B.C. man files lawsuit over B.C. Parks reservation fees

The $6 camping reservation fees charged online violate the federal Competition Act and should be reimbursed, according to the plaintiff in a lawsuit launched in B.C. Supreme Court against B.C. Parks. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC - image credit)

A B.C. man who frequently purchases B.C. Parks campsite reservations online has filed a proposed class-action lawsuit against B.C. Parks, claiming the way the online reservation process works is a violation of the federal Competition Act.

Danny Kindred, whose notice of civil claim was filed in B.C. Supreme Court on Friday, says that because B.C. Parks adds a $6 reservation fee during the last step in the checkout process, rather than advertising the true cost to reserve a campsite, it's in violation of sections 52 and 54 of the Competition Act.

Kindred's lawyer in the case, Justin Giovannetti, says the Competition Bureau refers to the alleged practice as double ticketing, where two separate prices are listed, or drip pricing — also known as junk fees — where additional fees are added after an unattainable price is promoted.

"Many British Columbians and many Canadians who have visited British Columbia have used B.C. Parks reservation services, and if consumers were not represented the full price at the outset, then they ought to — the plaintiff alleges — be reimbursed that amount," said Giovannetti on Tuesday.

Giovannetti said his client often uses the B.C. Parks reservation website, but for the purposes of describing the agency's practice — which the lawsuit claims is false or misleading — and becoming a member of what's known as the class in this sort of legal proceeding, only one example was provided.

The lawsuit claims that Kindred purchased a reservation to camp three nights at Bear Creek Park — a campground on the west side of Okanagan Lake — in January. He was charged a reservation fee of $6 per night "that was not disclosed until the end of the purchasing process."

The cost per night totalled $41 plus tax after the additional fee was added.

The lawsuit acknowledges that the website does note that additional fees or discounts may apply to a purchase, but Giovannetti said his client argues that since the reservation fee is always charged, the full price should be promoted from the outset.

On the B.C. Court Services Online website, Kindred is listed as the plaintiff in multiple small claims cases, but this is the first time he's assumed the role as the representative of a class in this type of proceeding in B.C.

"He has been in several small claims court cases, but I think it's up to him to say exactly what his motivations were there," said Giovannetti.

Drip pricing

The lawyer said that while the reservation fees may be small amounts for consumers, they add up to large sums for the defendant, as have similar fees in other cases involving corporations.

In a recent Competition Bureau lawsuit against Cineplex Inc., the agreed statements of facts included that the Canadian cinema chain had made nearly $40 million in online booking fees in part of 2022 and 2023.

"Drip pricing is considered to be false or misleading under the law we enforce, unless the additional fixed charges or fees are imposed by the government, such as sales tax," bureau spokesperson Marcus Callaghan said last year.

Amendments to the Competition Act in the summer of 2022 made it explicitly illegal for products or services to be offered at prices a consumer could not actually take advantage of "because consumers must also pay additional non-government-imposed charges or fees to buy the product or service."

B.C. Parks, via the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, has not filed a response to Kindred's lawsuit. None of Kindred's claims have been tested in court. The case will have to be certified as a class proceeding before going to trial.

A spokesperson with the ministry sent CBC News a statement saying it can't comment on the lawsuit, as it's before the courts, but that "fees for reservations have not changed since 1996."