Quebec’s Consumer Protection Act: the invaluable contribution of women

Quebec’s Consumer Protection Act, like many of the province’s legal sectors, is largely dominated by men.

And yet, one mustn’t overlook the immense impact women have had on the movement. Whether working in the shadows launching the ACEF (Association de coopératives d’économie familiale) in the 60s, or under the spotlight as head of government organizations, there have been many a female pioneer when it comes to Quebec’s Consumer Protection Act.

Here are three inspirational women who have left a mark on Quebec’s history.

Thérèse Casgrain, she who paved the way

Iconic feminist and leading figure in Quebec’s women’s rights movement, Thérèse Casgrain fought extremely hard in the 20s for a woman’s right to vote—a right which was only granted in 1940. In 1969, following a fiery political career, Casgrain became president of the Consumers’ Association of Canada, a private, non-profit organization that was founded in 1947. The organization’s mission? To defend the interests of communities before the government and industries.

Thérèse Casgrain was also involved in the Quebec branch of the CAC, advocating to have French become the official working language of the Canadian association, which up until then had been mostly English. Together, the different provincial branches of the CAC put pressure on the Canadian government to get involved in consumer law. In 1967, these efforts led to the creation of the Department of Consumer and Corporate Affairs under the minister of Lester B. Pearson. This new department was concerned with the fair treatment of consumers in the marketplace, continuing to fulfill its mandate until the day it was dismantled in 1993.

Lise Payette, at the heart of the law

The first consumer protection law was passed in 1971 in Quebec. The Consumer Protection Act concerns merchants who provide goods and services to consumers, and obliges them to adhere to certain standards regarding invoicing, contracts, price labelling, advertising, etc. In its beginning, however, the law was rather toned down. In 1976, Lise Payette, Ministre des Consommateurs, des Coopératives et des Institutions financières, was tasked with enriching and detailing the edict.

Two years later, she petitioned to have pass the version that is still used today. This act helps protect consumers, providing them rights of action against manufacturers in the event of breakage or damage, for example. The legislative text also contains several clauses regarding false advertising and sales contracts. Since its implementation, many legislators in other countries have used our Act as a basis for creating their own.

Ginette Galarneau, the dame of digital

Quebec’s Office de la protection du consommateur was also founded in 1971. Governed by the Consumer Protection Act and overseen by the Ministre de la Justice, the governmental organization ensures that merchants respect their obligations towards consumers, as well as helps consumers make informed decisions and teaches them about their rights. Ginette Galarneau was president of the OPC from 2014 to 2019.

Under her presidency, the organization experienced a major digital transformation. In 2018, it was awarded the Prix d’excellence from the Administration publique du Québec, in the Digital Initiatives category, for the online mediation tool PARLe. Simple, quick, and free, this tool allows consumers and merchants to resolve disputes online. In 2017, the OPC updated the Consumer Protection Act, modernizing the points regarding consumer credit and distance contracts, namely those finalized online.