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Feds Gone Fishing on Word Ban


​​​​​​​​​The Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions’ (OSFI) recent push to ban credit unions from using the word ‘bank’ or any of its derivatives is baffling. What would you think if the federal government said you were no longer allowed to ‘fish?’ You could still use your provincial license to catch marine life with a rod and reel, but you couldn't call it 'fishing.' That verb would only apply to federally-regulated commercial fisheries.

Want to take your kids to the cottage? From now on you'll have to sit at the end of the dock and go "aquatic biomass harvesting," "water hunting" or some other non-reserved description. Because unless you were a federally-licensed fishery, you could no longer use terms such as fish, fishing or even related terms such as casting and trolling.

Of course, this ban on ‘fishing’ would have a huge impact. All provincially-licensed fish farms, sport fishing outfitters and retailers would need to change their names, update their websites and replace in-store signage. Every sporting goods shop in the country would need to rename their fishing departments. Bass Pro Shops would have to get legal clarity on whether "bass" - a fish derivative - would still be allowed in their name. Retailers who refused to change would face stiff fines, while customer service agents using the banned terms could risk criminal prosecution.

Nobody questions the authority of the federal government to safeguard our food supply and to sustainably manage our marine natural resources. However, fishing is an area of joint federal / provincial jurisdiction. Provincial regulations are just as important for protecting Canadians as their federal counterparts. What would be accomplished by making it more difficult for consumers to understand the province's role? Would moving away from plain English really make things less confusing?

This scenario doesn't make a lot of sense, and thankfully it isn't real. However, OSFI has adopted this approach by enforcing the rule that only banks can use generic descriptive verbs such as ‘bank’ and ‘banking.’ Credit unions, also fully-regulated but at the provincial level, will be prohibited from using the terms.

What isn't clear is how this added confusion will enhance consumer protections. There is no question that ‘bank’ as a noun should be protected at the federal level, but there is no evidence the public is better served by prohibiting credit unions from referring to the act of banking as 'banking.' Many regulated terms are part of common speech and should be preserved. As consumers, we should be free to ride our bicycles, police our own actions, send electronic mail, fly a kite and even ‘bank’ on going fishing.  ​


Contact Doug Macdonald, Regional Financial Services Leader, Ontario, at 416.596.1711 or [email protected]