Investigate Yellow Pages' aggressive tactics against small Canadian businesses

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Current and former customers of Yellow Pages Ltd., once Canada's largest publisher of telephone directories, claim the company locked them into contracts they did not agree to and threatened them with lawsuits and collection notices until they paid for services they did not want.

Aside from taking their chances in court, these small business owners have very little recourse for asserting their rights and challenging the claims of this large, publicly traded company.

Yellow Pages has hundreds of negative online reviews and an “F” rating from the Better Business Bureau (BBB); it has also been involved in hundreds of lawsuits across Canada, and its business practices are expected to be the subject of a class action lawsuit in Quebec. 

Customers and lawyers question the legal validity of what are typically verbal, over-the-phone agreements between small-business owners and Yellow Pages. The stories of owners vary, but they typically feature the same complaints: misleading sales information and unclear business terms, an immense struggle to contact a customer service representative and charges for services the customer believes were not agreed to. Unpaid invoices get followed up with automated calls, collection notices and legal threats.

The threat of legal action, the risk to a company’s credit rating and the sheer cost of disputing a small claim in court have pushed business owners to simply settle the claims against them and move on.

Hundreds of people have logged complaints with BBB, on Facebook and Google, and with review websites like SiteJabber, where the company has 210 one-star reviews. These make up 96% of the 218 reviews logged on the site (as one July 4).

There is little-to-no recourse for these small business owners, who – in many cases – paid thousands of dollars out of pocket for fear of going to court, even though they believed they had been taken advantage of and were in the right. 

Fighting these claims in court is often more expensive than settling them out of court. Consumer protection laws don't typically apply to businesses in business-to-business contexts. Canada's Competition Bureau has not, as far as the public can tell, paid this issue any attention, nor have provincial or federal governments.

An investigation by Business in Vancouver earlier this year covered this issue in depth. It can be found online. 

It is unfair and unjust that small business owners couldn't afford, or were too intimidated to fight for, their day in court.

This issue deserves attention, and should be explored by the appropriate corporate watchdog.

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