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Canada’s Competition Bureau Encourages Online Competition in Eyewear Sales

In the recent edition of the Competition Advocate, a periodical released by the Competition Bureau, the Bureau takes aim at the regulatory environment surrounding the online sale of prescription eyewear. The Bureau observes that online sales give consumers access to lower-cost products and greater convenience and that internet retail can improve access for consumers.

“To enable consumers to benefit from online competition in retail eyewear sales,” the Bureau “calls upon decision-makers to take competition into consideration when implementing and reviewing regulations that govern the industry.”

The Bureau points out that the regulatory requirements for optometrists and opticians vary across the provinces, with the professional regulatory bodies (the colleges) responsible for administering these regulations.

For example, in Ontario, the Regulated Health Professions Act (RHPA) lists “certain controlled acts which can be performed only by individuals authorized by a health profession act, or their delegated representatives,” which includes dispensing contact lenses and eyeglasses.

The Bureau states that dispensing is not explicitly defined in the RHPA, but the Ontario courts have interpreted that only licensed professionals may “prepare, adapt and deliver prescription eyewear.” This interpretation formed the basis of the favourable ruling the College of Optometrists of Ontario and the College of Opticians of Ontario received from the Ontario Superior Court in their case against Essilor Group Canada regarding Clearly Contacts on January 11, 2018.

By contrast, in British Columbia the initial fitting must be performed by a licensed professional, but dispensing is not regulated. The Bureau advocates other regions consider this model.

The College of Optometrists of Ontario and the College of Opticians of Ontario issued a response to the Competition Bureau, stating: “The College of Optometrists of Ontario and the College of Opticians of Ontario firmly believe the internet can be an effective tool for dispensing prescription eyewear, enhancing access and convenience in line with patient demands. Furthermore, the colleges agree that a free and competitive market for corrective eyewear is in the public interest and are aligned with the Competition Bureau in wanting to ensure that patients have as many options as can be safely provided for in how they access their eye care.” The College statement also argues that “without a licensed individual involved in the process, there is no mechanism by which the colleges can ensure that any standard of care is provided at all.”

The Competition Bureau report concludes that, “Decision-makers should consider whether it is strictly necessary for licensed professionals to be involved in all aspects of the eyewear dispensing process (i.e. preparation, adaptation and delivery), and to what degree.” While there are, the Bureau acknowledges, certain regulatory safeguards necessary to protect Canadian businesses and consumers, the Bureau asks that “less restrictive measures be put in place to facilitate online sales, while at the same time, maintaining patient health and safety.”

Read the complete statement from the Competition Bureau here.

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