TORONTO (Reuters) - BCE Inc, Canada's biggest telecommunications company, faces a C$100 million ($99.8 million) lawsuit challenging the legality of expiration dates for its pre-paid wireless services.
The lawsuit is being brought by Celia Sankar, who alleges that BCE, which sells cellular service under the Bell Mobility, Virgin Mobile and Solo brands, is engaged in "unfair practices" and breaches of contract by seizing credit balances left unused after a certain date.
Sankar argues the pre-payments should be considered gift cards, which under Ontario provincial law cannot have an expiry date. A judge must decide whether to certify the complaint as a class action. The suit was filed with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.
In an emailed response, BCE said: "There's no merit to the suit. We'll certainly defend against it."
Wireless customers using pre-paid service typically spend far less than those who sign up for lengthy contracts and buy the latest smartphones.
"It is often the only option for youth, new immigrants, workers on minimum wage, the unemployed, people on disability, and seniors on fixed incomes," Sankar said in a statement. "These are the people who can least afford to have their funds forfeited or to have their mobile services cut off."
Sankar, a social justice advocate, is being represented by the Toronto law firm of Sack Goldblatt Mitchell LLP.
The case is Celia Sankar v. Bell Mobility Inc and Bell Canada Enterprises Inc, Ontario Superior Court of Justice, No. CV-12-452867-00CP.
($1 = 1.0024 Canadian dollars)
Reporting by Alastair Sharp in Toronto