Friday, February 27, 2015

DMF: The Destination Marketing Fee is still being charged in NIagara Falls. Travellers, be advised.

an exploration of the Destination Marketing Fee in a Recent Trip to Niagara Falls.

Let me get one thing perfectly clear before I go on: my wife and I love Niagara Falls.  We have been going there on a short winter vacation since about 2008.  We have always had a good time and never had any problems.  So it was a shock to learn about the private tax that some places are putting on the bills of out-of-towners.  My wife and I decided to investigate further and this post is the result of those enquiries and observations.

We arrived in Niagara Falls for a short vacation from Feb 20 - 23 2015.
 
My wife and I already watched the CBC’s marketplace show on the traveller fee charged in Niagara.

That fee is known by various names:

DMF, DPDF, TIF, TIFF, PF and DF respectively.  There may be other acronyms, but we will call it the DMF here for clarity.  My wife and I decided we would check our bills carefully to see if this fee showed up.

We were taken to dinner Friday night, and the restaurant at the hotel where we stayed had breakfast vouchers for Saturday and Sunday.  Obviously, we could not check those fees.

On Saturday afternoon, my wife and I walked down Clifton Hill and then to the park so I could take pictures of the Falls.  I got some great views and posted them.  It was snowing lightly but enough to make walking slippery, although we were fine.

We stopped in at four different gift shops and made purchases at three of them. The tourist tax did not show up on those bills.  When we were done walking, we stopped at a Tim Horton’s at the welcome centre on Table Rock, and there was no fee levied there.

Saturday night, we went to a local steakhouse and had dinner there: the tourist tax did not show up.  My wife checked carefully.

It didn’t show up when we went back to the same restaurant for dessert after another walk out to find a local church.

Over two days, we did not see the fee.

On Sunday, we went to church and did not do any shopping; a friend of ours met us and we went to a buffet dinner at one of the local casinos.  No tourist tax there either, although our friend was a casino member and we got a discount.

On Monday, we had breakfast at the restaurant attached to our hotel, a family restaurant, part of a chain and carefully checked that bill.  No tourist tax there.

Until we went to check out.

There it was.

Charged three times on our bill was the Destination Marketing Fee.  We were charged it for each of the days we stayed.

I queried it and was told specifically the fee was a tax that went toward the fireworks.  I asked for literature on the tax and was told that there were brochures on it on the rack in the hall behind the check in.  I didn’t see them there.

I pointed out that this may have been illegal under the Consumer Protection Act and asked about getting it removed or reversed.
There was no response at all.  No offer, and no offer to go to a manager.

The hotel was full that weekend with two groups there the three days.  Our charge was approximately twenty dollars. 

Even though I pointed out that it might be illegal and was voluntary, the clerk at the hotel did nothing to reverse the charge.
On February 24, 2015, I sent an email to the hotel asking about the charge, saying that I had recently stayed there.  At the time of writing this (Feb 27, 2015) I have had no reply to that query.

So of all the places we watched out for, the one place we got dinged the charge…was the hotel at which we stayed.  And if the hotel has about 108 rooms, (I am guessing) and there are ten floors of rooms 12 rooms per floor, and the average charge for each of those rooms is the same as ours: 5.85, then the hotel is getting approximately $1842 dollars extra over three days.  Over ten days, that is 6318 dollars, and over thirty days, that is 18,954 dollars.  I could be wrong in my figuring, but according to my calculator that adds up to an extra
$227,448
                                                                                                 dollars per year that the hotel is charging, assuming full occupancy all the time.  That’s a lot of money for fireworks.  And I didn’t get any literature on where that money is going.

So beware when you go to Niagara Falls, they still have the fee in some places.  I heard from someone that they charge it at one of the chain restaurants down the way from our hotel.

To summarize, the clerk did not offer any literature.  They called it a tax, and they did not offer to remove it from the bill.  As of this moment I have not had any response to my email about this charge.  Nor do I expect to get a response.  So for our weekend, we didn’t get overcharged that much, considering, but it’s the principle of not being able to say no to a voluntary fee…errr tax that irks me.

Don’t get me wrong; we have had a relationship with the hotel for years.  It’s a good local hotel and they have been working to improve it over time.  They work hard and I have no complaints, other than this one.

As well, don’t misunderstand me, I love Niagara Falls.  It’s a great and interesting place to stay for a while.  There are a lot of things within walking distance and I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad experience there.  So I would never run down the city itself; I would say that if you are going there, be cautious and make sure that you are aware of the DMF.

PART II: Background: an investigation into the Consumer Protection Act

The following is an analysis of the Consumer Protection Act of Ontario, written before I go to Niagara Falls.  This part was written February 17, 2015. 


Partial Analysis of the Consumer Protection Act of Ontario

DISCLAIMER
**This is not legal advice, but the result of my reading and research. For queries and questions Contact a lawyer.**

The Consumer Protection Act, Part III under Unfair Practices has a few things to say.

14. (1) It is an unfair practice for a person to make a false, misleading or deceptive representation. 2002, c. 30, Sched. A, s. 14 (1).

Fine, that is clear.  You as a representative cannot mislead your consumers.  It is unfair.
Then in the next section,

(2) Without limiting the generality of what constitutes a false, misleading or deceptive representation, the following are included as false, misleading, or deceptive representations.

1. A representation that the goods and services have sponsorship, approval, performance characteristics, accessories, uses, ingredients, benefits or qualities they do not have.

It seems as if saying that a charge has a benefit it does not carry – that it is official, or that the money goes to pay for things when that cannot be proven, - would fall under this proviso.
Then the act goes on to say

13. A representation that the transaction involves or does not involve rights, remedies of obligations if the representation is false, misleading or deceptive.

If I as a consumer do not question the DMF, or know about it, and it is levied, how do I have a remedy if I find out about it later?  If I do question it and I am not given my due rights in getting a clear answer or find an independent response or reason, how is that fair?  Again, if there are no remedies offered – as in taking the charge off the bill or telling the consumer that the charge can be taken off the bill – how is that fair?  The representative at the hotel refused to take the charge off the bill, and never offered.

And then the act says,

15. A representation that misrepresents the purpose or intent of any communication with a consumer.

So to put the bill on and call it a tax, is an unfair practice.  To say the charge on the bill cannot be taken off – which is apparently false – and then to say that the money cannot be refunded goes toward a community purpose and does not – is an unfair practice.  They also cannot say the money is pooled into the community, if it is not.  The clerk at the hotel mis-represented the DMF by calling it a tax.

And

16. A representation that misrepresents the purpose of any charge or proposed charge.

So saying to a consumer that the fees are pooled and go to the community seems a misrepresentation.  
As would any statement that the fee is not voluntary, or that it is officially sanctioned in any way.
Under these actions, the fees proposed and levied against consumers in Niagara Falls without informing the consumer would seem to be unconscionable representation.  That is what happened to me at the hotel, apparently.

So,

15. (1) It is an unfair practice to make an unconscionable representation. 2002, c 30, Sched A, s 15 (1).

So to represent the fee as official, to not point it out as voluntary, or to refuse to refund the fee, would be an unconscionable representation.  This is how I see it.  So we were treated unfairly, if the reading of the Act is correct.

Later in the same section, the Consumer Protection Act of Ontario says,

(g) That a statement of opinion is misleading and the consumer is likely to rely on it to his or her detriment.

The detriment is the consumer is out of pocket for money that either they did not know they did not have to pay, or the money they agreed to pay, after the fact, was not going where the representative said it was.

The representative misled me as to the purpose of the charge, and did not offer proof of where the charge was going.

In addition, the detriment is that the consumer did not know about the charge until after the fact.  And consider that the unfair practice of a business only has to happen once:

(2) A person who performs one act referred to in section 14, 15 or 16 shall be deemed to be engaging in an unfair practice. 2002, c. 30, Sched A, s. 17 (2)

What does this mean to me?  It means that if the places we go to cannot provide official representation of their charges, and cannot show where the money goes in a publicly accessible freely available set of information, it should be seen as suspect at best or illegal at worst.  My protest here is because the information is not provided up front, and it is not represented properly.  If they had an area improvement charity, and had uniform boxes for donations on the counters, that would be one thing.  But to surprise consumers with that after the fact is misleading and lying to the customers and tourists.

THE ADVISORY FOUND ON THE INTERNET

Niagara Frontier advisory shows that this fee was known since about 2004.  It also says explicitly that this fee is voluntary and that the consumer does not have to pay it.  The following is the text from the niagarafrontier website as it can be found, with the link below that.

TOURIST ADVISORY

Since 2004, many Niagara Falls tourist establishments have been charging a 3% tax called a "DESTINATION MARKETING FEE," a CBC News investigation has found.
The scheme, which has existed since 2004, pulls in an estimated $15 million a year from tourists who are likely unaware the fee is voluntary and can be removed from their bills if they ask.
 A survey conducted by the CBC confirmed that 80% of the establishments surveyed confirm that the DMFs are now called DMDFs (DESTINATION MARKETING & DEVELOPMENT FEES) or TIFFs (TOURISM INFRASTRUCTURE FUNDING FEES).
In 2008, contrary to an Ontario Consumer Ministry bulletin issued warning Niagara Falls hoteliers and restaurateurs not label a fee 'DMF' or 'DPF' or claim the fee is for a tourism or destination marketing initiative if they are not remitting the fee to a legitimate non-profit agency for the exclusive purpose of promoting tourism.
Furthermore, instead of the money being pooled for joint promotional purposes for the entire region, each establishment collects and holds on to the untraceable fees, spending the money as they see fit, confirmed Wayne Thomson, chair of Tourism Niagara. Thomson is also a consultant for a group of the city's largest hotels as well as being an elected member of city council.
When asked why the fees are not more transparent and put into a pool for tourism promotion, Thomson's response was "Why do they have to?"
Thomson admits he has no idea how much is collected however some estimates have this fee totalling $15 million dollars annually. He reiterated that the fee is voluntary and that if visitors don't like it, they can request not to pay it and it must be removed from their bills.
Some major local establishments have refused to collect the fee, over concern for the optics of the practice and its failure to provide money to a region-wide marketing strategy.

BE INFORMED, BE AWARE & REFUSE TO PAY THIS DESTINATION MARKETING FEE. PARTICIPATING BUSINESSES WILL NOT INFORM YOU OF THIS VOLUNTARY TAX AND THE FEE WILL BE LISTED ON YOUR BILL OR RECEIPT HIDDEN AMONGST THE OTHER NUMBERS.

ASK EACH HOTEL, RESTAURANT AND/OR ATTRACTION IF THEY CHARGE A DESTINATION MARKETING FEE OR ANY TYPE OF SIMILAR FEE.

The original of this text above can be found at the following web address:

http:niagarafrontier.com/marketfee.htm

DID THIS HAPPEN TO ME?

The question we must ask is if this practice is happening there, where else is it happening that consumers do not know?  If I am asked for a donation, that is one thing, but if I don’t even have a refusal, that is quite another and is cheating the customer.

One subversion I would like to do is to tell the person after they present the bill that I charge an Adrian improvement fee, and it just happens to be double the price of the food.

In the past, there was a controversy over negative option billing.  You were billed, and you had to ask to get the bill removed.  The problem of course was that people did not know that they were being billed extra and assumed that the people providing the service were being honest.

This did not in fact turn out to be so in my experience.

Except that companies kept charging extra fees, and eventually people forgot their outrage.  I am not saying I will foment outrage on this basis, but I do think that this is cheating the customer. Period.
That is why I am calling on the government to regulate these charges.  In fact, I would consider that the charges should be considered as taxable income.  I would also consider that such places should be investigated on the basis that they are not following the law.

THE WAY I READ IT:
If a company is going to charge this fee they must
1. Be up front about the charge.
2. Point out that it is voluntary.
3. Have the fee held and not as profit.
4. Not hide the money in their accounting.
5. If it is voluntary, the consumer must be told that they can get the money waived.

CONCLUSION:
Since we were only charged the fee once, it’s still good advice.  I was expecting to be charged more often than we were.  It’s good to know your rights and exercise them.  It’s dishonest to not allow people to know about this voluntary fee and refuse it at the outset.  Over the long term, it will damage those places that charge it, because tourists will talk.  I’ll certainly warn people if they go to Niagara Falls, and I hope that you will too, after reading and sharing this post.

When we go out as tourists, we expect to be treated as sheep and get fleeced.  Yet the Ontario Consumer Protection Act is a barrier to this happening.  This is true in the case of the marketing fees that the CBC has discussed in their show marketplace.  This show, aired January 30, 2015, showed how the sheep were being fleeced in Niagara Falls, Ontario with a Destination Marketing Fee.
This fee is not common knowledge.  Yet.


RESOURCES
CBC marketplace: Stash your Cash, airdate January 30, 2015
Niagara Falls Tourist Advisory, niagarafrontier.com/marketfee.html >> printed off Feb 17, 2015
Ontario Consumer Protection Act, found online at the government of Ontario website, and partly printed off >> Feb 17, 2015
‘Tourism fee earns Falls another black eye’, John Law, Niagara Falls Review, Sunday Feb 1, 2015.
The legal information in this article was sourced from the following places:
www.elaws.gov.e.on.ca.html/statutes/English/elaws/statutes/02c30/e.htm

Consumer Protection Act, Ontario 2002 – this is the title of the law.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Blog post 90: some reflections on the recent decision



Now that we have doctor provided death in Canada, let’s think of some implications.  As we have not had this right available until now, anything we say will, necessarily, be a thought experiment.  However, if critics refuse to even think about the implications, it is strongly asserted they should not support doctor provided death.

I live in a province which is, for all intents, broke.  I have seen repeated stories in the media of patients needing medication and/or care, and being refused.  It’s too expensive.  We are politically embroiled in a series of revelations about the illegal measures apparently used by this provincial government.  The province is losing workers, and we have ever-increasing hydro bills in addition to all the above.  Also, our provincial credit rating has been downgraded at least once in the past year.

We have to save money.  Now where will we find those cost savings?

Remember our premier said we need to have a ‘chat’ about ending life issues in this province.  Given that the federal government said they will not use the notwithstanding clause in the constitution of Canada, this issue will devolve to the provinces.

Palliative care
There has been a push toward a national palliative care strategy.  The Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) said on Feb. 6, 2015 that the ultimate safeguard of the right to life was wrong; it created a duty to live.*  So the prohibitions against assisted suicide have been removed at the stroke of nine pens.  That apparently, and to commentators, leaves a political vacuum.  If the right to kill patients devolves to provinces that are broke and have shown by their political indifference they don’t give a damn about disadvantaged patients or their families…

If only there were a more convenient option that they could offer…

The trouble is that if the concept of Canadian palliative care ignores euthanasia as a right, then palliative care providers could, and probably will, be forced to provide death on demand.

There are a few things about the SCC’s decision that stand out.  The first is their ultimate refusal to see the social problems with providing medical death.  In their decision, there aren’t any.  Social problems, like abuse, elder abuse, abuse of patients, steering, and limiting known options simply don’t exist for them in their decision.  If these possibilities don’t exist, it stands to reason that there won’t be any safeguards against these possibilities in the future.   The trouble is that the BCCLA (British Columbia Civil Liberties Association) has gone on record as saying that the decision to kill, now that it has been made ‘legal’, is between the doctor and their patient.

Except it’s not.  Doctors and patients don’t exist as a non-contextual dyad.  You have family, friends and supporters of the patient.  Then you have the doctor, his staff, his family and his friends.  All those secondary issues exert a social force on the doctor and his attitudes, and on the patient, and her attitudes. And the media, and their attitudes.

I have to laugh, simply because this is true, and funny.  In the Toronto Sun, the day after the decision came down, the editorial writers were alarmed.  I don’t know this for a fact, but from the tone of their editorial, this would seem to be the case.  Anyway, they pointed out that 52% of deaths in Belgium were without request of the patient.  The source on this material was precisely the material which was rejected by the justices at the SCC as…anecdotal.  The source of the anecdotes?  A professional, peer-reviewed, associated series of medical journals.   You can’t get less anecdotal than medical journals, but there it is.

So doctor’s own research is now, by extension, anecdotal.  So who is driving this big grey bus?  And where is it headed?  We can see that if professionally created information can be dismissed at someone else’s whim, there isn’t much hope for the real world.  In fact, and I have said this before, those real-world issues – which were found in published newspapers with law backed standards – were dismissed by the head of a euthanasia enthusiasts’ club as…myths.

We can see the interest is not in truth of the real world events, but in reality control to gain a political end.  That political end will be the destruction and removal of disabled and dying people.  It will happen in secret, and it will happen because of lies.  Euthanasia enthusiasts have already lied before the fact, and the SCC bought it.  The lie?  That people were dying without care, implying this was widespread and normal.

If I were a doctor, hearing that, I’d be a little insulted.  The implication is that doctors can’t be trusted with their dying patients because those same patients are neglected when it comes to care and pain management.  That is the bedrock of any the patient is suffering in pain in hospital as they are dying, do something to eliminate them argument.  The medical types can’t be trusted.

This view ignores pain management and research which exists already.  It’s anecdotal because the reporting is from those same sources which warned about problems in euthanasia in Holland and Belgium.  The viewpoint ignores people who live with chronic pain already and therefore silences a number of disabled people by fiat.  The viewpoint ignores existing medical care in favour of disregarding already existing options, like palliative or hospice care.  Finally, that view ignores the notion that patients have any say or power over their care.

If I were in hospital and being neglected, I’d get my lawyer on the phone and fast.  Then I’d have my family contact the medical associations.  Except that all this is ignored by the euthanasia enthusiasts.  It doesn’t suit their individually emotive and tragic fictions.  If they paid attention to the real world, they’d lose the power of their arguments.

If only there were a disinterested group which could help patients solve these issues in a permanent way…

So now that you’re ready to sign over your worldly goods to your family and take the poisoned Kool Aid, what are the implications for the future?  Keep in mind that medical and social problems in existence before the ruling are in existence now, after the ruling.  On that score, nothing has changed.

People will be killed by mistake.  However, this is not really a big deal.  Something like 40,000 medical errors happen in Canada each year, so what’s a few more?  Remember, the suffering person is no longer suffering (because they’re dead), but hey, who wants to live like that?

People will be killed because they are bed-blockers.  Bed-blockers is a medical term, and can be found in the book The Secret Language of Doctors.  A doctor and her staff in an emergency ward in Brazil have been arrested for having killed, apparently, 300 of their patients.  Because they were bed-blockers.  There was a situation in England about two years ago where a nurse killed four patients by pouring water down their throats…because she needed the beds.  In Holland before the turn of the century, a doctor was quoted as saying, after he killed a patient who wasn’t dying fast enough, ‘I needed the bed’.

People will be killed to save money.  The Rassouli case is an example: in that case it cost $3,000 per day to keep the man in care.  The doctors wanted to remove him from life support, no doubt for his own good, but also, more to the point, to save money for the hospital.  They did it by being honest and up front: they told the man’s wife they were going to do it and if she wanted it stopped, take them to court.  Fortunately in this case, the man’s wife – also a doctor – won.

We have what has been called an impending grey tsunami in this province.  Aging people will have complex medical needs.  And their numbers will only increase.  Offering assisted suicide as a right, and only offering assisted suicide as a right, will result in cost savings.  By the SCC ruling, a person requesting death (for now) does not have to accept treatment or palliation.  Do not pass go, do collect your casket, move right to death.

People will be killed because they are abused.  If we think we can have this option of medical death and that those people involved in its provision are of the same mind and healthy themselves, we need to think again.  As of this writing, I have not seen anything from the Elder Abuse Network of Ontario denouncing this ruling or expressing concern.  CARP has put out a poll and asks if its respondents think that this ruling is a good idea, but so far that is all I have seen. 

After my mother died, my sister and I compared notes.  We figured out my mother had been living with an abusive husband.  Systemic isolation, ignoring established custom in the family, control of communication, even to the point of leaving my mother alone after chemotherapy in a rural area.  Isolating family members, spreading innuendo that was self-serving and manoeuvring people around my mother to a pre-determined conclusion.  Taking the garden hose to my mother’s dog in March when it ‘wouldn’t shut up…’ 

After my mother died, this man offered my mother’s dog to a family friend on the following terms: do you want to take the animal or am I going to have her put down?  Now think about doctor provided death, abusive relationships and hiding information.  What is to stop a determined family member from killing their loved one in an abusive context?

An emergency room doctor, a member of a euthanasia enthusiasts’ club, has gone on record saying that doctors should not have a right of conscience; they have to refer onward, rather than counsel against death.  That’s a bit of a change from it being a person’s issue between their doctor and themselves, isn’t it?  Never mind the conflict of interest.

So these previous instances are four things we can expect to happen now that we have assisted suicide in Canada.  Certainly there has been no legislation yet, but we can be sure that the same politicking that happened before this will happen after.  And people with real and real-world concerns will be frozen out of the discussion.

We already have iron-clad instances of silence procedures.  One of these procedures is the notion that if you are against something in your profession, leave the profession.  Another is the notion that information about abortions provided by taxpayer money…are exempt from freedom of information rulings and laws.  What is to make us think this would be different with euthanasia?  So if there are laws broken or questionable practices, ordinary people – who are equally at risk of being killed – do not have equal access to the information that would help them make an informed decision. 

But as long as people who are suffering aren’t suffering any more, what’s to care about?

One final caution is that the only way you can eliminate people who are suffering is by eliminating the humanity in those so suffering.  This is why there was a time in history when people called the disabled sub-human.  This is why we can easily call people with developmental delays ‘retards’ and get away with it: the target of our ideology isn’t human, so can’t be offended.

In addition, we hear terms such as useless eaters, vegetables and bed-blockers used to describe people with disabilities or in comatose states.  These are all a priori dehumanizing terms.  They remove the protection of a defined humanity, a shared experience of our social being, in favour of more practical responses.  So if people who have developmental delays can be called retards in the 21st century, what’s to stop others from being called shirkers or lazy?  Only a shared opinion that those who need a little extra help to make it are worth the effort.

Consider the following quotation, discussing a human rights abuse:

‘Before the public gets too worked up…
…some facts should be kept in mind.  These are not otherwise normal persons suffering from mental illness.  
They were born mentally subnormal and can never be anything else.  They are defective in different degrees…some even little more than vegetables.
Contemporary society demands that they be cared for.  They cannot be permitted to die through neglect.  Someday society may subscribe to euthanasia (mercy-killing), but at present it does not.’ [1]

So let’s review: there are people who are subnormal, implying they are not human on a normal scale.  They are not going to be productive and never will be.  Society, at the time this editorial was written, was of the opinion that despite the shortcomings, these people were valued in some fashion.  Then it is implied that mercy killing should be used on these vegetables.

The quote was from an Alberta newspaper from 1963, discussing sterilization of Canadian citizens who were defined as defective and the human rights abuses that happened as a result.  It did not, however, consider this a serious issue as only vegetables were involved.  What is interesting is that it advocated going beyond sterilization to mercy killing for the good of society.

Those attitudes in the editorial foreshadow the justifications we will read about when we think of euthanasia today.  I have shown how it is not between a doctor and patient; there will be a progression because it has already happened in the minds of supporters.  I have also shown that there is, and will be, a silence procedure in place so that problems are hidden and, therefore, don’t exist.

So if we think that euthanasia will be rare and controlled, we need to think more clearly and just say no to this new development.  Human lives – yours and mine – are at stake.

*Yes, this was the phrase used in the SCC decision.  If there is no duty to live, we can say there will be a legally enforced duty to die by definition.  If you want to read about the excluded cases from the medical journals, I suggest reading Exposing Vulnerable People to Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia, by Alex Schadenberg, 2013.  To buy copies, contact info@epcc.ca

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition’s website is www.epcc.ca
The order form for the book is www.epcc.ca/resources
[1] Quoted in Jane Harris-Zsovan, Eugenics and the Firewall, p. 97.