTC survey conducted in September 2016, talk minute overages was cited as the third largest culprit, following data and roaming charges.

The big three telcos, Bell, Telus and Rogers each said that they provide customers with online tools to help them closely monitor all lines in a phone plan. They also said that customers can modify their plans to incorporate unlimited offerings if they’re running up overage fees.

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Job losses in Windsor, canola dispute with China and the future of Canada’s economy | Business Panel

Job losses in Windsor, canola dispute with China and the future of Canada's economy | Business Panel


Our weekend business panel discusses the slashing of 1,500 jobs at a Fiat Chrysler plant in Windsor, Ont., Canada’s canola dispute with China and what the bond market could signal for the future of the Canadian economy.

Our weekend business panel discusses the slashing of 1,500 jobs at a Fiat Chrysler plant in Windsor, Ont., Canada’s canola dispute with China and what the bond market could signal for the future of the Canadian economy. 9:48

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Pot curious? Ontario’s retail cannabis stores are counting on you

Pot curious? Ontario's retail cannabis stores are counting on you

With retail cannabis stores opening in Ontario on April 1, have you suddenly become pot curious? The industry is counting on it. 

Ontario’s cannabis business is expected to see a big bump in sales thanks to people who, up to now, have avoided buying legal weed online. 

Ontario sales reached $9 million in December, lagging behind Alberta and Quebec despite having a much larger market, according to the last figures made available by Statistics Canada.

“I think having brick and mortar stores, it’s proven to actually inflate the market quite a bit,” said Nick Pateras, with Lift & Co., the Toronto company responsible for training all of Ontario’s retail staff.

“I think you’ll see a pretty sharp spike; three to four times the monthly average pretty quickly,” he said, anticipating the first-time buyers will begin coming out of the woodwork.

A February Statistics Canada survey suggests while 15 per cent of Canadians report using marijuana, 19 per cent say they will in the next three months.

Retail store owners want their staff to be ready when those new customers walk in. 

Store front for Hobo Recreational Cannabis Store on Bank Street in Ottawa. (Radio-Canada)

“Some first-time users really need that one-on-one consultation,” said Isaac Watson, VP of product development and retail experience at Fire and Flower, which plans to open two stores in Ottawa and another in Kingston next week. 

Its staff have been training in the company stores in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Watson said, if it’s anything like the rest of Canada, the Ontario stores can expect hundreds of people to come out and stand in line Monday.

The stores can handle approximately 60 people at a time.

“We’ll bring them in in droves,” said Watson, “and we’ll take them through an educational experience together to help orient them amongst the 130 strains that we’re going to have.” 

‘Start slow, go slow’

Pateras said the main reasons many customers prefer going to the store range from needing more education on the drug’s effects, to needing the tactile experience of smelling and seeing the product.

Managing the effects usually requires first understanding issues like potency, especially if you haven’t tried the drug in a long time.

He said it’s also about finding that balance between two of the drug’s main components: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). 

THC is sometimes called “the accelerator,” which gives the high, and CBD “the brakes,” as the more mellow component. 

Pateras said an industry slogan for the first-time user is “start slow, go slow,” when it comes to choosing the right product in the beginning — suggesting a good balance between the two at first.

Privacy, border concerns

A number of potential buyers have likely also been waiting for the stores to open because they’re uncomfortable using their credit card for online purchases. 

“A lot of people don’t want to hand over their credit card and have the purchase traced back to them,” explained Pateras, “so they’re looking to go into a store and using cash.”

Pateras said that privacy concern is related in part to the ongoing stigma of using a drug that was illegal just a few months ago, but many also have concerns about the information affecting their travel to the United States.

The federal government has issued an advisory that warns “previous use of cannabis, or any substance prohibited by U.S. federal laws, could mean that you are denied entry to the U.S.”

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Canola producers want fast resolution to feud with China — but are ready to look elsewhere

Canola producers want fast resolution to feud with China — but are ready to look elsewhere

After Chinese authorities banned two major Canadian companies from shipping canola seed to China, producers say they’re hoping for a quick resolution to the dispute — but are prepared to look to other markets.

Earlier this month, Chinese customs authorities revoked the licence of Winnipeg-based agricultural handler Richardson International, and then pulled a similar move on Regina-based Viterra Inc. on Tuesday.

China alleges Canadian canola has harmful pests in it, but the ban is widely seen as retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Meng Wanzhou, an executive with Chinese telecom giant Huawei, at the behest of the United States.

“It’s certainly not about the quality of Canadian canola, in my mind,” Jim Everson, president of the Canola Council of Canada, told Chris Hall, host of CBC Radio’s The House, in an interview airing Saturday.

This week, Viterra became the second Canadian company to see its licence to export canola seed to China revoked. (Ron Boileau/CBC)

Last week, the Canola Council of Canada announced orders from China had mysteriously dried up for a number of canola sellers other than Richardson and Viterra.

On Friday, Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau and International Trade Diversification Minister Jim Carr said the government is considering subsidizing farmers hit by China’s ban on Canadian canola imports.

But Everson — who met with with the two ministers on Friday — said he is hoping China’s market reopens soon.

“We’ve talked to [the ministers] quite a bit about the issues in terms of re-engaging and engaging China and restoring that market, and that’s the first priority,” Everson said, adding he hopes the government sends a delegation to China to address the issue.

Jim Everson, president of the Canola Council of Canada, says the Chinese market for seed is larger than the next three major markets combined.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau mentioned the possibility of sending a delegation to China as he defended the quality control of the product as “top-notch and world-class.”

Engaging with the Chinese could help resolve the current issue, said Sharon Zhengyang Sun, a trade economist with the Canada West Foundation.

“What Canada needs to do is to address broader non-tariff barrier issues that hinder agriculture trade,” Sun told Chris Hall, on CBC Radio’s The House.

Sun suggested aligning Canada’s food inspection approval process with China’s, or creating a formal dispute resolution mechanism with China, as ways to reduce non-tariff barriers.

But Sun acknowledged that doing so might only solve the surface issue.

“All of this is taking place in a bigger framework where Canada is wedged between the tensions between China and the U.S.,” she said.

If the problem can’t be resolved quickly, Everson said producers are ready to look elsewhere to sell their canola. Sun suggested looking to other Asian countries brought together through the recent Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

“This provides us with (a) rules-based system to trade in Asia and expand our markets further with countries such as Japan or Vietnam,” Sun said.

But Everson said that it might be a difficult task, given that roughly 40 per cent of Canadian canola seed exports normally go to China.

“It is very difficult to very quickly diversify away from such an important market to other market opportunities,” he said.

Canada exports more canola than any other nation, and China is a major customer. (Scott Galley/CBC)

Earlier Friday, Conservative MPs on the House of Commons agriculture committee failed in their attempt to persuade the Liberal majority to compel Carr, Bibeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland to testify.

The Conservatives wanted the ministers to address what they say is a broader political crisis with China that’s affecting the livelihoods of Canadian farmers.

The Liberal majority on the committee voted the motion down, arguing that Carr and Bibeau are already set to appear before the international trade committee on Tuesday.

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‘Companies knew they had a big problem’: Kia, Hyundai owners say they were knowingly sold defective vehicles

Grocery price check, cancer missed by Pap smear and WOW airline: CBC's Marketplace consumer cheat sheet

A group of vehicle owners is going after two major automakers in a proposed class-action lawsuit, claiming they were knowingly sold defective vehicles then left to pay for losses and repairs when the engines failed or caught fire. 

In a lawsuit filed this week, Hyundai and Kia are accused of intentionally concealing the defect from buyers of vehicles with Theta, Nu, and Gamma engines.

“When complaints came … [owners] were told ‘gosh we haven’t heard of that happening. Isn’t that weird?’ And in fact the companies knew they had a big problem,” Regina lawyer Tony Merchant, who is heading up the lawsuit, told Go Public.

The class action was filed in Court of Queen’s Bench in Regina on Monday, but has yet to be certified by the court. It names Hyundai Auto Canada, Kia Canada and their American counterparts — Hyundai Motors America and Kia Motors America.

None of the allegations in the lawsuit have been proven in court.

‘They can’t fix the problem’

A Go Public investigation revealed concerns about Hyundai and Kia engines failing at high speeds or spontaneously bursting into flames — putting some drivers and their passengers into life-threatening situations and leaving others with thousands in repair bills.

Consumer and safety advocates have criticized the South Korean automakers for taking too long to issue recalls of too few models with the Theta-family engines. The recalls started in 2015 and are still rolling out.

“Their difficulty is that they can’t fix the problem. They don’t know what to do about the problem. So a recall where there’s no fix is really no recall at all,” Merchant said.

Go Public asked Hyundai if it had a fix for the engine problems, but it didn’t respond to that question directly.

Merchant says the proposed class-action suit involves 37 Hyundai and Kia owners, and seven different models ranging in years from 2011-16 — but he expects the number of drivers and vehicles involved to grow once word gets out about the lawsuit. 

Models and years involved in the proposed class-action lawsuit.

The legal action is also looking for compensation for owners with the problematic engines who haven’t had failures or fires, but are facing a loss in vehicle value.

“For the vast majority of people, they’re not going to have a safety problem. And many of them are going to be compelled to continue to operate these vehicles because they can’t afford the hit of getting rid of them. So they’re entitled to financial compensation that flows from having a vehicle that’s significantly depreciated,” Merchant says.

Hyundai Auto Canada, Kia Canada and Kia Motors America all told Go Public they do not comment on any current or pending litigation.

Hyundai Motors USA responded to Go Public’s questions about the latest Canadian lawsuit with a general statement. 

“Nothing is more important than the safety and security of Hyundai customers,” spokesperson Michael Stewart wrote in an email.

“Hyundai actively monitors and evaluates potential safety concerns, including non-collision engine fires, with all of our vehicles and acts swiftly to recall any vehicles with safety-related defects … Hyundai quality and safety is among the best in the industry.” 

‘They wanted nothing to do with us’

Go Public continues to get complaints from Hyundai and Kia owners, who say they are interested in joining a class-action suit if it means the automakers would have to take responsibility.

Marnie and Adam Nelson contacted Go Public after seeing previous engine stories.

The couple’s 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe caught fire while it was parked in their driveway last March. They bought it six months earlier and paid more than $50,000 for the SUV.

Video submitted by Marnie Nelson. Her car’s engine caught fire while sitting in the driveway in March 2018. 1:20

They contacted Hyundai’s head office by email to report the fire and ask for a refund on the extended warranties they had purchased, but say no one followed up to investigate. Instead, the couple says most of their messages to head office were ignored and the local dealership was only interested in getting them to buy a new vehicle.

“As soon as they [the dealership] found out we weren’t going to come back in and buy another car, we were persona non grata, they wanted nothing to do with us. No return calls — nothing,” Adam said.

“They should be standing behind their products better,” Marnie told Go Public. 

The dealership declined to respond to Go Public’s questions about the couple’s situation directly, referring us to head office. 

Hyundai says its records show the Nelsons went directly to their insurance company to report the fire and only reached out to the company for a refund on an extended warranty they had purchased for the vehicle. The couple says they received a partial refund.

The company wrote in an email to Go Public that its policy is to investigate every case of a fire, “that we are aware of and requested to investigate to determine if the cause is attributed to neglect, abuse, environment or the product itself.”

The Nelsons say their fire was never investigated by the company. The company did reach out to the couple after Go Public inquiries. 

Thousands out of pocket

Daniel Roukema says Hyundai refused to cover the cost of replacing the engine in his 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe after it failed in 2016. (Submitted by Daniel Roukema)

The engine in Daniel Roukema’s 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe didn’t burn — it died in 2016 while he was driving on a highway near Toronto.

He says he had to pay about $9,000 to replace it. When he asked the company to cover the cost, Roukema says it refused and blamed his lack of upkeep for the engine failure, which he denies. 

Two recalls were issued for the vehicle after he paid to replace his engine.

“I think the way they’ve handled the situation is absolutely abhorrent … we [owners] ought to be compensated,” he said.

Hyundai did not respond to specific questions about Roukema’s case, but said “if a customer previously paid for repairs in advance of a recall being issued, and it is determined that the repairs required were a result of a recall, Hyundai will reimburse the customer for the recall-specific repairs to their vehicle.”

Hyundai says it will soon launch what it calls a microsite that aims to answer questions for customers affected by recalls.

In Quebec, the Automobile Protection Association and a group of Kia owners are suing Kia for compensation for alleged engine problems with the 2010-15 Kia Forte. Fires are not part of that class-action lawsuit.

Transport Canada has been investigating engine issues in Hyundai and Kia vehicles since September. The transportation authority is asking owners who have had problems to contact the department

Submit your story ideas

Go Public is an investigative news segment on CBC-TV, radio and the web.

We tell your stories and hold the powers that be accountable.

We want to hear from people across the country with stories you want to make public.

Submit your story ideas to gopublic@cbc.ca.

Follow @CBCGoPublic on Twitter.

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Millennials are on a quest to find meaningful work — and they’re willing to take a pay cut to get it

Millennials are on a quest to find meaningful work — and they're willing to take a pay cut to get it

Millennial workers want their jobs to hold meaning, and nearly half of them would trade a lucrative raise for a position where they could make a greater impact, new research has found.

An online survey of more than 1,500 Canadian office workers found that 47 per cent of millennial respondents would give up a pay raise for more meaningful work. Of those who’d forgo the raise, the average amount they’d give up was $9,639. 

Conducted January 12 to 19 by Legerweb on behalf of ServiceNow — which makes cloud-based software for workplaces — the sample has an estimated margin of error of +/- 2.2 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

Demographers define the millennial generation as those born between 1980 and 1995.

Marc LeCuyer, general manager for ServiceNow’s Canadian operations, said traditional career goals such as achieving an impressive salary, title or corner office, just aren’t resonating with millennials. 

“They’re saying ‘I want purpose in my work, I want to be doing meaningful work, and if I’m going to spend this much time in the office over the course of my life, I want it to be important and impactful, and I want to be at my best.'”

Marc LeCuyer, general manager of Canadian operations for ServiceNow, which makes cloud-based software for workplaces, says millennials have brought about a values shift in the workplace, one more focused on meaning than on nabbing an impressive title or corner office. (Submitted by ServiceNow)

Where Gen Xers may have been resigned to accept their company’s culture, the recent “war on talent” caused by the mass exodus of baby boomers from the workforce has changed things, LeCuyer said.

“There’s isn’t enough Gen Xers to come up through the ranks and fill all those gaps, which is becoming a challenge, and you’ve got the millennial workforce coming in that are just different thinkers,” he said. Part of that different outlook includes a distaste for time-wasting busywork or menial tasks.  

“They look at mundane tasks as things that are demotivating to their day-to-day. They’re often frustrated because they’re the ones that have to do them, and they want to focus on work that has purpose.” 

A growth mindset

In addition to wanting to find work meaningful, millennials say they care a lot about learning and growing on the job.

A separate Angus Reid Forum survey conducted for digital career coaching platform Prosper, found that 35 per cent of Canadian respondents don’t believe their employer provides them with the necessary support to expand their professional skills.

That’s particularly troubling for millennials, said Prosper founder and CEO Krystyn Harrison.

Prosper’s online survey of 1,000 Canadians, conducted March 8 to 10, found that respondents in the millennial age bracket had spent an average of 50 hours developing a new skill in the past year, compared to an overall average of 15 hours.

As a millennial myself I would say we’re a very ambitious generation that is often very misunderstood in the workplace.– Krystyn Harrison, founder and CEO of Prosper

Harrison said people in this demographic group have become accustomed to continuous learning, not only because they value that growth, but because it’s been necessary to stay competitive given the pace of technological change.

“Anything we learned 10 years ago is obsolete and in the last five years, anything we’ve learned is redundant,” she said.

Despite these efforts to keep abreast of change, this cohort has been subject to criticism about their approach to work.

“As a millennial myself I would say we’re a very ambitious generation that is often very misunderstood in the workplace.”

With the pace of change, precarious employment and other factors at play in the current labour market, young people are looking for fit and growth instead.

“One of the things that we’ve had to do out of necessity is look for purpose in our careers, look for values,” said Harrison. “These are important to all generations, but the millennial generation has really brought that to the forefront and demanded more from work than a pay cheque.”

Among those values shifts is the importance her peers place on maintaining some semblance of work-life balance.

That’s certainly the case for Toronto marketing professional Ashley Tilley who has just quit her full-time job to run her own web design and marketing consultancy. Friday was her last day on the job for a firm based in Pickering, Ont., an hour from Tilley’s condo in Toronto.

Tilley, seen here exploring a waterfall in Bali, Indonesia, in December 2018, is starting her own company in part so she can spend more time travelling. (Submitted by Ashley Tilley)

It’s not the first time she has traded cash for work she’ll enjoy more. In 2017, while living in the U.K., she left an in-house marketing job at a large supermarket chain. “I was getting paid a ridiculous amount of money and I left and took a job at a charity.” 

Back in Canada for the past few years, Tilley said she’s “struggled with corporate and having to commute into the same job and be chained to a desk.”

As digital natives who’ve come to expect to be able to take advantage of the conveniences offered by technology, she and her peers really value things like being able to work from home and to hit Costco on a Tuesday when it’s less busy, she said. “It’s 2019 and companies are still requiring you commute for an hour in traffic.”

Tilley, who loves to travel, said she looks forward to being able to take longer trips and work from remote locations. While she launches her new business, Solo Web Design, she’s giving up a reliable salary in favour of flexibility to work on projects and with clients she likes from anywhere she wants to be.

“It’s having the freedom and independence and if I want to go to Asia and work remotely for three weeks I don’t have to ask for time off.”

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Grocery price check, cancer missed by Pap smear and WOW airline: CBC’s Marketplace consumer cheat sheet

Grocery price check, cancer missed by Pap smear and WOW airline: CBC's Marketplace consumer cheat sheet

Miss something this week? Don’t panic. CBC’s Marketplace rounds up the consumer and health news you need.

Want this in your inbox? Get the Marketplace newsletter every Friday.

Kia, Hyundai sued for allegedly selling defective vehicles

A group of vehicle owners has filed a class-action lawsuit against Kia and Hyundai saying the companies knowingly sold them defective and potentially dangerous vehicles and then left them with the repair bill when engines failed or caught fire. Our colleagues at Go Public have reported several stories about engine fires and a lack of action from the companies afterwards.

Chris Dietrich says he and his family are lucky to be alive after their car caught fire in their garage while they were sleeping. (Robert Krbavac/CBC)

Textured breast implants here to stay, for now: FDA panel

Despite 450 worldwide cases of cancers associated with breast implants, including 12 deaths, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration panel isn’t recommending immediate restrictions. However, critics stress the risks are too great and want the textured implants off the market now. Our hidden camera investigation looked into how breast implants are marketed to women.

An FDA panel discussing safety concerns around textured breast implants didn’t recommend taking them off the market despite 450 worldwide cases of cancers associated with breast implants. (Donna McWilliam/Associated Press)

How was a teen stranded alone overnight in an airport?

Emma Fenton, 15, was flying solo from Kelowna, B.C., to Fort St. John, B.C., for spring break, but a flight delay, route change and a ticketing error left her stranded alone overnight in the Calgary airport. Both WestJet and Air Canada have apologized, but her family says both airlines “dropped the ball.”

Emma Fenton often flies from her mother’s home in Vernon, B.C. to visit her father and stepmother in Fort St John, B.C. This time, she ended up stranded overnight in the Calgary International Airport. (Contributed/Christy Fenton)

Icelandic budget airline WOW Air shuts down

Thousands of passengers were left scrambling to find new — and in some cases more expensive — flights after WOW Air abruptly closed up shop. WOW offered ultra-cheap flights between Europe and North America sometimes for as little as $99. The airline is encouraging customers to check with their credit card company about getting a refund.

Many passengers were stranded when WOW airline abruptly shut down this week. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Pap smears didn’t catch this mother’s cervical cancer

Karla Van Kesselgot regular checkups, including Pap smears that screen for cervical cancer. When she started experiencing intermittent bleeding and severe pelvic pain, she went to her family doctor right away. But he misread the tests and months later she was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Now she’s speaking out so her “devastating diagnosis will not happen to any other women.”

Karla Van Kessel got regular checkups and Pap smears, but a misread test left her cervical cancer diagnosed for months. (Lindsay Davis)

What else is going on

Not everyone wants to recycle Styrofoam — but technology may be changing that. A recent report found that 80 per cent of polystyrene foam waste in Canada, more than 6,500 tonnes, ends up in landfills or waterways because most communities don’t recycle it. But three Canadian companies are developing new ways to turn it back into something useful.

Apple is looking to disrupt the industry with its new credit card. Everything for the Apple Card will be done on your phone, including paying for purchases and seeing your bill. Another big difference is the card has no no late fees, annual fees or international usage fees.

Popular medication apps could be sharing your data with Google, Amazon and Facebook, new research says. The research examined 24 apps from the Google Play store and found the most common data shared with the companies included browsing activity and lists of medication, but some also shared a user’s name, doctor or pharmacy.

Some cashiers at Shoppers Drug Mart and Zehrs say they are pressured to get customers to use self checkouts. Employees told CBC News about company directives to encourage shoppers to use the machines. Loblaw, which owns both stores, say there is always the option to see a cashier.

The latest in recalls

Watch out for raw chicken. There have been 566 laboratory-confirmed cases of salmonella since May 2017 and many of the cases are linked to raw chicken, including frozen raw breaded chicken. There was a recent recall of Janes frozen nuggets because of possible salmonella contamination. Here are some things to know about salmonella outbreaks.

These Organic Matters loose-leaf teas and these Lee’s Teas could be contaminated with salmonella; The engine throttle cable routing on Kubota Canada Zero Turn Mowers could come into contact with the electrical terminals and cause plastic parts to melt; The microprocessor chip used to control the operation of these elevators could malfunction and the doors to open creating a fall hazard; These Luv Betsey Universal Rechargeable Power Banks could overheat and ignite and these Sleeveless Bamboo Sleep Bags do not meet the flammability requirements for children’s sleepwear.

This week Marketplace investigates:

Where are Canada’s highest grocery prices? A note from David Common

You might think you pay a lot for groceries, but have you shopped in Canada’s North? Even with the revamped $100 million Nutrition North food subsidy program, prices are still the highest in the country. We wanted to know why.

So, we headed to Nunavut, where seven out of 10 kids go to bed hungry, to do our own price check and to see what the food price crisis looks like for ourselves.

We put two families on a grocery store challenge. You’ll see how a family in Iqaluit pays three times what a family in Winnipeg pays for the exact same shopping list.

Plus, from hunting to community food programs to ordering off Amazon — I meet northerners who say they’re forced to find alternative ways to put food on the table.

You can watch the episode below or stream it on CBC Gem.

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Icelandic budget airline WOW Air ceases operations

Icelandic budget airline WOW Air ceases operations

Icelandic budget airline WOW Air abruptly closed up shop on Thursday, stranding thousands of passengers including Canadians across Europe and North America.

In a statement on its website, the airline said it has ceased operations, and as a result “all WOW Air flights have been cancelled.”

The airline encouraged customers who had paid for their ticket with a credit card to check whether the credit card company would refund the price of their ticket, and directed passengers to other airlines to try to find alternative routes to their destinations.

WOW Air rival Icelandair is trying to scoop up some of those stranded travellers by offering a seat on any of their flights, where available, for a discounted price.

Founded in 2011 by entrepreneur Skuli Mogensen, WOW Air offered ultra-cheap flights between Europe and North America, often for as little as $99 before fees and taxes.

Every flight began or ended in the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik, which helped spur a tourism boom in the country as passengers took layovers in the island nation on their way between the two continents. All in all, the airline flew roughly 3.5 million people last year.

According to aviation tracking service Air Fleets Inc., WOW had about a dozen jets in service, with another five in storage that it planned to use on expanded routes. All of WOW’s planes are made by Airbus.

The airline had 27 flights scheduled to take off on Thursday. All are grounded, stranding roughly 2,700 people.

About 2,700 people were stranded when the sun set on WOW Air’s business. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Canadian Alex Spence is one of them.

She flew on WOW for a conference in Berlin, and is struggling to find her way home.

“I have heard absolutely nothing from WOW Air,” she told CBC News on Thursday, “but earlier this week I did receive quite a few emails encouraging me to upgrade my seat or check more bags, so they were definitely active in asking for more money the past few days.”

Watch Spence’s full interview here:

Another Canadian, Erin McBurney, was trying to get home to Canada on Thursday morning with friends she was travelling with when they discovered that their WOW tickets were worthless.

“We had nobody to talk to through the company that could provide us any information about when or if future flights would be taking off,” she said.

After looking at numerous options, including one direct one-way flight that would have cost $5,000, McBurney said she and her friends found seats on Polish carrier Lot for $1,300 Canadian that should get them back to Pearson airport on Thursday evening.

WOW Air had about 11 planes in operation when the airline folded. (Scott Galley/CBC)

“Unsure of what other options would arise and wanting to be home we paid this, which was more than we were anticipating to spend,” she said. “Our trip as a whole was less expensive than our one flight home.”

The company may not have been saying much to its passengers on Thursday, but in a letter to employees, WOW founder Mogensen expressed his disappointment in what has happened.

“I will never forgive myself for not acting sooner,” Mogensen said. “WOW was clearly an incredible airline and we were on the path to do amazing things again.”

Halifax-based passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs said WOW’s failure should be laid at the feet of regulators who allowed it to fly with financial difficulties that left customers vulnerable. He said there are laws already on the books in Canada that should have forced changes to protect consumers before this happened, but they weren’t enforced.

“Once an airline goes bankrupt it’s too late to intervene,” he said in an interview. “The purpose of regulation is to deal with situations before they go bankrupt to protect the public from such economic harm.”

Lukacs said it seems like authorities in Canada are happy to let discount airlines such as WOW flout regulations while they give established carriers more scrutiny.

“The government wants to create a two-tiered system where you have large airlines which perhaps more wealthy people can buy tickets on, and you have those low cost airlines where in the government’s mind the riff-raff can fly and there you have no rights,” he said.

While customers feel left in a lurch, the news does not come as a complete surprise to those who follow the industry closely.

Travel to Iceland has been increasing briskly in recent years and some of that growth has been linked to WOW Air. (Rob Easton/CBC)

By aggressively adding new destinations, WOW had seen a steady uptick in the number of passengers it carried every year. But the airline never scaled up enough to cover its costs, with average revenue per passenger falling by 2017, according to the company’s last earnings report.

WOW had been trying to find an investment or bailout or buyer for itself since the middle of last year. WOW was negotiating to merge with flag-ship carrier Icelandair, but that deal fell apart. The airline then tried to strike a deal with Indigo Partners, an American company operating the airline Wizz, but that didn’t come to pass, either.

The resulting bankruptcy has left passengers like Spence not knowing what do to next.

“I always had very good experiences with them so this was not exactly what I expected to occur,” she said.

WOW grounded at least six planes in North America that were set to leave late Wednesday from Montreal, Toronto, Boston, Detroit, New York and Baltimore.

Roughly one out of every three people who visited Iceland last year came on a WOW Air flight. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

In Europe, Reykjavik-bound planes from seven cities — Amsterdam, Dublin, Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Frankfurt and Copenhagen — did not take off Thursday. One airplane from WOW was grounded as collateral by Iceland’s airport operator, which reportedly has a $16 million US claim for unpaid landing fees against the airline.

The news isn’t just bad for WOW and its customers. It’s a problem for Iceland, too. Tourism is a major industry for the country, making up 43 per cent of its GDP in 2017, according to official data.

The tourism boom in recent years coincided with the launch of WOW, as visitors to the country quadrupled since WOW’s flights started in 2012. 

Data from Iceland’s tourism authority shows that more than 100,000 Canadians visited Iceland last year, making Canada the fourth most common source of tourists for the country, after the U.S., the U.K. and Germany. About one-third of Iceland’s visitors last year did so by flying on a WOW Air flight.

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Why millions of dollars in federal grocery subsidies haven’t lessened food insecurity in the North

Why millions of dollars in federal grocery subsidies haven't lessened food insecurity in the North

There’s a boil-water advisory in Iqaluit and Jo Ellen Pameolik, a mother of four, has just purchased a 24-pack of bottled water for $29.99 at the grocery store. Meanwhile, in Winnipeg, a 24-pack costs just $4.49.

The $9.49 package of spaghetti noodles Pameolik bought is $1.50 in Winnipeg; her $11.99 carton of orange juice, just $3.99 on sale from $5.29.

“I make over $100,000 a year and I’m a finance officer, but it’s not even enough,” Pameolik said of the cost of groceries. “Sometimes I wonder how the heck I’m going to get through the rest of the week.”

Canadian taxpayers pay up to $100 million a year for a program called Nutrition North, which was designed to make nutritious food more affordable in 117 of the country’s most remote northern communities.

Since 2011, the government has provided subsidies to retailers to decrease the prices on a list of products including meat, milk, bread, produce, and even that $11.99 carton of orange juice Pameolik purchased.

Despite the subsidies, Statistics Canada data suggests food insecurity in the North has actually increased since the program was established.

Food insecurity remains a serious problem in remote northern communities. (Katie Pedersen/CBC)

In Nunavut, the number of children living with food insecurity — a lack of access to healthy, affordable food — went from 50 per cent in 2011, to over 70 per cent in 2015/16, according to the most recent figures available.

“It hurts to know that a child my daughter’s age, who’s only five, is actually hungry,” Pameolik said. “It doesn’t feel like we’re a part of Canada.”

Pameolik helped Marketplace conduct a shopping test to see the difference in prices in Iqaluit compared to Winnipeg. She and Winnipeg’s Meagan Brisebois, a mother of two, bought items from the same shopping list.

Pameolik had to pay more than double for the same products.

“That doesn’t even make sense,” said Brisebois, who paid $5.99 for the same shampoo that cost Pameolik $11.49. “My kids would shower less often maybe.”

Watch: Two families, one in Iqaluit and the other in Winnipeg, buy the same groceries and compare bills.

Marketplace compares grocery prices in both Winnipeg and Iqaluit. 0:52

Pameolik says a friend of her son told her he sometimes goes without food.

“I literally broke down right in front of him because he said, ‘It depends on if my dad catches a fish. If he catches a fish, then we eat. If he doesn’t, we don’t.'”

Local artist Tommy Kelly remembers buying his family groceries after selling his first carving when he was seven years old. (CBC) 

Local artist Tommy Kelly remembers taking it upon himself to help his family get food when he was just a kid. 

“I’ve been carving since I was seven years old,” he said. “My first one was a little seal and I sold it for 25 bucks — three grocery bags.

“It was awesome.”

Avoiding the stores

These days, many families go to great lengths to avoid paying northern prices.

Lots of other essentials such as housing, insurance and heating are also very expensive in the North, forcing many residents to get creative when it comes to making ends meet.

Sheila Lumsden, 51, takes frequent flights to Ottawa. She travels with large plastic bins that she fills with groceries.

She says her friends and family in Ottawa pack as many groceries as they can into their luggage when they come to visit her in Iqaluit. A friend once put a bag of flour under her shirt when boarding a plane to avoid paying extra baggage fees. Lumsden jokingly referred to it as a “flour baby.”

Sheila Lumsden says she saves money by purchasing many of her groceries using Amazon Prime, which has free shipping to Iqaluit. (Katie Pedersen/CBC)

Between trips to Ottawa, Lumsden orders most of her essentials on Amazon. Non-perishable food products such as spices and canned goods, as well as non-food items such as toilet paper and soap, can be purchased much cheaper than at a local grocery store because she has an Amazon Prime subscription, which includes free shipping.

But the service isn’t offered in any of Nunavut’s smaller communities, and in Iqaluit, it is only accessible to those with credit cards and internet access.

Many northerners regularly eat hunted “country food.” Hunters harvest meat from caribou, narwhal and seal, and often share it with others in the community, which can help cut down on a family’s trips to the grocery store.

However, hunting can be quite expensive, as the hunter has to pay for gas, snowmobiles or boats, guns, bullets, sleds, and regular maintenance of their equipment.

In the North, those who have more money can afford cheaper food while everyone else has few options outside of the local grocery store.

Watch: Hunting provides for the community — but it can be expensive

In Nunavut, hunting supports the whole community. 1:00

With the assistance of financial experts, Marketplace reviewed publicly reported share prices, dividends, revenue and expenses for the North West Company — the region’s largest grocer — to gain insight into the company’s operations, given that it’s a near-monopoly with a steady stream of government subsidies.

The financial records suggest that despite a lack of competition among grocery stores in the Far North, and high sticker prices, the company’s profit margins are roughly in line with the industry standard in this country, reporting approximately four cents profit for every dollar of sales.

Several years ago, the federal government commissioned NRG Research Group to take a deep dive into grocery retailing in Canada’s northern communities. The group surveyed grocery stores, interviewed store managers and local residents, and analyzed data to identify the factors contributing to the high price of groceries.

NRG’s report, published in 2014, found that profits “did not significantly factor into the high cost.”

According to the study, most of the cost was in the logistics of transporting the food. Air is the most expensive mode of transport for cargo, and many northern communities are accessible only by air for much of the year.

Even when communities are accessible by truck — the cheapest mode of transportation — sometimes the ice roads are so long a truck can’t store enough gas to complete its delivery and requires the help of a convoy of trucks carrying only gas.

Another factor is that most communities in Nunavut are not connected to the electricity grid. This means diesel generators have to power large freezers that can hold months worth of food that comes in on the summer sea lift while transportation is cheaper.

“Our utility costs alone in Iqaluit are upwards of $1 million a year,” said Derek Reimer, the director of business development at North West Company.

“For example, in Iqaluit we pay electricity costs of about 48 cents per kilowatt hour,” he said. “That compares to about seven cents you would pay in Winnipeg.”

Governments ‘have failed’

The Nutrition North program was tweaked in January to include higher subsidies for milk and frozen vegetables and to add more items to the list of subsidized goods, including some non-food items such as diapers.

The changes also include a plan to provide new grants for hunters to alleviate some of the cost for those who provide harvested meat to their communities, although the specifics of that program are still being worked out.

Many northerners regularly eat hunted ‘country food.’ Hunters harvest meat from caribou, narwhal and seal, and often share it with others in the community. It can be a big help for people who struggle to afford groceries. The problem is hunting itself can be quite expensive. (Katie Pedersen/CBC)

The federal government recently announced that starting April 1, it will invest $15 million over five years in the new Northern Isolated Community Initiatives Fund, which will contribute to smaller-scale food projects such as community freezers and hydroponic greenhouses.

Despite those efforts, the MP responsible for the Nutrition North file acknowledges the problem of food insecurity in the North is far from solved.

“The problem has been thinking that Nutrition North alone could fix food insecurity,” said Yvonne Jones. “There has to be an accumulation of programs and services that accompany it, and this is where governments in the past, in my opinion, have failed.”

Jones says it’s important that Inuit groups are a part of developing and implementing solutions.

There is no shortage of ideas to complement Nutrition North. Just last month, for example, the National Indigenous Economic Development Board made recommendations to support local businesses and encourage the gathering, selling and sharing of country food to boost the local economies in the North.

Caribou meat, pictured here, is a staple ‘country food’ in the North. (CBC)

Jones also acknowledges Nutrition North still needs work when it comes to determining which products to subsidize.

“People who live in the North [aren’t] going to eat the exotic kiwi fruit, but they’re going to need to have access to personal hygiene products,” she said.

“It is still a problem, but it’s one that’s getting addressed, and I think that’s the key piece right now.”

For parents like Jo Ellen Pameolik, change can’t come soon enough.

“These parents do absolutely anything they can so they can provide for their kids, and it hurts.”

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Bellatrix shares plunge on proposal to trade debt for 83.5% of its equity value

Bellatrix shares plunge on proposal to trade debt for 83.5% of its equity value

Shares in Bellatrix Exploration Ltd. fell by as much as 35 per cent Friday after it proposed a deal that would leave its existing shareholders with just 16.5 per cent of the company.

The Calgary-based oil and gas producer says it intends to exchange $146 million US in senior unsecured notes due in 2020 for $100 million US in new debt maturing in 2023, plus common shares totalling 51 per cent of the company’s float.

It is also offering to trade $50 million in convertible debentures for another 32.5 per cent of its common shares following the recapitalization.

Bellatrix says the transactions — which are subject to approval by debtholders and court and regulatory authorities — would reduce its total outstanding debt by about $110 million to about $328 million and reduce annual interest payments by over $12 million.

Two weeks ago, the company warned investors that its ability to continue as a going concern was in doubt given a pending credit review and uncertainty about refinancing its senior notes.

It said its net loss in 2018 was $146 million, compared with a net loss of $91 million in 2017.

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