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Unlocked Phone Rule Sparks Carrier-Alleged Smartphone Crime Spree in Canada

Criminals are supposedly having a field day robbing cell phone stores in Canada after regulators ordered all cell phones to be sold unlocked, allowing customers to bring their devices to other carriers.

“There have been multiple instances of armed robberies at our stores targeting unlocked, new devices,” Bell Canada complained in a letter to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). “We believe this trend is attributable to the availability of unlocked devices [that are] more desirable to fraudsters and thieves.”

Because Canada’s three major carrier-cell phone marketplace is seen as less competitive and more expensive than the United States, the CRTC has tried to keep wireless service costs under control by regulating some of the practices of the barely competitive Canadian market. One such initiative is the ban on charging unlock fees on devices, which carriers used to deter customers from changing providers. As of last December, carriers could no longer collect an average of $50 to unlock each device, and new devices had to be sold to customers in an unlocked state, allowing them to be used on any compatible wireless provider’s network.

Rogers, which runs Canada’s largest cable operator and has a major market share of Canada’s wireless market, claims the unintended consequence of the CRTC’s unlock policy is a 100% increase in cell phone thievery during the last six months the policy has been in effect. Rogers reports thieves are stealing brand new cell phones in the mail or off a customer’s front step after the shipper drops the package off. Brazen armed robberies of cell phone stores have been more common in the United States, but providers claim criminal gangs are now taking their business north of the border, holding up stores and running off with dozens of valuable phones.

Both Bell and Rogers warned the CRTC last year thievery would be the likely result of providing unlocked phones. Consumer groups claim both providers have a vested interest complaining about the new unlock policies. In 2016, Canadian telecom companies made $37.7 million from fees related to unlocking smartphones. That was a 75 percent increase in fee revenue since 2014.

Canadian consumers called unlock charges “ransom fees,” and were particularly upset paying fees after they paid off the device.

“You should be able to unlock it [for free] at the very least once you’ve paid off the device. You own it,” John Lawford, executive director with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Ottawa told the CBC.

Lawford calls unlock fees an intended consequence of the industry’s own policies. Cell phone companies sell devices manufacturers have to lock at the behest of carriers, and then consumers face fees paid to the same carriers to undo the lock.

Canada’s providers often point to examples of armed robberies and truck hijacking south of the Canadian border as a reason to be concerned about employee and customer safety. In the view of some, an unlocked smartphone worth more than $500 is an invitation to steal.

Bell told regulators things are certain to get worse in Canada.

“It appears that illegal activity may have shifted from the U.S. to Canada as some [American] carriers have begun to lock devices,” Bell officials told the CRTC.

Bell was referring to Verizon’s unilateral announcement it began relocking smartphones in February, despite its agreement not to as part of an acquisition of 700 MHz spectrum in 2008. That prime spectrum came with strings attached, including a requirement not to disable or restrict devices that use the spectrum, something locked phones do. Verizon previously tested the waters on reintroducing locked cell phones during the second term of the Obama Administration, but the idea met immediate resistance from FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler.

In 2018, Verizon found a much more receptive audience from the Republican-dominated FCC under Chairman Ajit Pai, and has gradually returned to locking down devices on Verizon’s network. Last spring, Verizon began locking all smartphones sent to stores, to be unlocked after purchase. Verizon argued this would deter armed gangs from hijacking deliveries or raiding stores to steal phones by the dozens, to be resold to the eager black market.

After meeting little resistance, Verizon announced it would start locking phones for an arbitrary amount of time after purchase, defined in terms of “months, not years.”

If thieves obtain a stolen, locked phone, it cannot generally be activated by the customer unless taken to an authorized retailer. This theoretically leaves thieves stuck with worthless phones, which is why Canadian carriers claim the country’s unlocked phone policy will draw American thieves north. But critics suspect financial motives hold more sway. In addition to charging lucrative fees for unlocking phones, customers unable to take their device with them to a new carrier can effectively deter a provider change, especially for family accounts where multiple devices would need to be moved.

Others claim locking phones is not the best way to deter thieves, because an unscrupulous Verizon employee or reseller can still unlock them for thieves.

The wireless industry already claims to have a voluntary, industry-led initiative to dramatically reduce theft — a national database of stolen/lost phones. Under this system, a would-be customer is denied activation if their device’s unique ID appears on a list of stolen or lost phones.

CBC Calgary reports Canadians no longer face unlock fees on their smartphones and other wireless devices. (3:55)

Competition Drives Internet Prices Down 45% in Toronto This Summer

Fierce competition by eastern Canada’s largest internet service providers are driving down prices across the Greater Toronto Area by as much as 45%.

Bell’s fiber to the home service, making its way across parts of the GTA, is now offering unlimited gigabit (1,000/940 Mbps) internet for $79.95 a month, a major drop from its original price of $149.95, if customers sign up before the end of July. Those signing up by July 7 can also get a $50 gift card.

Rogers, the country’s biggest cable company, has been pushing its own limited time promotional offer for its gigabit (1,000/30 Mbps) package, which is more widely available than Bell’s Fibe but also suffers from anemic upload speed. Rogers was selling the package for $152.99/month, but it’s now $79.99 for the first year. The offer is good throughout Ontario, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland.

The two telecom companies are trying to boost subscriber numbers during the slow summer months when quarterly financial reports can show a decrease in customers.

Canadians have generally had less access to gigabit speed plans than their American neighbors. Experts believe these companies are cutting prices to hook people on super-fast internet plans that will change consumer attitudes about gigabit speed from an unaffordable luxury into a necessity. Like Americans, Canadians are gravitating towards faster speed plans at an accelerating rate. They also continue to choose unlimited plans wherever available.

There are the usual terms and conditions in the fine print to consider:

Rogers: Offer available for a limited time to new Rogers internet subscribers within Rogers cable service area in Ontario (where technology permits). Subject to change without notice. Data usage subject to Rogers Terms of Service and Acceptable Use Policy. See rogers.com/terms for full details. Taxes extra. One-time activation fee of $14.95 and one-time installation fee (waived for Self-Install; Basic $49.99 or Professional $99.99) apply. Savings as compared to regular price for 12 months. Advertised regular price applies in month 13, subject to any applicable rate increases.

Speeds may vary with internet traffic, server gateway/router, computer (quality, location in the home, software and applications installed), home wiring, home network or other factors. See Acceptable Use Policy at rogers.com/terms. An Ethernet/wired connection and at least one additional wired or wireless connection are required to reach maximum download speeds of up to 1 Gbps for Rogers Ignite Gigabit Internet. Offer available until July 31, 2018 within Rogers cable service area (where technology permits) to new customers subscribing to Ignite Internet 60u or above.

Bell: Offer ends on July 31, 2018. Available to new residential customers in Ontario, where access and technology permit. For certain offers, the customer must select e-billing and create a MyBell profile. Modem rental required; one-time modem rental fee waived for new customers. Subject to change without notice and cannot be combined with any other offer. Taxes extra. Other conditions apply, including minimum system requirements. Subject to compliance with the Bell Terms of service; bell.ca/agreements.. Speeds on the internet may vary with your configuration, internet traffic, server, environmental conditions, simultaneous use of Fibe TV (if applicable) or other factors; bell.ca/speedguide.

$50 gift card promotion: Offer ends on July 7, 2018. The selected internet tier must include unlimited usage. An unloaded gift card will be mailed after the customer maintains a continuous subscription to the same eligible Bell services and has an account in good standing for 60 days following the installation of all services. All services need to be activated by July 31, 2018. Not combinable with any other offers or promotions. Subject to change without notice. One gift card per account. When received, customer must register the gift card online at bellgiftcard.com to request loading of the amount. Allow 30 days for gift card to be loaded and ready to use. If you cancel your services before you activate your gift card, you will not be able to use your gift card. Gift card and use are subject to the card program. Other conditions apply; see bell.ca/fullinstall.

More Rogers Employees Speak Out: “A Calculated Game of Misery” for Customers

Phillip Dampier January 18, 2018 Canada, Consumer News, Rogers No Comments

Rogers Communications’ call center workers treated customers as adversaries and allegedly placed unauthorized charges on customer bills, didn’t disclose service fees, and avoided downgrading or disconnecting service while managers encouraged these practices and lectured workers it was not their job to worry about what customers thought.

Days after CBC News’ Go Public unit revealed stories of customer abuse shared by Rogers’ call center workers, more than two dozen additional current and former workers have now come forward confirming the first report and declaring the company’s call center work environment was uniformly “toxic,” “intense,” “high pressure,” and abusive to employees and customers alike.

“It was a calculated game of misery.” 

Rogers management cares about only one thing, employees claim — making money any way a representative can, even if it means pushing products and services on unsuspecting customers.

A four-year employee at Rogers call center in Brampton, Ont., who left in 2015, still vividly remembers he was trained to trick customers at every turn.

  • He and his colleagues were trained not mention cancellation fees charged by other providers when a customer switched to Rogers.

“Because these fees were not charged by Rogers itself, we were told to gloss over them as quickly, vaguely and incoherently as possible,” he writes. “Often while the customer was speaking at the same time.”

  • Agents were shown how to quietly remove some services from a customer’s account while adding others that counted towards a monthly sales goal, hoping the customer wouldn’t notice.

This trick, he told CBC News, involved secretly reducing certain services — such as the number of television channels a customer received — so an agent could add new services, such as a home phone line they didn’t necessarily need, but that earned points towards monthly sales target.

“It was a calculated game of misery,” he says. “How much could you lower their existing services so they wouldn’t immediately notice, while at the same time adding as much in new services as you could?”

“It’s not your job to care.”

In its original report, CBC News quoted a Rogers spokesperson who denied knowledge of these practices and declared there was no tolerance for employees who mistreated customers. But the latest group of employees to come forward consider the abuses systematic and occurred with the full knowledge of company managers and supervisors.

The former worker in Brampton noted that when he brought concerns to his manager questioning the ethics of some of the business practices he was reminded he worked in sales and was told, “It’s not your job to care.”

Intentionally Frustrating Customers Until They Give Up and Hang Up

If a customer called in to complain about something on their bill, downgrade, or cancel service — all things that could affect sales targets, it was ‘all hands on deck’ among call center workers and their colleagues. In addition to hanging up on customers trying to cancel service, Rogers customer service representatives tricked customers trying to escalate a problem to a manager. Instead of transferring calls to an actual manager, employees were taught to transfer the call to a fellow agent who was prepared to repeat claims there was nothing Rogers could do to resolve the issue.

“The goal,” he says, “was for the customer to be so frustrated, speaking to someone who couldn’t do anything more than you, that they ended the call.”

“The things that go on behind closed doors would leave you speechless.”

Debbie Sears (Image courtesy of: Debbie Sears/CBC)

Making a call to Rogers’ customer service can be risky business for customers, because it gives call center workers access to your account, where they can add services without your knowledge to help make their monthly sales targets.

Nicole McDonnell worked at a third-party call center in London, Ont., contracted with Rogers to provide customer service. She quit three months ago disturbed about what she saw. She told CBC News she witnessed agents making unauthorized changes to customer accounts, such as adding lucrative cellphone activation charges without the knowledge of the customer.

“The things that go on behind closed doors would leave you speechless,” she writes.

Debbie Sears echoed McDonnell. Taking calls from her home office in Kingston, N.S. through a subcontractor, Sears was trained to do one thing above all else: sell.

“We were constantly being threatened that we would be fired if we did not upsell — add a home line or a cellphone to the account,” she says. “It was a pressure cooker. They expected you to sell on every call. And you were told time and again, ‘Never take no for an answer. Push, push, push!'”

Sears said she was trained to push phone protection plans for cellphones for $12 a month, but was told not to mention a replacement fee of up to $200 applied if a customer ever made a claim. Other times, she claims, managers would approve cellphone sales even when a credit check suggested a customer was opening a fraudulent account or had very poor credit.

“I have a hard time selling something that’s useless to them [customers],” says Sears. “I told them right from the start, and they said, ‘Oh well, you’ll get used to it.'”

Apparently not. Sears said she began having panic attacks before her shift would begin and her blood pressure “went through the roof.”

Like other Rogers employees that don’t make their sales targets, she was eventually terminated.

“My doctor was very worried I’d have a stroke,” she says. “When I got laid off [for not selling], they did me a favor.”

Former Rogers Manager: ‘My job was to manage out the low performers — witch-hunt those people. Grown men would be crying.’

One former Rogers manager reached out to Go Public to share how he was trained to put pressure on workers in the Ottawa call center.

The pressure for sales reached a new level of intensity in 2015 when Rogers issued a memo directing senior leadership to light a fire under call center workers to get them to sell more services. At least two-thirds of all call center workers were placed on a “performance improvement plan” that most employees understood was the kiss of death to their employment in the near future. The message was perfectly clear – sell more or risk being terminated.

CBC:

“Every day we’d have a meeting about sales targets,” he says. “A big part of my job was to manage out the low performers. Witch-hunting those people.”

On the other hand, he says, top sellers were protected — even if they behaved unethically.

“Senior leadership would often issue directives to the team managers to protect their top-level performers by turning a blind eye,” he says. “Protect the tops.”

Once an employee found themselves assigned to the “performance improvement plan,” managers knew most would have to go, and they had no patience for anything except a radical turnaround. If the employee still struggled making sales, their future was bleak. The ex-manager told CBC News he would squeeze every minute out of their last day at the company, tapping them on the shoulder five minutes before the end of their shift to put them in a private room, and then fire them.

“Grown men would be crying, desperate because they couldn’t sell enough,” he says. “But sales was everything.”

When it got too much for even him and he began questioning Rogers’ way of doing business, he was fired too.

‘Shocking and appalling’

Vancouver labor lawyer Lia Moody says she’s been following the Rogers employees’ allegations, and finds them “shocking and appalling.”

Moody told the CBC Rogers’ apparent business practices ‘contravenes what Canadians consider their ethics and values.”

“I think it’s important that people are speaking out. Public shaming,” she says, “is the only way a company will make changes.”

Rogers Ripoffs: Company Sells Internet Service to Customers Without Computers

Phillip Dampier January 15, 2018 Canada, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Rogers, Video 2 Comments

A special investigation by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation found Rogers’ call center employees engaging in high pressure sales tactics, pushing customers to buy products and services they do not need.

In emails and interviews with Go Public, a CBC consumer investigations unit that seeks to hold corporate and government powers accountable, more than a dozen Rogers workers report they’re under “extreme pressure” to hit sales targets or risk termination.

“You’re supposed to look at a customer’s account and sell them cable, home phone, home security, a credit card — whatever is missing,” says an employee who currently works at a large Rogers’ call center in Ottawa and has asked CBC to conceal his identity to avoid retribution in his workplace.

Employees report they are constantly under stress to meet sales quotas, which are not eased even an employee is out sick. Employees know Rogers will terminate call center workers that do not sell enough products to customers, which has created an atmosphere where some desperate workers sign up customers for services they do not understand or cannot use to keep their jobs.

One employee told the CBC he will sign up seniors for internet service, and inform them a technician will come to their home  “to install a modem for their TV,” despite the fact modems are used with internet service, not cable television.

“We’re giving internet service to customers who actually do not have a computer,” he says.

The alleged corrupt business practices begin with the first job interview, where ex-employee Jessica Robinson was asked just how strongly committed she was to sell Rogers’ services.

CBC relied on several whistleblowers that are or were employees at Rogers Communications call centers. (Image courtesy of: Christian Patry/CBC)

“When I had my interview … they actually asked me ‘If an elderly lady calls in to cancel her sports package on her TV because her husband just died, are you going to convince her to keep it and add more?'” says Robinson.

Robinson echoed many other employees who told CBC they were expected to sell on every call, no matter the reason. If a customer calls to cancel service or report a service problem, before they get help, they will get a sales pitch.

To keep customers buying, representatives sometimes wrongly claim buying more products will result in a lower bill because of bundling discounts.

“Even customers who have home phone service, I say, ‘How about I add a second line for your home phone and I’ll give you a discount for your other product?’ Which makes no sense,” a representative said.

What the call center workers often don’t tell customers is they are also sneaking other items on to customer bills. The biggest are installation and activation fees for the services being pitched, which often run $25-50.

Customers are sure to call back 1-2 months later when a much higher-than-expected bill arrives, and those call center workers are trained to handle that as well.

That is what happened with Sheldon Nider in 2017 when the 72-year old resident of Richmond, B.C., called to upgrade his phone and inquire about adding a 25% corporate discount he was entitled to receive. After 90 minutes on the phone, a Rogers representative told him he did qualify and also sold him a phone for his granddaughter. The following month, a 17-page bill arrived in the mail. Nider’s bill unexpectedly jumped $135 a month and, just as bad, he did not get the corporate discount he originally called about.

“I think it’s a bait and switch because they bait you with a discount, then switch it and don’t give it to you. It’s as simple as that,” Nider told CBC.

Rogers later admitted in an email message to Nider the sales agent “misinformed” him, but that was all they were willing to do. When Go Public later contacted Rogers, the company grudgingly offered a $360 credit to address other issues, but still refuses to provide the corporate discount or end the expensive term contract he is now stuck with for the next few years. When Nider now calls for an explanation about other mysterious charges on his bill, the representatives seem empathetic, but don’t deliver customer satisfaction.

“They teach us how to be empathetic. To say things like ‘I understand how frustrating that must be,'” Robinson says about customers calling in to complain. “I’m like, why? We’re the ones screwing them over.”

Customers and workers are both left stressed about the insistent sales tactics. Customers don’t appreciate having to fight their way through a sales pitch to get their concerns addressed and employees are constantly worried they will be terminated because many customers either don’t want or cannot afford to add anything else to their bill.

Rogers employees claim their managers are well aware of these tactics and are also the source of much of the pressure. Despite a responsibility to monitor and manage ethical business practices on behalf of Rogers, managers are also rewarded for achieving sales quotas and bend over backwards to protect the most aggressive and unethical employees by avoiding monitoring their calls or questioning their sales.

Rogers sells cable TV, home phone, internet, cell phones, home security and other services. Its banking subsidiary even offers its own credit card.

“Managers know these reps are unethical,” says James Woodward, who worked in a Rogers call center two years ago. “So they try not to listen to those calls.”

Woodward told CBC managers don’t care what you sell as much as what you didn’t.

“I would get five cellphone activations in a day and sell a bunch of cable products, and then my manager would say, ‘No credit card?’ It was always what I didn’t do.”

When a customer calls to drop services or cancel altogether, there is a good chance that call will be dropped, because reducing your bill or closing your account will count against the employee’s sales targets.

“That’s why most customers have to call in three, four, five times to get a problem resolved,” says the employee working at Rogers’ Ottawa call center. “This is normal.”

At the end of each month, employees who fail to meet their targets can be forced to take “performance improvement” courses. If sales numbers still do not improve, they are likely to be terminated.

A Rogers spokesperson told the CBC the company’s sales targets are “achievable” and employees can be terminated for a number of reasons other than missing sales expectations. But Rogers’ Paula Lash added, “While we do not believe the concerns raised represent our values or sales practices, we take them very seriously and we will work with our team to respond to these concerns.”

An Ottawa-based public advocacy group, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) now wants the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to open a public inquiry on the matter. PIAC’s executive director John Lawford says the CBC report exposes a loophole in Canadian regulations, which do not currently cover industry sales practices.

Lawford says these sales tactics, and other similar incidents involving other large Canadian phone and cable companies, appear to directly target seniors, grieving spouses, and the visually impaired community.

“It’s completely appropriate for the CRTC to say, ‘We’re going to set out rules,'” adds Lawford. “I think it’d be quite eye-opening to have an open, public consultation at the CRTC about sales practices of big telecom companies.”

The former and current employees at Rogers who communicated with the CBC about the sales practices offered their own suggestion: “Stop increasing our targets. Stop pressuring us to try to make a sale on every call. And remove these [performance improvement] plans to get you fired.”

CBC-TV’s “The National” reports on Rogers Communications’ pushy sales tactics that sell customers services they don’t want or need. (4:09)

Canadian Telecom Cos. Raid Montreal Software Developer’s Home, Interrogate Him for 9 Hours

6A group of five men representing Bell, Rogers, and Vidéotron burst into the private home of a Montreal man at 8 a.m. on June 12 without notice and interrogated him for nine hours about his involvement in a search engine that helps Canadian viewers circumvent geographic restrictions on online TV shows and movies.

The lawyer representing Canadian telephone company Bell and two of the country’s largest cable companies — Rogers and Vidéotron, was backed by a bailiff and independent counsel who informed Montreal software developer Adam Lackman, founder of TVAddons and a current defendant in a copyright infringement lawsuit filed by the telecom companies, that he was “not permitted to refuse to answer questions” posed by the companies under threat of additional criminal and civil penalties.

Lackman was instructed he had one hour to locate an attorney, but was forbidden to use any electronic or telecommunications device to contact one. He was also not allowed to leave the designated room in his home where he was held unless accompanied by a corporate lawyer or court official. The men also warned Lackman’s attorney he could not counsel Lackman on his answers to their questions and had to remain silent.

“I had to sit there and not leave their sight. I was denied access to medication,” Lackman told TorrentFreak. “I had a doctor’s appointment I was forced to miss. I wasn’t even allowed to call and cancel.”

Lackman was eventually placed in a room in his home and interrogated almost continuously for nine hours, but was given a brief break for dinner and time to finally talk privately with his attorney. By the time the bailiff, two computer technicians, the independent counsel and the corporate attorney left, it was 16 hours later and after midnight. The men left with Lackman’s personal computer and phone, along with a full list of usernames and passwords to access his email and social media accounts.

“The whole experience was horrifying,” Lackman told CBC News. “It felt like the kind of thing you would have expected to have happened in the Soviet Union.”

Lackman

The telecom giants gained access to Lackman’s home with the use of a Anton Piller order, a type of civil search warrant that gives private individuals and companies acting as plaintiffs in a lawsuit full access to a defendant’s home with no warning. The order was designed to allow searches and seizure of relevant evidence at high risk of being destroyed by a defendant.

The Canadian companies were upset because of Lackman’s involvement in Kodi, an open source home theater platform that allows viewers to access stored and online streaming media. Lackman produces apps, known as add-ons, that help Kodi users access live TV streams and recorded content. Unfortunately, that sometimes occurs in contravention of geographic and copyright restrictions imposed by the Canadian companies on Canadian viewers. As a result, several large telecom companies filed suit against Lackman for copyright infringement.

“Approximately 40 million unique users located around the world are actively using infringing add-ons hosted by TVAddons every month, and approximately 900,000 Canadian households use infringing add-ons to access television content,” claims the lawsuit. “The amount of users of infringing add-ons hosted TVAddons is constantly increasing.”

The Honourable B. Richard Bell (Image: Keith Minchin)

On June 9, a Canadian Federal Court judge handed the telecom companies a victory in the form of an interim injunction and restraining order against Lackman prohibiting him from engaging in any activity that could further violate the companies’ interpretation of copyright law. The ruling also included an Anton Piller order, which critics contend often allows private companies to engage in extended fishing expeditions looking for additional evidence to further their case.

The order included the right to seize any and all data surrounding the alleged offense, including equipment, paper records, bank accounts, and anything else in Lackman’s possession that plaintiffs could argue was connected to the lawsuit. It also permitted a bailiff and computer forensics experts to assume control of many of Lackman’s internet domains including TVAddons.ag and Offshoregit.com, as well as his social media and web hosting accounts for a period of two weeks. Since the case was handled ex parte (open to only one side) by the Federal Court, Lackman was not informed or given the opportunity to present a defense.

The ruling evidently allowed the companies to believe they had carte blanche to question Lackman.

When the corporate attorney was not grilling Lackman about his own involvement in Kodi add-ons, he demanded Lackman disclose any and all information he had on an additional 30 individuals that might also be involved in services like TVAddons. That demand fell squarely outside of the range of the court order, which is designed to protect existing evidence, not permit plaintiffs to fish for new evidence to bolster their case.

After the search ended, Lackman and his attorney went to court to challenge what they believed to be one of the most shocking instances of corporate intimidation and legal abuse ever seen in a copyright case. Lackman’s attorney had little trouble convincing the Honourable B. Richard Bell, who presided over a Federal Court hearing on the matter.

Bell found multiple egregious violations of the court order, including a limit on any search to between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. but instead lasted until at least midnight. The judge also found ample evidence Lackman’s rights were violated and he was subjected to an intimidation campaign designed to destroy his software business, leave him financially unable to mount any defense against the lawsuit, and get him to both incriminate himself and others against his will.

A court transcript reveals the real motives of Canadian telecom companies: to “neutralize the guy” that is hurting their businesses.

“It is important to note that the Defendant was not permitted to refuse to answer questions under fear of contempt proceedings, and his counsel was not permitted to clarify the answers to questions. I conclude unhesitatingly that the Defendant was subjected to an examination for discovery without any of the protections normally afforded to litigants in such circumstances,” the judge said. “Here, I would add that the ‘questions’ were not really questions at all. They took the form of orders or directions. For example, the Defendant was told to ‘provide to the bailiff’ or ‘disclose to the Plaintiffs’ solicitors’.”

Bell also saw through the plaintiffs’ questioning of Lackman about 30 other individuals that might also be allegedly involved in copyright infringement.

Lose in one venue, win in another.

“I conclude that those questions, posed by Plaintiffs’ counsel, were solely made in furtherance of their investigation and constituted a hunt for further evidence, as opposed to the preservation of then existing evidence,” he wrote in a June 29 order. “I am of the view that [the order’s] true purpose was to destroy the livelihood of the Defendant, deny him the financial resources to finance a defense to the claim made against him, and to provide an opportunity for discovery of the Defendant in circumstances where none of the procedural safeguards of our civil justice system could be engaged.”

The judge ruled the Anton Piller order be declared null and void and ordered all of Lackman’s possessions to be returned to him.

To all observers, it was a withering repudiation of the tactics used by the Canadian telecom companies suing Lackman. But deep pockets always allow lawyers the luxury of a change of venue and the telecom companies promptly appealed Bell’s ruling to the Federal Court of Appeal, requesting a stay of execution of Judge Bell’s order. The court granted the appeal on behalf of the telecom companies and allowed the plaintiffs to keep possession of all seized items, domains, and social media accounts until a full appeal of the case can be heard this fall. However, the court found defects in the execution of the Anton Piller order, and ordered the telecom companies to post a security bond of $140,000 CDN and continue the $50,000 CDN bond in case sanctions are later warranted.

Lackman intends to continue his legal fight and is raising money to cover legal expenses on the fundraising site Indiegogo. He has also set up a new TVAddons website and Twitter account and has resumed the add-on development that got him embroiled in the copyright infringement lawsuit in the first place. But Lackman seems to have at least one judge on his side.

“The defendant has demonstrated that he has an arguable case that he is not violating the [Copyright] Act,” wrote Judge Bell, adding that by the plaintiffs’ own estimate, only about one per cent of Lackman’s add-ons were allegedly used to pirate content.

Updated 8/16: The website is now back under this new URL: https://www.tvaddons.co/

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