By Jack Wilson
The Association coopérative d’économie familiale de l’Estrie, a local consumer rights organization, staged a protest against high-interest lending outside a Sherbrooke easyfinancière location May 16. Demonstrators called for stronger government protections against “very abusive costs and conditions,” said Sylvie Bonin, the association’s coordinator.
About 15 people gathered outside the branch, playing music and taking turns at the microphone. They shouted enthusiastic, albeit somewhat clunky, slogans demanding action against predatory lending. One demonstrator stood in a striped prisoner’s uniform with a ball and chain around her ankle, symbolizing consumers “held captive” by high-interest loans.
Though staged in front of an easyfinancière branch, Bonin said the choice of location was “symbolic, because easyfinancière is a high-cost lender expanding in Quebec.” The real targets of the protest were federal and provincial governments.
In Quebec, interest rates on loans can be as high as 35 per cent per year. The easyfinancière website lists loans at that maximum rate.
Federal law makes it a criminal offence to charge interest above 60 per cent. Still, “alternative lenders are pretty creative,” Bonin said. They often tack on extra fees that don’t count toward the interest limits.