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Talkative homebuyers beware, the seller might be listening

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Homebuyers should watch what they say during home viewings, according to an Ontario real estate agent who says two of her clients recently used cameras and microphones to eavesdrop on potential buyers.

Juliana Webster says the rules should be changed to force sellers to say if homes are under surveillance. 

“When you go into a private home you don’t naturally expect [surveillance],” said Webster, who works in Hamilton. 

The wrong sort of comment, she warns, “could be used against the buyer, like, if they said, ‘Oh, we would totally pay much more for the house.'”

Webster said she was unaware of the surveillance until her clients mentioned it. One offered to help a potential buyer who had been observed trying to use an appliance in the home. The other heard something that assured them the sale would go through.

You don’t want to use it, but it could be tempting for some people.– Juliana Webster, real estate agent

Neither seller had installed the surveillance devices specifically to monitor potential buyers, said Webster, and it’s not clear if they were hidden, or had simply gone unnoticed. 

The sellers did not use the information to their advantage in negotiations. But Webster says it could be “tempting.” 

“You can see how somebody could listen in and get some very interesting information. And then, when it’s in your lap, you don’t want to use it, but it could be tempting for some people. It could be tempting for anybody.”

“If your comments and their comments were being recorded certainly that puts the ball in the other person’s court doesn’t it?”

Webster has been a real estate agent since the 1980s. She likens the possibility of surveillance to a previous issue in the industry, when, unlike today, it was common for sellers to be in the home during viewings.  

The question… is whether people looking at the house have a reasonable expectation of privacy.– Kirsten Thompson, lawyer

“Once upon a time, when I started in real estate, the sellers were always there in the house and people were much more careful about what they said,” she said.

She wants listing agreements to say if there’s audio or video surveillance onsite, and for a warning sign to be posted on the site. 

In Ontario, the ministry of government and consumer services set the rules for the industry, which are enforced by the Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO). 

In a statement, the minister’s press secretary David Woolley said realtors are subject to federal privacy law and could not use this sort of surveillance material “for commercial purposes… without the consent of an individual involved in the transaction.” 

The council agrees buyers and brokers should be cautious. 

“Because recording devices are becoming more and more popular, we advise salespeople and brokers to caution the homebuyers… that there may be a recording device in the home,” said deputy registrar of regulatory compliance Kelvin Kucey, in a statement. 

Real estate agent Juliana Webster says the rules should be changed to force sellers to say if their homes are under surveillance. (Alex Choi)

Complicated issue

Privacy lawyer Kirsten Thompson acknowledged the laws around this issue are complicated and may differ from a “common sense perspective.”

Ontario’s privacy legislation applies to commercial activities, and generally not private individuals, she says. 

“So the question becomes whether or not selling a home is a commercial activity. If it isn’t then the homeowner wouldn’t have any obligations under privacy laws,” Thompson said.

She says the law is less murky regarding the seller’s real estate agent, who would be more clearly acting in a commercial capacity.

“It gets a little stickier when you start looking at the common law and that’s whether… or not somebody has a reasonable expectation of privacy,” said Thompson. 

“So the question there is whether people looking at the house have a reasonable expectation of privacy in somebody else’s house.”

Thompson likes the idea of a sign warning of video surveillance as a good-faith gesture, but argues, legally, it would probably not be required. 

Opening one’s home for a viewing creates a situation similar to an amusement park or shopping mall, she says. 

“It’s sort of a private space… into which you are inviting the public. And so that changes the playing field in terms of the strength and quality of rights you may or may not have.”

“If we’re looking at the common law that would likely reduce the reasonable expectation of privacy.”

To further complicate matters, Thompson said there’s a difference between audio and video surveillance. Audio could fall under wiretap provisions of the Criminal Code, which in Canada typically requires one person in a conversation to consent to the recording.

Even though Webster believes a surveillance heads-up should be required, she’s changed the way she operates entering any home.

“I do caution buyers… ‘You can make comments but keep them neutral because gushing means to pay anything.'”

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Federal Budget 2021: Ottawa adds $1B to broadband fund for rural, remote communities

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The federal government will add $1 billion to a fund for improving high-speed communications in rural and remote areas of Canada, bringing the total to $2.75 billion by 2026, the Liberals said Monday in their first full budget since the pandemic began last year.

The money is going to the Universal Broadband Fund, which is designed to support the installation of “backbone” infrastructure that connects underserved communities to high-speed internet.

It’s one of many government and private-sector initiatives that have gained urgency since the pandemic began, as Canadians became more dependent on internet service for applications ranging from e-learning to daily business operations.

Ottawa says the additional money will keep it on track to have high-speed broadband in 98 per cent of the country by 2026, and 100 per cent by 2030.

Money spent on high-speed communications will be good for a recovering economy, said Pedro Antunes, chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada, a non-partisan think-tank.

The latest data from Statistics Canada says there were about five million people working from home during the pandemic, up from about two million prior to that, Antunes said in an interview.

“That’s a quarter or so of the workforce,” he added. “And I think a fair number of those people are going to continue to work from home, at least in some part-time way.”

Improved connections to high-speed broadband and mobile communications will add to the productive capacity of the economy overall, especially as it reaches beyond Canada’s cities, Antunes said.

He said there’s been a “real issue” with economic growth outside major urban centres and the improved connectivity “is something that can help stimulate that.”

The Universal Broadband Fund was initially mentioned in the 2019 budget, though specifics were not available until last November’s fiscal update.

The $1-billion top-up to the broadband fund announced today is in addition to $1.75 billion promised to the fund by the federal government’s November fiscal update.

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COVID-19: What you need to know for April 19

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Provincewide

  • Per today’s government report, there are 4,447 new cases in Ontario, for a total of 421,442 since the pandemic began; 2,202 people are in hospital, 755 of them in intensive care, and 516 on ventilators. To date, 7,735 people have died.
  • According to data from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, there are 40 outbreaks in long-term-care facilities, 36 confirmed active cases of positive residents, and 127 confirmed active cases of positive staff. To date, there have been 3,755 confirmed resident deaths and 11 confirmed staff deaths.
  • Per the government’s report on Ontario’s vaccination program, as of 7 p.m. yesterday, Ontario has administered 66,897 new doses of COVID-19 vaccines, for a total of 3,904,778 since December 2020. 3,212,768 people have received only one dose, and 346,005 people have received both doses.

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Federal budget 2021 highlights: Child care, recovery benefits, OAS increases – everything you need to know

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The federal government’s first budget in more than two years certainly looks the part: At 739 pages, it is a hefty document chock full of billions in new spending.

Those funds will be spread among a number of key groups – students, seniors, parents and small-business owners, to name a few – as Ottawa looks to bolster Canada’s recovery from COVID-19 but also plan for life beyond the pandemic.

To that end, the deficit is projected to hit $354.2-billion in the 2020-21 fiscal year, which just ended – better than expected about five months ago, given the economy’s resilience over the winter months. It is estimated to fall to $154.7-billion this fiscal year, before dropping further in the years to come as pandemic spending recedes from view.

Here are some of the highlights from Monday’s budget.

The budget outlines tens of billions of dollars in federal subsidies for a national child-care program, a promise the Liberal Party has made in some form since the early 1990s. Child-care supports became a point of national debate during pandemic lockdowns as parents with young children struggled to juggle work and family responsibilities.

In total, the government proposes spending as much as $30-billion over the next five years, and $8.3-billion each year after that, to bring child-care fees down to a $10-a-day average by 2026. The proposal, which requires negotiation with the provinces and territories, would split subsidies evenly with those governments and targets a 50-per-cent reduction in average child-care fees by the end of 2022.

The federal program is largely modelled on Quebec’s subsidized child-care system, implemented in the 1990s in an effort to increase women’s access to the labour market. Since then, labour participation rates for women aged 25 to 54 in the province have grown to exceed the national average by four percentage points.

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