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Court approves class action against McDonald's over Happy Meal toy marketing

cbc.ca logo cbc.ca 2018-11-15 Isaac Olson

McDonald's toys can be bought individually or come with a Happy Meal. But that's not the issue. It's the toy displays that have sparked the class action. © AP Photo/Keith Srakocic McDonald's toys can be bought individually or come with a Happy Meal. But that's not the issue. It's the toy displays that have sparked the class action. The Quebec Superior Court has given the green light to a class action against McDonald's Restaurants of Canada — a lawsuit that accuses the fast-food chain of marketing to children in a province that banned the practice decades ago.

"What we care about is the legal aspect, which is the marketing directed at children at eye level in McDonald's restaurants," Montreal-based lawyer Joey Zukran says of the Happy Meal toy displays seen in most franchise locations.

He says McDonald's is the only restaurant in Quebec that has such marketing.

It's illegal under the Quebec Consumer Protection Act, he said, which prohibits commercial advertising to children under 13 years old.

Anybody who has purchased a happy meal with a toy, or just the toy, for a child under 13 at any of the some 300 McDonald's locations in Quebec since Nov. 15, 2013 will be eligible to join the class action, he said.

The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well an order that McDonald's cease such marketing techniques. It also seeks reimbursement for all toy purchases.

How people will be expected to prove they made such a purchase is a detail that will be worked out later, he said. For now, Zukran is encouraging people to join the class action through his law firm's website. That firm, LPC Avocats, specializes in class actions.

Company accused of marketing to vulnerable consumers

"It's a public health issue," Zukran said. "It's not a case like any other. It has to do with children."

While the consumer protection law is decades old, he said lawsuits like this can only go back three years from when the case was first filed.

He filed the case two years ago on behalf of Antonio Bramante, who says he has bought hundreds of McDonald's toys for his kids over the years, visiting the restaurant a couple times a month.

He accuses the company of deliberately marketing to vulnerable consumers, despite the law.

Zukran said McDonald's violated provincial laws "with complete disregard."

While this approval was just one step in what will likely be a lengthy fight, Zukran said "we are very satisfied" that the province's highest court approved the lawsuit.

McDonald's Canada spokesperson Adam Grachnik says his company is proud of its "long-standing" relationship with Quebecers who have been dining at McDonald's for more than 45 years.

The company is aware of its obligations under Quebec's advertising laws, he said, and will be examining the ruling carefully. But after initial review, he said the company does not believe the class action has merit.

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