Within weeks of the coronavirus pandemic being declared, one premier after another made tough promises to stop price gouging on essential products. Yet, CBC’s Marketplace has learned that despite tens of thousands of reported complaints, little legal action has been taken across the country.
Marketplace reached out to all provinces and territories and was told consumer complaints to government only led to one business being charged. It’s unclear how many, if any, charges were laid by local bylaw officers.
A business in Alberta selling personal protective equipment at high prices — $39 for hand sanitizer and $120 for masks — was issued multiple written warnings and orders to lower prices before being formally charged by Service Alberta with failing to comply with a director’s order under the Consumer Protection Act. The company pleaded guilty in September and was fined $1,500.
This, despite tough talk from a number of premiers.
“We’ve put in place restrictions on price gouging,” B.C. Premier John Horgan announced in May.
“We’re gonna go after you, and throw the book at you,” Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said in April.
“You’re done, you’re gone…. If you’re convicted, you could face … a year in jail,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said in March.
Every province, aside from Quebec and New Brunswick, has a law prohibiting price gouging. But these laws simply state sellers cannot sell goods for prices that “grossly” exceed market prices. There is no federal, provincial or territorial law in Canada limiting price markups on consumer goods during a state of emergency.
Many U.S. states have such legislation. For example, in California, product and service prices cannot increase by more than 10 per cent once an emergency is declared. Kansas limits price increases to 25 per cent.
Provinces confirmed that the majority of price-gouging complaints received were about personal protective equipment and other essential products like disinfecting wipes, toilet paper and paper towels.
Data gathered by Statistics Canada for Marketplace shows that the price of disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer and toilet paper had reached higher-than-average prices during the pandemic.
WATCH | What happened to the promised crackdown on pandemic price gouging?
April saw the largest price spikes for toilet paper, the product that made headlines around the world when people started hoarding it. Prices averaged $9.41 for 12 rolls. The price has since returned back to normal averages, around $6.70.
The average price of hand sanitizer shot up in May, nearly $3 more than in previous years. June showed the price of hand sanitizer lowering, but still higher than average.
Since March, the average price of 35 disinfecting wipes has been higher than $3. Prior to March, the price averaged around $2.43 per pack.
No charges in Ontario investigations
Ontario received the highest number of price-gouging complaints — about 29,500 — after a campaign to promote the province’s price-gouging hotline.
To date, Ontario has referred around 900 of those complaints to law enforcement. Marketplace reached out to all police services the province said it forwarded complaints to. Each service confirmed no charges had been laid.
Alberta and B.C., which received the most complaints after Ontario, as well as Ontario would not confirm the criteria to refer complaints for further investigation by law enforcement or special task forces.
In a statement, Ontario said revealing that benchmark could compromise investigations. Alberta and B.C. cited the difficulty in determining what is actually price gouging and what is a reasonable cost change due to the current market.
Enforcement agencies told Marketplace that most complaints were either unfounded, or resulted in a warning to the business, which then lowered the price on the products in question.
In written statements to Marketplace, both Alberta and B.C.’s consumer protection agencies wrote that the priority is educating and advising businesses to encourage voluntary compliance. This would also avert a needless months-long investigation, Alberta’s Ministry of Service wrote.
Ontario also said it sent out 1,650 notification letters to businesses, and is taking “decisive action” against retailers that charge excessive prices.
Manufacturer says price of some hand sanitizers ‘obscene’
Paul Kowdrysh, president and CEO at Protair-X Solutions Group, a hand sanitizer manufacturer, said that he’s had to increase his prices by about 23 per cent due to rising costs. This lowered his profit margin, he said.
“I don’t think, in a time of need and a time of crisis, that you need to make the same margin you’ve made in the past,” he said.
Marketplace showed Kowdrysh multiple hand sanitizers for sale during the pandemic.
Kowdrysh called a 500 ml bottle for sale from a Guardian Pharmacy for $19.99 “obscene.”
“That’s extremely expensive for that size of product,” he said. Guardian Pharmacy told Marketplace the price was a result of scarcity at the time.
Kowdrysh’s own prices were inflated at a Nations in Toronto — one litre selling for $34.99.
“I am very surprised,” he said. “That’s unacceptable as far as I’m concerned.”
Kowdrysh told Marketplace he subsequently stopped selling to the distributor that he said over-priced his products.
Marketplace reached out to Nations about selling his product at such a markup, and the company said the higher prices were a result of products being difficult to acquire, and to maintain profit margins.
Paper towel price hikes
Statistics Canada confirmed that in April 2020, the average price of a package of six paper towel rolls increased to its highest price — $9.54 — since at least January 2017, when the average price was $5.69.
For small businesses, those increases could be detrimental.
Saga, a tattoo artist based in Calgary who goes by only one name, could be paying thousands of dollars more annually for paper towels alone.
“I do a lot of colour tattoos, really large tattoos,” said Saga. “So in a day, sometimes I can use three, sometimes six full rolls of paper towels.”
Heather Ashley, who shops for Saga’s supplies, told Marketplace that she’s had to shop around a lot more. “One day I actually had to go to three separate stores,” she said. “The exact same amount of paper towels … a six-pack … ranged from $6.99 upwards to $16.99.”
Mendoza, owner of Grapevine Tattoo in Vancouver who also is known only by one name, has concerns about price increases on products too. Just before the pandemic he was purchasing masks for his artists at pennies per mask. When Marketplace spoke with him in May, prices sat at around a dollar per mask.
Mendoza estimates that the increased costs in masks, hand sanitizer, plexiglass and other pandemic essentials will add $10,000 to $20,000 to his annual operating costs.
“It costs more for everybody to do their job,” he said. “It’s been definitely a big shock to the system.”
Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Monday – CBC.ca
Hospitalizations for COVID-19 hit record highs in the Prairie provinces over the weekend as Alberta on Sunday reported more new daily cases than hard-hit Ontario or Quebec.
The surge in the west came ahead of a decision by Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island to withdraw from the so-called Atlantic bubble for a period of two weeks.
Newfoundland and Labrador‘s premier said Monday that the decision to pull out of the Atlantic bubble is meant to stave off a second wave of COVID-19 and try to protect the upcoming holiday season.
“The Atlantic Bubble has been a source of pride … but the situation has changed.”<br><br>Furey says only essential travel to and from N.L. <br><br>He says this move is being done to help keep cases low, and to keep businesses and schools open. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/cbcnl?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#cbcnl</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/covid19nfld?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#covid19nfld</a>
Prince Edward Island also moved on Monday to suspend non-essential travel to and from the island for a two-week period.
The change comes after upticks in cases over the weekend. Nova Scotia reported 11 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, it’s highest single day case number since May. New Brunswick reported six new cases on Sunday, after hitting a single-day record of 23 cases a day earlier.
In Alberta — which reported 1,584 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday — health officials also reported 319 hospitalizations, with 60 in intensive care.
Premier Scott Moe, who has been facing pressure from some to step up restrictions, said Saturday that public health officials will “have more to say early next week.”
Today’s case numbers are very concerning. Our 7-day average for new cases is now 203 – the highest it’s ever been.<br><br>While it’s too soon for the new measures implemented last week to have made an impact, we’re continuing to evaluate the situation & will consider further measures.
Health officials in that province on Sunday listed 99 people as hospitalized, with 19 in intensive care.
Tracy Zambory, president of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses, said her organization has been calling for tighter measures.
“We cannot wait until we get to a higher number.”
In Manitoba, where health officials recently imposed strict restrictions to try and get a handle on rising case numbers, hospitalizations hit 288 on Sunday, with 52 in intensive care.
In an interview with CBC’s Rosemary Barton, Premier Brian Pallister defended his government’s response to COVID-19, which has been surging in Manitoba.
Pallister said the province has been focused on getting people to reduce their contacts, saying “that’s the key to getting in front of COVID and turning the curve.”
WATCH | Manitoba’s premier takes questions over his government’s handling of COVID-19:
What’s happening across Canada
As of 7:30 a.m. ET on Monday, Canada’s COVID-19 case count stood at 330,503, with 54,999 of those considered active cases. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 11,455.
Nunavut remained an area of concern as health officials in the territory reported 21 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, bringing the total number of cases reported to 130.
“Health teams are working around the clock in Arviat, Whale Cove and Rankin Inlet to trace, test, isolate and contain the spread of the virus,” Nunavut’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson said in a statement on Sunday.
The Northwest Territories, meanwhile, had no new cases over the weekend.
In Yukon, health officials reported three more cases of COVID-19 over the weekend, saying two of the cases were linked to previously identified cases and one was linked to out-of-province travel.
Health officials in British Columbia don’t release updated COVID-19 figures over the weekend. The province reported 516 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, bringing the number of active cases to 7,122.
Lockdown begins in Toronto, Peel Region
In Central Canada, millions of residents in the Greater Toronto Area are now living under tight new restrictions as Toronto and Peel Region move into a lockdown period set to last at least 28 days. Non-essential stores in those regions will be closed to shoppers, and restaurants can only offer takeout and delivery.
Ontario reported 1,534 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, along with 14 new deaths associated with the virus. The province also said 484 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, with 147 in intensive care.
In Quebec, health officials reported 1,154 new cases of COVID-19 and 23 additional deaths. Data from the province put the number of hospitalizations at 642, with 103 in intensive care.
The province, which has seen the most cases of any jurisdiction in Canada, has reported more than 132,000 cases and 6,829 deaths.
What’s happening around the world
From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 10 a.m. ET
As of early Monday morning, there were more than 58.7 million COVID-19 cases worldwide, with more than 37.5 million of those cases considered recovered or resolved, according to a case tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University.
AstraZeneca says that late-stage trials showed its COVID-19 vaccine was up to 90 per cent effective, giving public health officials hope they may soon have access to a vaccine that is easier to distribute than some of its rivals.
The results reported Monday are based on an interim analysis of trials in the U.K. and Brazil of a vaccine developed by Oxford University and manufactured by AstraZeneca.
AstraZeneca is the third major drug company to report late stage results for its potential COVID-19 vaccine as public health officials around the world anxiously wait for vaccines that will end the pandemic that has killed almost 1.4 million people.
Unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the Oxford-AstraZeneca candidate doesn’t have to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures, making it easier to distribute, especially in developing countries. All three vaccines must be approved by regulators before they can be widely distributed.
In the Americas, Dr. Anthony Fauci said he’s worried that crowding at airports from Thanksgiving travel could lead to a perilous situation as COVID-19 cases surge.
The U.S. infectious disease expert told Face the Nation on Sunday that the “people at airports” despite federal guidance to avoid travel “are going to get us into even more trouble than we’re in right now.”
The U.S. Transportation Security Administration said it screened 1.047 million passengers on Sunday, the highest number since mid-March.
The number of U.S. air travellers is still about 60 per cent lower than the same date last year, but Sunday was the second time in three days that the number of passengers screened topped one million.
Health officials in Washington state said the number of people who were hospitalized to receive treatment for the coronavirus has reached a record high.
In Nevada, meanwhile, Gov. Steve Sisolak announced plans to tighten restrictions on casinos, restaurants and private gatherings such as Thanksgiving dinner in an effort to contain the spread of the virus.
In Europe, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez says a national COVID-19 vaccination plan will be launched in January.
Sanchez said the vaccine will be administered at 13,000 locations across Spain and “a very substantial part of the population” can be vaccinated in the first half of next year. Further details are expected on Tuesday.
Hungary’s foreign minister on Monday said the country is moving forward with testing on a Russian coronavirus vaccine after being the first in Europe to receive samples of the drug last week. Russia’s vaccine candidate, known as Sputnik V, has not completed advanced clinical trials and has not yet been assessed by the European Medicines Agency, the European Union’s medicines regulator. The vaccine has already been administered in Russia to healthcare workers and other high-risk groups.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Pakistan will again close all educational institutions as of Thursday because of a steady and increasingly drastic increase in coronavirus cases.
Schools were opened in September as Pakistan appeared to have achieved a sustained flattening of the curve.
Daily cases had dropped to less than 300 a day, but few people wear masks and social distancing is mostly non-existent in the country of 220 million.
Pakistan recorded 2,756 new cases in the last 24 hours, one of the sharpest spikes since the outbreak began in March. The country has 376,929 confirmed cases, and 7,696 people have died from the virus.
Indonesia’s confirmed coronavirus cases have surpassed half a million as the government of the world’s fourth most populous nation scrambles to procure vaccines to help it win the fight against the pandemic.
In the Middle East, the Palestinian Authority in the Israeli-occupied West Bank has announced a partial two-week lockdown to clamp down on the coronavirus’s spread as new cases have rapidly increased.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said Monday that the West Bank will be under a full lockdown over the weekends, and a curfew will be imposed from 7 p.m. until 6 a.m. on weekdays. All non-essential businesses will be closed during the periods of lockdown.
South Africa remained the hardest-hit country in Africa, with more than 767,000 cases of COVID-19 and nearly 21,000 deaths.
Workplace compensation claims reflect toll COVID-19 has taken on Canada's workers – CBC.ca
Jeffrey Freedman is a COVID-19 “long-hauler” — one of many Canadians left with lingering health issues after getting sick from the virus. He says he now regrets going into work during the early days of the pandemic after falling ill in early April.
Freedman worked at a tile company supplying Toronto’s busy residential construction industry, which was deemed an essential service and remained open as other businesses were ordered to shut. He says he felt he had no choice but to report to work, despite risks of infection.
“I was in a bind. But because we needed the money and my feelings about my customers, I kept going and going and going and working my eight hours a day.”
CBC News reached out to provincial workers’ compensation boards across the country and found that more than 26,000 claims have been filed by people who contracted COVID-19 at work. Freedman is one of more than 20,000 people whose claims have been approved.
Thousands file claims across Canada
Statistics on workplace compensation claims are the first concrete indication of how many people are getting COVID-19 at work in Canada, but it’s an incomplete picture.
There is no standard accounting of how many people have fallen sick while at work due to a patchwork of provincial and federal tracking.
What’s more, the system does not capture COVID-19 cases among workers who are ineligible or simply don’t submit claims.
Freedman developed COVID-19 symptoms in April and went to the hospital, where he was told he was a presumptive case and had to go home and isolate. A few days later, he was struggling to breathe and was rushed to hospital by paramedics. He spent 44 days there, most of them on a ventilator as he fought off the infection.
“I have brain fog. I have permanent damage to my vocal cords from the ICU and tubing for 33 days. I have constant neck and bicep pains,” he said.
Freedman, now 65, said instead of enjoying his retirement and his dreams of travel, he’ll never be able to drive again and still struggles to get through each day.
“I have a major, major pressure wound on my butt from being in the ICU that is recovered to the point where I can at least sit, but I cannot sleep properly except more than 10 minutes at a time. And I’m very weak and tired, usually by 3 o’clock every day.”
Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) accepted Freedman’s claim and has since helped him and his wife, Lori, by replacing Freedman’s lost wages and helping to retrofit their bathroom to accommodate his injuries.
WATCH | What it’s like to be a COVID ‘long-hauler’:
Claims by front-line workers rejected
In Ontario and British Columbia, the data shows that most claims have come from workers in health-care facilities and agriculture. However, a quarter of workers in Ontario are not covered at all by the workers’ compensation system, compared with B.C., where all workers have coverage.
Ontario workers not covered include a large number in such industries as privately run care homes, social assistance services and the tech and banking sectors.
“It really highlights the absurdity of having a compensation system that just cuts out whole swaths of industries and says you’re not entitled to coverage, and it’s very difficult to track those people down because when they go to the hospital, their claim doesn’t get billed through a WSIB number,” said David Newberry, a community legal worker at the Injured Workers Community Legal Clinic in Toronto.
About 1,425 claims have been disallowed in Ontario as of Nov. 13, including hundreds in front-line industries such as health care.
Newberry said the disallowed claims — along with the fact that the WSIB pays only 85 per cent of a worker’s full salary — don’t fit with declarations that these workers are “heroes” keeping the economy running during a pandemic.
“While companies are spending millions of dollars putting up billboards and bus ads thanking our front-line workers to be heroes — when people are actually getting sick within these workplaces, whether stocking our shelves or looking after our grandparents — what they’re getting is … a 15 per cent pay cut.”
Jennifer Collins worked as a nurse at Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon, Ont, the site of a major outbreak that killed 29 residents in the spring. She said she didn’t have adequate access to personal protective equipment and got sick with COVID-19 in March, leaving her with lingering health problems.
Collins was not hospitalized, and she said a lack of medical records chronicling her illness hurt her claim for workers’ compensation.
“I got a phone call from [WSIB], and they said that they realized with COVID that it was a special case,” she said, “but because they didn’t have any medical data or documentation to back up what I was telling them that I wasn’t eligible.”
Collins said she still suffers from exhaustion and can only walk about two blocks before her hips act up. “Everyday I try to push myself more, but it is difficult, and it’s frustrating,” she said.
After being turned down, Collins instead applied for the Canada emergency response benefit and was approved.
Even with approval, fight isn’t always over
In Ontario, the WSIB has disallowed 302 claims from workers in nursing and residential care facilities.
Ultimately, many people getting sick at work are those who don’t have the option of working from home. Newberry, of the injured workers legal clinic, said these workers may not even know they can access workers’ compensation — in particular new Canadians who may not be familiar with the language or workplace laws.
“Those who are most vulnerable are the ones who are generally least likely to know that these things are available,” he said.
But even for those whose claims are approved, the fight isn’t always over.
Jeffrey Freedman received notice on Friday that his employer is appealing his workers’ compensation claim, insisting that it took all necessary precautions and there’s no proof he got COVID-19 at work.
As workers’ compensation claim costs rise, so too do the premiums that employers have to pay. Newberry said that the system gives employers an incentive to appeal approved claims.
“Workers’ compensation systems in Canada are set up in a model that is similar to private insurance,” he said.
“Even if … the injured worker is successful in proving their claim is valid, that process can take years, and it can be really stressful.”
Facing down winter and COVID-19, Canada's homeless are struggling – CTV News
Across the country, people are being told to stay home and stay apart as a way to slow the spread of COVID-19. But when you don’t have a place to live, following those guidelines and staying safe from the virus is a huge challenge.
With homeless shelters reducing capacity to allow for physical distancing and few options for housing, more people are camping out on the streets, in city parks, or, as in one B.C. woman’s case, a beat-up van.
Tucked behind a shopping mall sits a 1988 Dodge Ram — 50-year-old Kathy Denton’s current home.
Early in the pandemic, she became homeless for the first time, forced from her apartment after her relationship fell apart.
“My stress level was through the roof,” Denton told CTV News. “I cannot explain how bad it was at that time for me.”
She’s also unemployed and thus can’t afford a place of her own.
“How can you afford to rent a place if are not bringing in at least $2,000 a month?” she pointed out.
The van — which has no running water or stove — was only supposed to be a temporary solution.
“I am on the housing list,” Denton said. “Maybe I will get in, but it is not going to be right now.”
Nov. 22 is National Housing Day, which began in 1998 when the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee declared that homelessness was a national disaster in Canada. In 2020, housing is more important than ever amid a pandemic that makes gathering indoors in large numbers with strangers a potentially dangerous situation.
As COVID-19 cases continue to spike in B.C., space in short-term housing and shelters is increasingly difficult to find.
Jeremy Hunka helps run one of Vancouver’s oldest shelters, the Union Gospel Mission, and tells CTV News that “we don’t have enough places for people to go.”
There’s more demand for beds now than during the pandemic’s first wave, he explained.
In B.C., a ban on evictions that was put in place early in the pandemic was lifted on Sept. 1, potentially contributing to the number of those experiencing homelessness in the province.
“The need is up, space is down, threat level up,” Hunka said. “People are stressed. Some people are getting sick.”
According to the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, up to 235,000 Canadians spend time in homeless shelters each year.
Across the country, infections are up among the homeless. On Nov. 6, public health officials in Manitoba announced there was an outbreak at Oscar’s Place, a homeless shelter in The Pas, Man.
At a shelter in Calgary, there have been three separate outbreaks.
“There are 60 clients who have tested positive, and four staff,” Sandra Clarkson, executive director of the Calgary Drop-In Centre, told CTV News.
Their most recent outbreak started earlier this month, only weeks after they had lifted their outbreak status to allow more to access the shelter.
So far, 25 of the residents who tested positive have since recovered.
In Ontario, the battle for support for the homeless is only heating up. Activists staged a demonstration outside of the condo Toronto Mayor John Tory lives in on Sunday, constructing green “foam domes” as snow fell around them to highlight the need for more housing help.
Some shelters are trying to keep their residents safe by putting up glass dividers between beds, something that’s been done in Toronto’s Better Living Centre at Exhibition Place. The facility, part of the city’s winter plan for expanding shelter services, has been criticized by activists for the lack of privacy and the prison-like design.
In addition to the virus, worsening weather is a major concern for this housing crisis. Snow and dropping temperatures can turn living on the streets into a death sentence, even in a year without a deadly pandemic.
This leaves many of those experiencing homelessness with an impossible choice: try and find a space in a crowded shelter and risk contracting COVID-19, or stay in an outdoor encampment and risk the freezing weather. Many cities also have bylaws against encampments, and will issue eviction notices to tent residents as well.
Denton knows winter will be a challenge.
“I would rather not be living in my van, please,” she said.
Another hurdle is the hefty parking tickets she gets, just from having to park her van somewhere every night, one more example of the obstacles put in the way of those experiencing homelessness.
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