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UK government borrowing hits record high in April and retail sales slump – business live | Business






Full story: Borrowing surge amid crisis





Retail sales slump: What the experts say









Covid-19 fears and Hong Kong tensions hit markets





UK internet shopping hits record high









UK borrowing: What the economists say









Introduction: Government borrowing hits £62bn in April

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Covid-19 cases to be tracked by ethnicity amid disproportionately high number of BAME deaths



The Government is to launch a review into why people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds appear to be disproportionately affected by coronavirus.

Downing Street confirmed that the NHS and Public Health England will begin analysing the evidence, following pressure on ministers to launch an investigation.

While no date has been given on when the review will take place, the BBC has reported that Public Health England is to start recording coronavirus cases and deaths by ethnicity.


The latest figures released on Friday show that of 4,873 patients with Covid-19 in critical care, 1,681 were from the BAME community – accounting for 34.5 per cent of cases.

This is despite black and Asian people making up 10.8 per cent of the population, according to the 2011 UK census.

Addressing the matter at Saturday’s Downing Street press briefing, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said: “There does appear to be a disproportionate impact of the virus on those from BAME communities.

“For that reason, the chief medical officer commissioned work from Public Health England to better understand this issue.”

He said it was “right that we do thorough research swiftly” in order to “better understand it”.

Speaking alongside Mr Jenrick, Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director of NHS England, said: “This is something that I am very concerned about, and I know that the chief medical officer is concerned about too.

“And I think it’s absolutely right that he’s asked Public Health England, who have the expertise … to look at this in detail and get a clear understanding of what might be accounting for increased risks and increased deaths in particular ethnic communities.

“In NHS England, obviously, we have a number of our staff … come from those ethnic groups, and we are actively also looking ahead of that work, of what we have to do to support, and, perhaps, protect them specifically.”

Of the 56 NHS workers confirmed to have died after contracting coronavirus, more than 30 were from BAME backgrounds.

However, England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, said ethnicity is “less clear” than three others factors in determining who is most at risk.

“This is something we are very keen to get extremely clear,” he told the Downing Street press conference.

“We’ve asked Public Health England to look at this in some detail and then what we really want is, if we see any signal at all, we want to then know what next we can do about it to minimise risk.”

He said over 90 per cent of people who have died with coronavirus in the UK had at least one other disease, while other factors included age and male sex.

The British Medical Association (BMA) welcomed the review but said must come up with quick solutions to address problems and be backed by “real-time data”.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the BMA council, said: “If the review is to have any meaningful impact, it needs to be informed with real-time data to understand why and how this deadly virus can have such a tragic disproportionate toll on our BAME communities and healthcare workers.

“This must include daily updates on ethnicity, circumstance and all protected characteristics of all patients in hospital as well as levels of illness in the community, which is not currently recorded.

“The Government must take every necessary step to address this devastating disparity and protect all sectors of the population equally and now. That is why the Government must send a directive to every hospital telling them to record the ethnicity of patients who are admitted and succumb to COVID-19 immediately.

“It also means taking vital steps now to protect our BAME communities until we can develop a detailed understanding of the threats they face. This could include that those at greatest risk, including older and retired doctors, are not working in potentially infectious settings.”

Coronavirus in numbers: UK hospital death toll rises to 15,464

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it was a “really important” thing to understand.

He told ITV News: “We have seen both across the population as a whole, but also very much within those who work in the NHS who have died, a much higher proportion of people from minority ethnic backgrounds and that really worries me.

“I pay tribute to the work that they have done, including both those who were born here and those who have moved here, and given that service to the NHS. It’s a really, really important thing to make sure that we fully understand.”

Shadow equalities secretary Marsha de Cordova welcomed the review into the “disturbing impact” Covid-19 is having on BAME communities, but said it was “not yet clear whether it will be independent, when it will be concluded and who will be leading it”.

“The Government must ensure the review is robust and looks into the underlying structural economic and social inequalities that have affected BAME communities in this crisis,” she said.

“It must also urgently record data broken down by ethnicity on the number of people who have died as a result of Covid-19.

“The devastating effect of Covid-19 on BAME communities cannot be overstated. This review must be the first step in ensuring that all communities are equally protected from this virus.”



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How a man convicted of his high school girlfriend’s killing was freed by decades-old DNA evidence


Before Leah Freeman’s body was found outside of her hometown of Coquille, Oregon, in 2000, her gym shoes, one of them bloody, were virtually the only physical clues police had to figure out what had happened to the missing 15-year-old.

Nearly 20 years later, one of those same shoes has played a key role in freeing from prison the only person who has ever been convicted of killing her: Freeman’s high school boyfriend Nick McGuffin.

To this day, no other arrests have been made in Freeman’s case.

“That’s the reason why I’m here…to keep Leah’s name in the light. To bring her name forward, to get somebody to come forward with the truth of what happened. To get resolution for myself, for her family,” said McGuffin, who is now 37.

“I’m an innocent person,” he added. “They found…vindicating DNA evidence that finally shows what I’ve been saying for nearly 20 years.”

Watch the full story on “20/20” Friday, Feb. 28, at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.

McGuffin was a high school senior when he and Freeman, a freshman, were dating.

“I asked Leah if she’d go to the prom with me,” he said. “She had a gorgeous white dress, she had her hair done perfectly… I’m glad we went and got the pictures that we did together.”

But Freeman’s mother, Cory Courtright, had concerns about their relationship. In a 2010 interview with “20/20,” she said she thought McGuffin “seemed like an OK kind of guy,” but she said their age difference bothered her.

“I found out that they were being sexually active, and that was disturbing to me,” Courtright said at the time. “It caused some conflict between Leah and I…because she wanted him to be her boyfriend and I didn’t.”

On the night of June 28, 2000, McGuffin dropped off Freeman at her friend Cherie Mitchell’s house with plans to pick her up a couple of hours later for a double date.

Mitchell said she and Freeman got into an argument about how much time Freeman was spending with McGuffin. She said that Freeman, who was upset, took off on foot after storming out of the house.

“I followed her out to the road and that’s when I told her, ‘It’s just, it’s not about you,’” Mitchell told “20/20” in a 2010 interview. “He was trying to take her away and take her away to do things that I wasn’t really welcome [to join].”

When McGuffin came to pick up Freeman at around 9 p.m., Mitchell told him that Freeman had already left. Freeman was last seen walking alone near her high school in downtown Coquille, according to witness testimony, but she never made it home.

McGuffin said he drove around for hours looking for her.

“I went back to Fast Mart probably five or six times,” he said. “There was different people there every time… They didn’t see Leah. I didn’t see Leah.”

McGuffin said he spoke to police officers on two separate occasions that night as he drove around in his 1967 Ford Mustang. The officers had pulled him over for having a broken headlight.

After the second time, McGuffin said he asked his friend at the time, Kristen Steinhoff whom he said he had run into earlier, to help him look for Freeman. He said he and Steinhoff drove around for about an hour or so in her car.

“I dropped Kristen off. … I think it was around 2:00 [in the morning], probably. I decided to go by Leah’s house one more time,” McGuffin said. “I saw a glare on her window, thought it was her TV. … It was 2000. It’s not like she could send me a text. She couldn’t call me on a cellphone. So I thought she was home, and I went home after that.”

The next day, when Freeman hadn’t turned up, her mother and McGuffin went to the police, who initially treated the 15-year-old’s disappearance as a runaway teen case.

“I knew something was wrong,” Courtright told “20/20” in 2010. “Again, this girl had no reason to run away.”

The night she went missing, a mechanic found and picked up one of her gym shoes by a cemetery near the high school. He believed it may have belonged to one of his kids – but days later, realized it may be connected to the missing girl and turned it into police. Her other shoe was found about a week later, outside of town – with blood on it.

About five weeks after she disappeared, on August 3, 2000, Freeman’s decomposing body was found on a steep wooded embankment, eight miles away through back roads from where the first shoe was found.

When he heard the news, McGuffin said, “It was like my world was over.”

“I broke down,” he continued. “That’s the saddest moment that I’ve ever gone through.”

McGuffin said he voluntarily went to the police to be interviewed and turned over his Mustang in hopes it would help with the investigation.

“[I] tried to give them any information that I knew that may be helpful,” he said.

After his initial meeting with police, McGuffin said he was called in again for questioning. He allowed officers to take photos of him, and later learned that they were checking for defensive wounds.

As time passed, the case went cold. McGuffin said he tried to move on with his life, but that he wasn’t able to grieve for Freeman while people suspected he was responsible. With public perception turned against him, he also said it was “hard to go out in public.”

“You’re basically looking over your shoulder to try to figure out who’s gonna come around the corner, who’s gonna start yelling at you,” he said.

Within two years after her death, McGuffin said he was hospitalized for anxiety and tried to end his life.

“It was just a buildup… It’s like when a tea kettle boils and it starts to make that hum, that’s what it was like, you just get an overload,” he said.

Eventually, McGuffin found a passion for cooking and graduated from culinary school, later becoming head banquet chef at The Mill Casino in North Bend, Oregon. After starting a new relationship, he had a daughter in 2007. He said she brought a sense of renewal into his life.

“I was very excited that I was gonna be a father,” he said. “My daughter helped me through a lot.”

As the years dragged on, police could not make any arrests in Freeman’s case, and the small community of Coquille — a town of about 4,000 residents — became more furious that her killer hadn’t been caught. Freeman’s mother, especially, was upset the case remained unsolved.

In 2008, the town got a new police chief, Mark Dannels, who pushed to have the case re-examined.

“When I arrived in Coquille…everybody was talking about the Leah Freeman case. And one of the expectations as a new police chief was, ‘What are you going to do about it, chief?’” Dannels said. “That’s pretty uncommon, number one, to have a 15-year-old teenager killed in a small community town like that. So you can see where the people were upset. Why hadn’t this been solved? And the more I looked into it, the more I felt I had to do something on this case.”

Dannels assembled a team from across the state to organize and consolidate all the old files and re-examine the case with fresh eyes.

They were surprised to discover how scattered the evidence was, with some of it even as far away as Scotland Yard in London, where it had been sent years ago for testing. Police also discovered rolls of undeveloped film from the original investigation, and spent months working overnight just to figure out what evidence they had to start to reinvestigate the case.

Coquille Police went back through the evidence, interviewing hundreds of witnesses, combing through old witness statements — including McGuffin’s — and retesting old evidence to re-examine it with assistance from the new team of forensic experts.

“When they reopened the investigation…I just figured the truth will come out and the real person or persons would be found. And so, yeah. I mean, I didn’t see any of this coming,” McGuffin said, referring to his eventual arrest.

During this round of investigating, police questioned Steinhoff, the friend who helped McGuffin look for Freeman on the night she disappeared.

Steinhoff told authorities that McGuffin had stopped by her house around midnight, they had done drugs, and when he then tried to have sex with her she says she told him to stop.

McGuffin admitted that he did smoke marijuana and kissed Steinhoff that night, but he said everything else she claimed wasn’t true.

“The things Kristen and I did that night, when we were kissing, was wrong. I accept that,” McGuffin told “20/20.” “It doesn’t mean just because I did that…that I didn’t care about [Leah]. It’s not an easy thing to deal with.”

After hearing from more than 100 witnesses, a grand jury returned an indictment against McGuffin. He was arrested on Aug. 23, 2010, and charged with murder.

At McGuffin’s trial in July 2011, a witness said he had seen McGuffin and Freeman together some time after she left Mitchell’s home. The prosecution argued that the couple quarreled and when it turned physically violent, McGuffin killed her.

McGuffin claims he never saw Freeman after he dropped her off at Mitchell’s home at 7 p.m. that night.

Ten of the 12 jurors voted to convict McGuffin on the lesser charge of manslaughter instead of murder. At the time, Oregon was only one of two states that allowed non-unanimous jury verdicts in criminal felony cases.

“My trial came down to people’s words,” McGuffin said. “My story has really never changed.”

McGuffin was sentenced to 10 years in prison, which he first spent at Snake River Correctional Institution before being sent to a labor camp in Oregon’s Tillamook State Forest due to good behavior.

Steinhoff died five years after McGuffin’s conviction.

In 2014, after McGuffin had been incarcerated for four years, attorney Janis Puracal decided to take up McGuffin’s case.

During her review, Puracal said bombshell evidence was revealed — an unidentified man’s DNA on Leah Freeman’s shoes — that eventually led to McGuffin’s conviction being overturned.

When Freeman’s shoes were first tested in 2000, the Oregon State Police crime lab discovered something that DNA technology 20 years ago could not conclusively characterize. They did not mention it in the official report.

“At the time, we used interpretation guidelines that didn’t necessarily discern or distinguish really low levels of DNA,” Chrystal Bell, Forensic Services Division director for the Oregon State Police, told ABC News. “As a result of that, the analysts at the time chose to be very conservative and chose not to actually call out that potential male DNA because she couldn’t decide what it was. So she made no conclusions or statements about that DNA because it was at a very, very low level.”

At the time, Bell said, it was entirely up to the analyst’s “discretion over what they were going to report.”

When McGuffin went to trial in 2011, the DNA technology had advanced enough that the sample could have been re-analyzed to determine that it was a man’s DNA. But no one connected to the case had asked for retesting because they had no idea the sample existed.

“Had they asked us to re-examine that evidence, we would have done so,” said Bell of the Oregon State Police crime lab. “We don’t always have an automatic trigger to go back and do re-examination every time we get additional evidence, whether it’s two years later or five years later or 10 years later.”

In 2017, however, Puracal made that request.

“Finding that exculpatory DNA on the shoes, that was a huge moment for our case,” Puracal told “20/20.” “That was a game-changer for us. We were looking for DNA that would tell us who actually committed this crime. And here, there was DNA of some other man on the victim’s bloodstained shoe … and never reported. That changed everything for us.”

“I was overly excited to find the DNA,” McGuffin added. “It didn’t match me. … I told my attorneys, I told Janis, ‘Let’s go find out what happened… Let’s solve this case once and for all. I mean, that was my push.”

Judge Patricia Sullivan agreed with Puracal that the revelation of this DNA was a game-changer. In December 2019, she ruled that there is a “reasonable probability” that McGuffin’s guilty verdict would have been different had the presence of the unidentified man’s DNA been disclosed to law enforcement, prosecutors and the defense.

“However, without the DNA evidence, Trial Counsel was reduced to showing that (Nick McGuffin) could not have committed the crime and was not able to produce any evidence of an alternative theory,” wrote Judge Sullivan.

The judge set aside McGuffin’s conviction and remanded it back to the trial court.

Coos County District Attorney Paul Frasier told “20/20” he decided not to seek a retrial for McGuffin for several reasons, including the lab’s report, the fact that key witnesses had died and the jury had been split on the verdict, and Courtright’s wishes.

“She just flat told me, ‘I cannot take the strain of another trial. I can’t do it,’ and she asked me not to try the case again,” Frasier said of Courtright. “That was probably the biggest factor.”

“Nick’s already served, 97 percent of his sentence,” Dannels said. “So we go back, put this all back together, retry it. You put the family back through this again. For what? To say we were right?”

Nine years after he was convicted for a crime that he has always maintained he never committed, McGuffin was able to walk out of prison a free man.

“I just knew that we had to fight and we had to fight for what’s right,” McGuffin said.

However, Judge Sullivan also said in her ruling overturning the conviction this did not demonstrate his innocence.

“There have been cases in the United States where the evidence clearly shows, beyond any doubt, that the person in jail or prison didn’t do it, and that person needs to get out. That’s an exoneration, in my book,” Frasier said. “What happened here was [McGuffin] was ordered to [get] a new trial. I made the decision not to go forward for a new trial. I still stand behind the investigation of this case… There’s evidence in this record to find this defendant guilty. But we have decided, for a variety of reasons, not to go forward at this time. It’s not that I believe he’s not guilty or innocent, it’s I believe it is not appropriate to proceed.”

Puracal said it was “disappointing” that police and prosecution “continue to say that Nick is guilty in this case.”

“The Department of Justice could have appealed the post-conviction court’s ruling and they chose not to,” she said. “It’s important to recognize where the DNA was found. The DNA was found inside Leah’s shoe as well as outside Leah’s shoe. And it’s found in and around bloodstains on her left shoe. That’s important to know.”

In the weeks since his release, McGuffin has tried to piece his life back together.

“After my exoneration…I had an idea of what it was going to be like, and I was wrong. It’s not easy. It’s actually really hard,” he said.

“[The] D.A., law enforcement, a crime lab…should have some accountability for what they did,” he added. “All I’m asking is for accountability and for them to do their jobs properly.”

“There are not enough markers to put it into the database to see if we can identify somebody that way,” Frasier explained. “If we have a suspect, we can get a DNA sample from them send it in and have them compare it. And that’s what we did with the other potential suspects in the case. And they all came back as not being the donor of that DNA.”

The central problem is that even though authorities now definitively have a sample of male DNA, the sample is so small that it can only exclude matches, but it cannot be used to confirm there is a match with a suspect.

“[The sample] is not suitable to put into the FBI’s database for forensic samples and convicted offenders,” Bell added, “The quality of the DNA was not good enough in 2000, it was not good enough in 2010, and it is still not good enough.”

Today, McGuffin is doing his best to reclaim his life, getting accustomed to keyless cars and talk-to-text on a smartphone. He’s also working on re-establishing his relationship with his daughter, who is now 12.

“I look at her with the strength that she has at her age, I think that helps me,” McGuffin said.

Even though his conviction was overturned, McGuffin said finding a new job has been difficult, which has been hard on him because he said he was looking forward to resuming his career as a chef once he was released.

“It’s not an easy feat. The stigma, even now, trying to get a job. … I want to work. I’m passionate about my career,” McGuffin said. “I remain an innocent man. That’s not going to change.”

McGuffin said he still thinks about Freeman and the life she could have had.

“She should be, what, 35 now? … She would have had a family,” he said.

Now that he’s out, McGuffin said he is determined to fight for the truth for Freeman and get answers as to who killed her.

“I want people to come forward with the truth. I just want the truth. I want to know what happened,” he said. “[We] have a chance right now to clean the slate to make it right. I mean, I’m pretty sure a lot of people would want that. I know Leah would. I know her family wants that. I want the truth for them. What more can I ask for?”



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Jeff Davis High School band leader’s real story


Lee High School lead drum major Justin Heideman leads the band during a performance at the annual Magic City Classic parade in downtown Birmingham on October 26.

MONTGOMERY, ALA. – It’s dusk and just outside the windows of Room 107 at Jefferson Davis High School in Montgomery, Alabama, the final remnants of the band are leaving practice the same way they came: blaring and filling the now chilled crisp of the December air with the powerful and royal tones of brass.

Justin Heideman, better known as “Vanilla Funk” or “that boy John,” shifts his position in his chair and postures up from a slouch, clutching the ever so familiar mace drum majors wield. There is a calm intensity that covers him as if he is still in front of his band – as if he’s still in control.

That’s because he is.

Justin Heideman, a drum major who went viral recently, leads his Jeff Davis band to the shouts of many adoring fans.

Heideman raises his hand, as if to say, “Hold on one second,” reaches for his iPhone and dials the number of his band director Brandon Howard.

“Can you tell the guys outside to be quiet? They are interrupting what’s going on in here.”    

He hangs up, slouches back, tilts his head toward the tiled ceiling and takes a breath before moving his fingers through his hair against the grain. Now, back in his position of comfort, Heideman focuses in; it’s time for another interview. 

This is his life now, but he hasn’t changed a bit, despite the few who misunderstand who he is and what it took for him to be in the position he is in now.     

This isn’t a game for Heideman. It never has been. 

Music is his passion, and before he went viral in October, a white boy leading an all-black band, Heideman carried out his job as head drum major the same way he does now: with discipline, fervor, an intense desire to learn at all costs and a dedication to uphold the legacy of Jeff Davis drum majors who came before him.



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West Kelowna RCMP urge high alert after three attempted child lurings



RCMP in West Kelowna have reported a third case of potential child luring in the last week.


The RCMP is warning of “stranger danger” after a third youth in a week was approached by a male driver in West Kelowna and invited to get inside a vehicle.

But because the descriptions of the vehicles and drivers involved differs in each case, there is no evidence the cases are connected at this time, a police spokeswoman said.

“RCMP are reminding parents to reinforce the safety principles surrounding stranger danger with their children,” Const. Lesley Smith of the Mounties’ Kelowna detachment said.

“We’re approaching this case by case. Because of the different vehicles involved we do not feel they are connected at this time.”

The latest warning was issued after a 15-year-old male was asked by a male driver on Sunday evening if he wanted to get in the back of a red late-model mini van in a parking lot in the 1700-block of Ross Road in West Kelowna.

The teen declined and the man drove off. He is described as Caucasian, in his 30s with a full beard and no moustache. He was wearing a black baseball hat.

“West Kelowna RCMP would like to speak with this male in hopes to clarify what events transpired,” Smith said.

Officers at the West Kelowna detachment and with the General Investigation Section continue to investigate, she said. A sketch artist is drawing likenesses based on victim descriptions and the RCMP is looking at any video tape that may help them gain more information.

The first incident occurred on Nov. 29 at 3:50 p.m. when an 11-year-old girl who was walking along Cougar Road in West Kelowna was approached by a lone male in a blue, four-door sedan with rusted rims and squeaky brakes.

The driver pointed to the backseat, encouraging the girl to get inside the car, and she turned and ran home. He was described as tanned, possibly bald, mid-40s, heavy build, white bearded chin and wearing small, circular silver glasses.

The next incident occurred on Dec. 1 at 3:05 p.m. on Pritchard Drive near Barona Beach in West Kelowna.

A 10-year-old girl was offered a ride by a man in a silver or grey vehicle. She said no and ran up the street to where her older sister was waiting. The sister witnessed the vehicle drive away at a high speed.

That driver was described as being about 30, having dark skin with a possible South Asian accent, dark hair, bushy eyebrows, large nose, beard and moustache.

In light of the three incidents involving suspicious vehicles and possible child luring, Smith said the RCMP would like to remind parents and youth to be extremely cautious of their surroundings and stay alert.

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Canadian telecom complaints hit record high, with Bell leading the pack


Complaints about poor wireless, internet and TV service reached a record high this year as consumers expressed increasing frustration over issues such as billing and disconnection notice periods.

In its annual report released Thursday, the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services (CCTS) disclosed that the number of accepted complaints jumped 35 per cent during the 12 months ended July 31, to 19,287 — the largest volume in the organization’s history.

Most of the complaints related to billing surprises and non-disclosure of contract terms, issues that have made up the majority of complaints to the CCTS since its inception.

“It’s concerning that the numbers are going up,” said Howard Maker, head of the Commission of Complaints for Telecom-television Services (CCTS).

He said that some telecom service providers may be testing the limits of the Wireless Code as they develop new product offerings in a dynamic communications services market. But he expressed surprise nevertheless that providers continue to run afoul of rules in areas such as disconnection, where notice requirements are explicitly detailed.

The report shows that customers complained most often about their wireless service, followed by internet, TV and landline phone. Bell, Rogers, Telus, Virgin, Freedom and Cogeco were the primary targets.

Montreal’s Bell Canada accounted for by far the largest number of complaints, responsible for 30 per cent of the total with 5,879 accepted complaints. Bell’s confirmed breaches of the Wireless Code doubled to 29 per cent on a wireless customer base of 9,834,380, as of the end of its third quarter.

Toronto-based Rogers Communications, which had just under 10.8 million wireless subscribers at the end of the first quarter, came in second with 1,833 complaints.

Both Bell and Rogers saw their share of overall complaints decline, with Bell dropping from a 33-per-cent share to 30 per cent, and Rogers dropping from 10 to 9 per cent.

The share for Vancouver-based Telus, however, increased by 1.5 per cent to 8 per cent, with the number of complaints jumping by 71 per cent to just over 1,600 — partly due to the company’s interpretation of the code regarding new contract terms when a customer changes wireless plans.

Overall, the CCTS saw a 42 per cent increase in the number of service provider violations of the Wireless Code, with the most common involving the failure to provide documentation to customers and to provide proper notice before disconnection of service.

Billing was again the predominant irritant for phone, internet and TV customers, with complaints typically arising after fees for monthly services were higher than expected, for example when a promised discount wasn’t honoured. Next common were complaints related to disclosure of information and a lack of clarity about service contracts, followed by service delivery and credit management issues. Just over 900 complaints came from small business customers.

Billing issues have increased by more than 144 per cent over the past five years to 20,000, with Bell accounting for more than 37 per cent, the report says. TV complaint issues were more than three times higher than in 2017-18 in part due to the fact that 2018-19 was the first full year of accepting TV complaints.

Maker said the overall increase in complaints can likely be partly attributed to consumers being more aware of their rights.

“Now that you have rules and minimum standards, customers are better informed,” he said, media coverage of telecom sales practices may have made more consumers aware that they can file a complaint online any time for free at ccts-cprst.ca.

“Record numbers of complaints, rapid industry change, and our own desire for continuous improvement have motivated us to focus on our dispute resolution process, and we’re looking at ways to improve our service to make it more efficient, effective and transparent,” Maker said.

The volume of complaints has been ratcheting up following a decline with introduction in 2013 of the Wireless Code, leading the CCTS to add regulatory personnel and refine its dispute resolution process. The CCTS accepted 14,272 complaints in 2017-18, a 57-per-cent annual increase over the 9,097 total in 2016-17, although issues resolved have also risen, to 91 per cent in the latest period.

On Jan. 31 the CCTS will begin to administer a fourth code, the Internet Code, which was issued by the CRTC earlier this year. The new code will apply to large internet service providers and is intended to make it easier for customers to understand service contracts, plan prices and promotions.

Wireless, TV and internet service complaints reach an all-time high

Below are the telecommunications companies that received the most complaints, ranked by the number of complaints received.

Bell Canada: 5,879 accepted complaints, 30.5 per cent of total

Rogers: 1,833; 9.5 per cent

Telus: 1,610; 8.3 per cent

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Virgin Mobile: 1,253; 6.5 per cent

Freedom Mobile: 1,147; 5.9 per cent

Cogeco Connexion: 1,039; 5.4 per cent

Michael Lewis

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