By Neil Sharma
The second and last day of the Competition Tribunal appeal hearing between The Commissioner of Competition and The Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) wrapped up expeditiously Tuesday morning, as defence lawyer William Sasso made his closing remarks in a final attempt to induce the panel to overturn the previous tribunal’s ruling.
Sasso later told REM that the question of informed consent is at the heart of the matter – specifically, whether homeowners are comfortable with their sold data existing in perpetuity on the Internet. He argues that easily accessible sold data can have a slew of ramifications because the possibilities go beyond the scope of simple real estate transactions.
“The question then becomes, does that homeowner have an interest in keeping that information available forever on a publicly available website? Are you really consenting to having somebody take a look 30 years later at what you sold your house for, and to be able to do so through a convenient publicly available website?” says Sasso. “There are an infinite variety of uses to which information can be put. And as we say in our memorandum, when the information is out there on the Internet, you don’t get it back.”
Five years of litigation has hinged on the question of whether prohibiting sold data is an anti-competitive practice or not, but Sasso maintains that virtual office websites (VOWs) already have plenty of other tools at their disposal to become successful.
“VOWs are one of a number of recent innovations that allow brokers to serve a public that seeks their services,” he says. “There are thousands of VOWs that are operating through TREB and receiving on a daily basis TREB’s VOW data feed and serving the public by making available, through that means, all of the active homes that are available for sale in the Toronto market.
“What we’re talking about in context is whether additional information should be in that VOW data feed.”
While Sasso did not want to comment on how the appeal court may rule, he says the issue before the court is important.
“I’m never confident or overconfident, and never comment on a decision under reserve,” says Sasso, “but I believe that the court will deal with these issues, given their importance, and with the level of importance that they deserve.”
Asked for comment, the Competition Bureau’s team of lawyers declined, stating the government has embargoed comments to the press.