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Ottawa has few powers to deal with Ticketmaster allegations: document

"(The) powers in regard to this matter rest largely at the provincial level."

OTTAWA — The federal government has limited options for dealing with allegations of inflated ticket prices at Ticketmaster, an internal document suggests.

“The legislative consumer protection instruments and powers in regard to this matter rest largely at the provincial level,” says a briefing note prepared for Industry Minister Tony Clement.

The draft note, marked secret, appears to have been prepared March 12 — more than a week after Clement announced he had asked the federal Competition Bureau to investigate the Ticketmaster allegations.

The censored document, from the department’s deputy minister, was obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

U.S.-based Ticketmaster Entertainment Inc. has been accused of limiting primary sales of face-value tickets for events in Canada, and diverting purchasers to a subsidiary website, TicketsNow.

TicketsNow acts as a secondary market for ticket holders, where resale prices can be inflated by thousands of dollars.

Four class-action lawsuits have been filed against the company in Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta, provinces which each have anti-scalping legislation on the books.

In February, Ticketmaster agreed to a voluntary deal with the New Jersey attorney general — a deal that applies throughout the United States — to prevent sales on TicketsNow until the initial sale has begun on the main website.

The settlement, which included a payment of US$350,000 to the state for investigation costs, followed a public outcry over sales of tickets to a Feb. 2 concert by Bruce Springsteen.

In Canada, Ticketmaster tells customers that any ticket disputes will be governed by the laws of Ontario, which include the province’s anti-scalping Ticket Speculation Act.

The two law firms handling the class-action lawsuits are therefore claiming that even customers outside Ontario are protected by that province’s legislation.

Clement told the House of Commons on March 4 that he had asked the Competition Bureau to investigate the allegations, which Ticketmaster has denied.

“I want an investigation to determine whether Ticketmaster is abusing its position as a ticket seller by bumping people off their site to another site which just sells the tickets at a multiple, many times higher than the original price,” Clement told the Commons.

A spokeswoman for the Competition Bureau declined to comment on the probe, noting the law requires confidentiality.

“The bureau is currently examining whether any ticket selling activities by Ticketmaster or its affiliate, TicketsNow, contravene the Competition Act, and will take appropriate action if warranted,” Gabrielle Tasse said in an email.

“The bureau has been in contact with representatives of Ticketmaster and has requested information relevant to this examination.”

Laryssa Waler, a spokeswoman for Clement, also declined comment on the Competition Bureau investigation because of confidentiality provisions.

 
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