Sophia Aggelonitis, former Ontario Consumer Services Minister, on the Ethnic Media and their contributions

January 26, 2015

She was invited to talk to CEMA members about the importance of the ethnic media and other related topics

The minister is part of the Greek community in Hamilton and Niagara Region

(See brief bio at the end of this speech) Thank you, Madeline [Ziniak – CEMA Chair] for that kind introduction

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is great to be here and to have this opportunity to address the members of CEMA

As print and electronic journalists and as creative writers – you have such influential voices

You educate and inform; engage and involve

As ethnic media, you do so much more … It is through you that people all across this wonderfully diverse province of ours are able to learn what is happening in the world and in their communities ─ in a language they understand

There is no overstating the importance

Like you, I know this well

My parents came to Canada from two small towns in Greece in the early 1960s

That was before OMNI or any other ethnic media began broadcasting

And the main way for them to hear local news or gather information was through their close-knit Greek community

But before they learned English, it was an isolating time

Today, newcomers enjoy a different experience

They can buy a newspaper or listen to TV or pick up information in any number of languages

You are at the heart of it all

And I thank you for that! Ontario’s ethnic media has responded to a simple fact: In this city alone, over 140 languages are spoken

More than 30 per cent of Torontonians speak a language other than English or French at home

[1] We welcome more new Canadians every day

In fact, as Madeline recently said so well: “Ethnicity is the Canadian identity”[2] And ethnic media is considered by many as the new mainstream

It’s an awesome responsibility

Through your growing network, new Canadians and often second and third-generation Canadians – are able to be better informed and aware

You encourage their engagement as citizens

You help them to understand local issues … You profile their rights in this province: their human rights; their civil rights; their legal rights … So tonight, I am here to discuss their consumer rights – so you and I together can help your audiences be smart consumers too

Consumer Protection The Ministry of Consumer Services ─ which I am privileged to lead ─ has two major roles: consumer protection and education; and overseeing the regulatory environment – the rules basically – in a number of industry sectors

Our goal is to provide a fair, safe and informed marketplace

And our work touches Ontarians in their everyday lives, whether buying a car or renovating a house or taking a trip

Or being able to trust that the elevators they ride and the stuffed toys they give to their children are safe

Quite simply: My ministry helps people

And that is my goal to help Ontarians

Let me give you an example

Recently, a consumer complained to my Ministry about a cabinet company that was supposed to install kitchen cabinets

The consumer entered a contract worth nearly $12,000 with the company and paid a deposit of $4,000 for kitchen cabinets to be installed in six weeks

After removing all his existing kitchen cabinetry, the consumer waited for delivery of the new cabinets

After waiting for more than a month for delivery, the consumer finally decided to cancel the contract with the company

He asked for a refund of his deposit

He did receive a refund cheque – but it bounced! So the consumer complained to our Consumer Protection Branch

We investigated and laid charges

And just last month, the contractor pled guilty to all charges and fully paid back the money owed to the consumer

He also received two years probation with the condition that he perform community service

The company itself was fined a total of $17,500

Let me repeat that

Not only did the contractor have to pay a full refund, but he also paid a big fine

We did what we are mandated to do

We helped a consumer, and showed that it doesn’t pay to break the law in Ontario

Our Ministry helps people understand their consumer rights

We provide information and help them determine if their complaint is valid

We mediate between consumers and businesses, and conduct inspections and investigations on consumers’ behalf

Last year, the Consumer Protection Branch received over 55,000 enquiries and complaints from consumers across the province

These ranged from harassment by collection agencies, to being sold a defective appliance, to billing disputes with phone companies

Through our involvement ─ goods were delivered, services were performed and problems were solved in hundreds of cases

In fact, we mediated $83,000 in refunds in the first four months of this year alone

Let me share another recent case with you: Four separate homeowners paid deposits to the same construction company for renovation work

In each instance, the work was started ─ then abandoned

The homeowners turned to us when the company refused to refund their money

We investigated and, again, ultimately laid charges

The owner of the company was found guilty and served jail time

He also was ordered to pay a huge fine in addition to paying back all four victims

Last year, our Ministry undertook 316 compliance inspections and we laid 1,300 charges

This led to over half a million dollars in court-ordered restitution, almost $400,000 in fines, and probation or jail time for several individuals

We protect consumer rights

But we also understand that many Ontarians – including many in your audiences – might not even know these rights exist

Consumer Education That’s where another critical role of our Ministry comes in: consumer education and outreach

Last year, in one key initiative, we distributed over 300,000 Smart Consumer Calendars

These calendars are filled with useful tips about how to protect yourself from identity theft, how to recognize counterfeit money, what to remember when buying or selling a house

Do you need a sample letter to cancel a contract? It’s all right there in the calendar

This is a simple but effective way for people to have a wide range of consumer information at their fingertips

And since the calendars are available in multiple languages including Spanish, Punjabi and Chinese, we reach many new Ontarians

Also, our Ministry delivers about 100 community events each year – again for the purpose of educating consumers

For example, car purchases and repairs are consistently among the top 10 consumer complaints that we receive each year

That’s why, this summer, the Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council – one of our ministry’s arm’s-length organizations – will be offering car-buying seminars to ensure people have all the information they need to properly buy or lease a car

There will be free, hour-long seminars held in libraries, community centres, malls and schools across the province

These too will be delivered not just in English and French ─ but also in Italian, Arabic, Ukranian, Greek and several other languages

Our Ministry regularly reaches out to Ontario consumers through the media

And this is the great role that you play

We do many things

Broadly, we distribute articles that focus on consumer protection to newspapers across the province

We also reach out on targeted issues

For example, spring is when homeowners’ thoughts turn to home renovations

So this past April, we proactively approached media across the province to help us help consumers to ensure their projects go smoothly

There was a great response

As Minister, I sat down with several media outlets for interviews that specifically focused on helping consumers avoid such common complaints as poor workmanship or shady business practices by contractors

I am confident the information reached Ontarians

During the interviews, I also made sure to emphasize a point that I make when speaking to any group: Our Ministry has a terrific website

I highly recommend that you go to our website at

Ontarians can find a lot of easy-to-understand information, including helpful videos and brochures

The brochures are available in nine languages

They’ll find a Consumer Protection Toolbox to help them know their rights, determine if they have a legitimate complaint and, if so, how to file

We post consumer alerts

We also host a consumer beware list, where people can check for the names of individuals or businesses with compliance issues before they sign on the dotted line

This is very important and a valuable tool for consumers

It alerts you to companies that we have received complaints about….and that consumers should be aware of

Legislation and Regulation While our Ministry is fully committed to consumer protection and education, this is complemented by a second priority that I mentioned earlier

Through the Ministry of Consumer Services, the government establishes the legislation and regulations that govern a number of industry sectors

We oversee several arms-length organizations which are given responsibility for day to day enforcement in these industries

The technical experts in these organizations carry out critical functions to promote public safety and enforce consumer protection

For example, I mentioned earlier the Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council (OMVIC) and their upcoming car-buying seminars

As well, most of you will have heard of the Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO)

As one of the ministry’s eight arm’s-length organizations, RECO enforces a strict code of ethics for real estate brokers and agents … Then there is the Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO)

It has many oversight responsibilities, including getting money back for consumers if they have booked a trip through an Ontario travel agent and the tour operator or airline goes bankrupt

Other agencies make sure that amusement rides are safe, that electrical installations work as they were designed to do, that home builders provide warranties on homes concerning certain quality and environmental standards – even that the integrity of Ontario wines is preserved

Our Ministry also oversees two Regulatory Agencies: one that regulates Ontario’s liquor and gaming industries – the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario – and the other that you’ll be particularly aware of as members of the media ─The Ontario Film Review Board – which provides the public with the information they need to make informed viewing choices

Day-by-day, organization by organization, these authorities and agencies work in partnership with our Ministry to make sure Ontarians are informed, safe and protected

Working Together So, today, I invite you and ask you to stand with us as well

In order for Ontarians to be smart consumers – they need to have timely information and to understand their consumer rights

CEMA is in a unique position to help

As members, you are immersed in the full mosaic of Ontario’s multiculturalism

In fact, at OMNI, you reach dozens of communities from Albanian to Greek to Vietnamese

There is an opportunity at OMNI ─ as well as through each of your diverse writings or programs ─ to help people who do not speak English as a first language to get the information that they need

Ontarians enjoy some of the strongest consumer protections anywhere

It’s a good message to get out

It’s one that all Ontarians deserve to hear

We can do this best together

Certainly, as Minister, I am available for interviews ─ as are the many experts we have on consumer rights and protection across Ontario’s diverse sectors

And our Ministry itself is a terrific resource

We can provide information to help you report on a number of issues ─ from purchasing gym memberships or to obtaining estimates on car repair, as well as everything we’ve discussed today and more

In fact, I have a CD for you, packed with information

Together, we can make a difference

In closing, I would like to say that I look forward to working with CEMA and the many dedicated members of Ontario’s ethnic media in the future

Together, we can help more consumers be smarter consumers

Thank you

[1] [2] Brief Bio: A successful small business owner, dedicated community volunteer and proud Hamiltonian, Sophia’s career has centred on strengthening community through business

Combining these two passions, Sophia served on the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce for four years before being elected president in 2007

In addition to being an active member of the Hamilton AM Rotary Club, Sophia has been involved in a variety of community organizations, serving on the boards of Theatre Aquarius, Canadian Club of Hamilton, Phoenix Place and the Dr

Bob Kemp Hospice fundraising committee

The daughter of Greek immigrants, Sophia was raised in Welland and has been a proud resident of Hamilton since 1994