Vancouver Sun

Bell wins phone card class action

- COLIN PERKEL

TORONTO A certified class action against Bell Mobility for taking money left on inactive prepaid cellphone cards has foundered on the shoals of Ontario’s top court.

The ruling likely puts an end to the $200-million lawsuit involving as many as one million Canadians who saw cash on their expired Bell Mobility, Solo Mobile and Virgin Mobile cards disappear into Bell’s pockets.

Bell was entitled to the money, even though consumers might not like the situation, the Court of Appeal said in its decision.

While this may seem unfair, the court said, it may be “part of the price paid for the flexibilit­y of a prepaid phone card.”

In May 2012, Celia Sankar, of Elliot Lake, Ont., launched a class action on behalf of people who bought phone cards between May 4, 2010, and Dec. 16, 2013. Consumers were required either to use the funds or top up the balance during an activation period ranging from 30 to 365 days.

In Sanka’s case, Bell took the cash — about $58 — a day after her card’s activation ended. The suit alleged the phone giant grabbed the funds improperly. Sanka argued Bell had either taken the money too quickly or had run afoul of an Ontario law that bars expiry dates on gift cards.

In February last year, a lower court dismissed the action, saying Bell had not breached its contract and the Ontario gift card law did not apply. Sankar turned to the Appeal Court, which this week threw out the suit.

For one thing, the Appeal Court said, the “plain meaning” of the language Bell used was that a consumer’s ability to use the money expired at the end of the relevant active period and any balance after the expiry date was “forfeited and non-refundable.”

The Appeal Court also found prepaid phone cards could be activated at any time after purchase — and only then did they have to be used within a certain period — and so didn’t run afoul of Ontario’s gift-card laws.

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