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Dating firms fight gender-price bill

Are dating services gender-biased? Find out the whole story here.

Two major online dating services have hired an influential Liberal lobbyist to stop legislation that would outlaw gender-based price discrimination.

Lavalife and Quest, two Toronto-based firms, have hired Hill and Knowlton vice-president Bob Lopinski, a former adviser to Premier Dalton McGuinty, to kill Bill 9, a private member's bill by Liberal Lorenzo Berardinetti that would bar retailers from charging men or women different prices for essentially the same goods and services.

The dating services charge men for their phone service, while women get it for free.

A brief sent to politicians by Hill and Knowlton warns the firms "will be forced to leave Ontario" if the bill passes.

Lavalife employs 320 people and has annual revenues of about $90 million. Quest has 170 employees and annual revenues nearing $75 million.

"Why they would need to leave Ontario: Because their servers and call centres are located in Ontario, there is strong reason to fear that Bill 9 would apply not just to their Ontario customers, but to all of their transactions around the world," the brief says.

"Both Lavalife and Quest charge men for using their phone service while providing women with free access. This is the standard industry practice worldwide."

Berardinetti said he was taken aback that the firms had hired a big-gun lobbyist.

"I was a little bit surprised by that, because I really didn't think the issue was really about Lavalife (or online dating)," he said.

"I thought the issue was about fairness and about gender-based pricing when it comes to areas like haircuts and dry-cleaning and alterations to suits and so on.

"For example if a woman spends 20 minutes to get her hair done and if a man spends 20 minutes to get his hair done, the price should be roughly the same for the same kind of work."

Based on consumer law in California, Berardinetti's bill -- inspired by his wife, Michelle -- would use the Ontario Human Rights Code to impose fines of as much as $5,000 on offending firms.

"We're not trying to put anybody out of business. We're just telling them to operate fairly," he said.

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