A new law designed to protect consumers could have the opposite effect on registered charities whose bottom line depends on donations.

Under the new Canada Consumer Product Safety Act, which comes into effect June 20, anyone who sells consumer products for commercial purposes must record the name and address of the person from whom they obtained the consumer product. This is to enable Health Canada to track unsafe products in the event of recall or other corrective action.

However, for charity thrift stores that receive donated items from unknown sources, it would be impossible to comply with this requirement of the Act.

In fact, says one Kingston thrift store manager, “It would put us out of business.”

Now, after hearing from charitable organizations across the country, Health Canada is considering exemptions for retailers who sell donated products, provided the donation is from a person other than a manufacturer, importer, distributor or retailer.

Gary Holub, a Media Relations Officer with Health Canada, provided clarification by email. “Health Canada understands that retailers of donated products face a unique set of circumstances,” he wrote. “For example, these businesses receive donated items from individuals. These donations may be dropped off in off hours, or donors may be anonymous. Even when the donors can be identified, these individuals are not required to record where and when they bought the sweater, toy, or table they might now be about to donate. Therefore, the traceability chain ends at the individual donor, not at an importer or manufacturer.

“In addition, many second-hand items have had the packaging, instructions or labelling removed. Without this identifying information, these businesses may not have the necessary records (i.e., serial number, lot number, manufacturer, etc.) to track the product up the supply chain.

“Therefore, Health Canada has determined that documents prepared under these particular circumstances would do little to trace products back through the supply chain in order to facilitate corrective actions, including product recalls, and so would not be useful in addressing or preventing dangers to the health or safety of Canadians.”

Holub made it clear that thrift stores and other businesses that sell donated items would still be subject to all of the other requirements of the Act and would still be subject to routine inspections. Health Canada is in the process of doubling the number of product safety inspectors to 90 to ensure compliance.

We will keep you informed of any new exemptions to the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act.