This article appeared in the paper edition of the Law Times dated September 21, 2015. It did not appear in the smaller digital version of the Law Times of the same date.
On September 21, 2015, the Law Times, a weekly publication for Ontario lawyers, ran an article I wrote titled “Questions raised about deputy judge’s debt settlement activity”, in the publication’s paper edition. The URL for the Law Times is www.lawtimesnews.com. This article does not appear in the September 21, 2015 digital edition of the Law Times.
The full text of this article can be found at the end of this post.
In this article I asked whether or not an Ontario Deputy Judge’s recent foray into the Ontario debt settlement marketplace will lower the public’s opinion towards both lawyers and judges in this province.
I also ask questions about the relationship between the unnamed deputy judge operating Ontario Debt Law, OCCA, Quick Connect Solutions, and debthelpers.ca.
This article is based upon my post, dated August 16, 2015, published earlier this year on this blog, titled “OCCA helps Deputy Judge Serafini and Ontario Debt Law enter debt settlement marketplace”.
Here is the link to this post:
Let us review your debt settlement agreement
If you are an Ontario resident and you have signed an agreement with any firm that offers to eliminate your unsecured consumer debt for less than what you currently owe then I would invite you to provide me with a copy of your agreement.
Depending upon your particular circumstances you might be entitled to a refund of the monies that you have paid to a debt settlement service provider.
You are welcome to call me at 1 (866) 996-9941 or (519) 827-5513. Alternatively, you can contact me via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact me if you have any information about the activities of Ontario Debt Law and OCCA
I would also invite anyone with knowledge of the activities of Ontario Debt Law and OCCA to contact me.
Text of my article appearing in the September 21, 2015, paper edition of the Law Times
This article reprinted below appeared in the September 21, 2015, paper edition of the Law Times. The URL for the Law Times is www.lawtimesnews.com.
Questions raised about deptuy judge’s debt settlement activity
BY MARK SILVERTHORN
For Law Times
Some time in July of this year, an Ontario deptuy judge who sits in the central west region launched a new law firm, Ontario Debt Law, that offers debt settlement services to Ontario residents.
The law firm’s debt settlement agreement states that it can assign the law firm’s obligations under the agreement to OCCA Consumer Debt Relief Inc. Brampton, Ont.-based OCCA has been one of the largest Canadian debt settlement firms over the past decade. In 2014, OCCA claimed to have more than 12,000 clients.
Ontario Debt Law has been carrying on business since the beginning of July. It is becoming increasingly apparent that such activities may create issues not only for Ontario’s legal community but also for the administration of justice in this province.
A letter on Ontario Debt Debt Law letterhead states that an Ontario lawyer described as a deputy judge owns and operates the firm. An unsophisticated individual reading this marketing letter might think that entering into an agreement for legal services with Ontario Debt Law might be very advantageous because the lawyer operating it is a deputy judge. The reference to a deputy judge might lead a potential client to think to conclude that the courts or the Ministry of the Attorney General approve or recommend the firm’s services.
The entrance of Ontario Debt Law into the Ontario debt settlement marketplace coincides with the new debt settlement regulatory regime that came into effect on July 1st. Effective July 1, whenever an Ontario resident enters into a debt settlement agreement, there are significant restrictions on the fees where the debt settlement service provider is subject to the Ontario Collection and Debt Settlement Services Act.
A debt settlement firm cannot charge a client a penny in fees until a settlement is actually paid out. Furthermore, the maximum fee with respect to a single debt is 10 percent of the amount owing as of the date the debt settlement agreement was signed.
The new regulatory regime, and in particular the significant restrictions on fees, is having a devastating impact on firms providing debt settlement services to Ontario residents. The new regulatory regime for debt settlement firms does not apply to lawyers who can bring themselves under an exemption contained in the act. Accordingly, it is much more attractive financially to provided debt settlement services in conjunction with a law firm than to do so on its own.
A marketing letter on Ontario Debt Law’s letterhead sates: “We are NOT a debt settlement firm!” It would be accurate to say that Ontario Debt Law is not a firm licensed as a collection agency under the Ontario Collection and Debt Settlement Services Act. Ontario Debt Law does, however, offer services that fall within the definition of debt settlement services under the act. There are also several confusing aspects to Ontario Debt Law’s letterhead. The contact information, for example, is a mystery. Several phone calls to the the local number on the law firm’s letterhead elicited a fax tone. A phone call placed after regular business hours to the toll-free number listed on Ontario Debt Law’s letterhead led to a voicemail for a marketing firim called debthelpers.ca.
Ontario Debt Law’s letterhead states that its address is 188 Wilkinson Rd., Unit 2, Brampton, Ont. On July 13, 2015,a photograph taken at that address reveals that the name on the door is not Ontario Debt Law but that of a Quick Connect Solutions. A sign on the door at 188 Wilkinson Rd., Unit 2, advises Canada Post to deliver mail for that address to 188 Wilkinson Road, Unit 1. That is the address for OCCA.
Quick Connect Solutions’ web site describes the firm as offering telephony solutions to companies in the marketing, credit, collections, and debt purchasing industries. The we site for debthelpers.ca includes the following statement: “Each company we work with is unique and offers several different programs. One size-fit-all approaches will never help you regain your financial stability and achieve your goal of becoming debt free.”
OCCA and Quick Connect Solutions. in fact, have attracted the attention of the of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. Following a CRTC investigation in 2013, OCCA and Quick Connect Solutions agreed to pay $69,000 and $11,000, respectively, in fines for making robocalls.
It is not easy for a member of the public to speak to a staff member at Ontario Debt Law. Ontario Debt Law does not have a web site and would not appear to have much of a public presence at all. A member of the public, however, will receive marketing materials from Ontario Debt Law after calling a toll-free number listed on OCCA’s web site and speaking with a counsellor.
A deputy judge’s recent entry into the Ontario debt settlement marketplace raises potential concerns. It would be surprising if such activities were to enhance the public’s perception of either lawyers or judges.
Mark Silverthorn is a retired lawyer and the author of The Wolf At The Door: What To Do When Collection Agencies Come Calling. He is also the founder of Comprehensive Debt Solutions Inc., a firm providing practical advice to consumers with unsecured consumer debt problems. Its web site is comprehensivedebtsolutions.ca