Canada’s competition commissioner is doubling down on its claim that the country’s largest movie theatre chain is using “deceptive marketing practices” to sell tickets.

In a response filed with the competition tribunal last week, Matthew Boswell bolstered claims he has been making since May, including accusing Cineplex Inc. of mischaracterizing its ticket purchase process.

The filing is a sign that Boswell is not backing down on his allegation that consumers can’t buy tickets to Cineplex screenings online at advertised prices because there is a mandatory $1.50 fee for booking online.

Boswell has charged that the fees applied to some Cineplex movie tickets bought online constitute so-called price dripping, a deceptive practice where customers are drawn into a purchase without full disclosure of the final cost.

However, the Toronto-based cinema giant said in its own filings earlier this month that the bureau's claims are without merit and should be thrown out, with costs awarded to Cineplex, because moviegoers are told about fees they may face from the start of the purchase process.

In his most recent filing Boswell refuted that claim, saying “consumers are not presented with the price of a movie ticket on the very first page of the website and app.”

“Cineplex also glosses over the fact that when the price of a movie ticket is disclosed on the ‘tickets’ page, Cineplex does not actually adjust each price representation to show the full price,” Boswell said. 

“Rather it adds up the cost of each movie ticket and the cost of the online booking fee (which can be charged up to four times per transaction) all together, leaving it to consumers to figure out that the per-ticket cost has increased.”

The commissioner also took issue with Cineplex’s claim that the online booking fee is not obligatory for the purchase of a movie ticket because anyone buying in theatres or using Cineplex’s CineClub subscription program see the charges waived. Those using a Scene Plus card during the purchase process must pay a reduced fee of $1.

“The fact that consumers, after deciding to purchase a movie ticket through the website or app and assuming they become aware that Cineplex has dripped the online booking fee, can then choose to avoid the online booking fee, does not change the fact that Cineplex has made a price representation to the public that is unattainable on the website or in the app due to the fixed obligatory online booking fee,” Boswell said.

He added that Cineplex’s purchase process is designed to encourage customers to proceed with buying a ticket despite the fee and pointed out that the theatre chain has used signs at cinemas telling customers the box office is closed but tickets can be bought online or in Cineplex’s app.

Cineplex did not respond to a request for comment on Boswell’s latest filing.

The chain’s fee that has sparked the battle with Boswell was implemented on June 15, 2022 and intended as an online booking fee for certain advance ticket purchases.

It was launched as Cineplex was recovering from forced closures during the COVID-19 pandemic and a cancelled deal that would have seen the company sold to U.K. theatre brand Cineworld for more than $2 billion.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 19, 2023.