Alberta father fighting for $4,700 from travel company after school trip cancelled in March

An Alberta parent says he is still waiting for a refund for his child’s school trip after it was cancelled due to the pandemic. 

Patrick Tietz says his son and wife paid to attend a school trip to Quebec through Explorica Canada, an educational tour and student travel company. 

The trip was part of the French immersion program at St. Mary’s Junior High School in Medicine Hat, Alta., and cost him $4,700.

Tietz says his wife took a second job so they were able to pay for it in cash.

“We were supposed to leave April 8 and it was March 17 when the government came in with the travel advisory, and that’s why we’re covered,” he told the Calgary Eyeopener.

Tietz, who lives just outside of Medicine Hat in Redcliff, Alta., says that when the trip was first cancelled by the company, it said he would receive his refund in six to eight weeks.

“At the end of eight weeks, they said it would be 10 to 12 weeks. And then at the end of 12 weeks, they said 15 to 16 weeks. Well my patience ran out at 16 weeks,” he said.

Fast forward to six months later: Tietz says he is still waiting on his money.

His annoyance on the issue led him to seek out a Facebook group online, where he realized he wasn’t the only one who has yet to receive a refund.

Hundreds of parents waiting for refunds

Anne Nichol, a parent from Saint John, N.B., who started the Facebook page, has already heard from hundreds of parents at more than 55 schools across the country.

She estimates they are owed more than $6 million.

Tietz says he has tried complaining to his son’s school board about the issue. He says officials stated last month they were looking into it.

“Mostly, I’ve been communicating with email and it’s just standard form letters, and the school board is just like, ‘Hang on, we’re working through it,'” he said.

“Well, it’s six months now. I’m tired of waiting.”

At this point, Tietz says it’s really important he receives a refund since he was laid off this summer.

“I’m presently unemployed, so yes, I could sure use the money.”

Superintendent says more than 60 local families impacted

Christopher MacPhee, superintendent with Canadian Rockies Public Schools, said a Canmore school was planning on taking more than 60 students on a trip to Quebec this spring at a cost of $2,000 per traveller.

All told, the hit for community families will total more than $120,000, MacPhee said, at a time when parents need it most.

“In our valley, a large portion of our population are employed in the tourist industry, which has taken a hit because of COVID-19,” MacPhee said. “So all of our families need these refunds, and so we are going to do what we can do to help them.

“We hope that these companies have some level of social responsibility, and that they step up and do the right thing.”

MacPhee said he saw a previous CBC News story detailing the scope of how many families have lost money — and realized his division was in much the same boat.

“It was very interesting for me to watch the report from Newfoundland because we are dealing with the exact same thing with the exact same companies,” MacPhee said. 

“Our legal team is now in the process of writing letters to both Explorica and Old Republic in an attempt to get this money back for these families here in this valley.”

Explorica says it’s fulfilled its obligations

Explorica declined an interview request through its public relations agency.

“We understand this has been an incredibly frustrating and confusing process for our customers, so to keep them as informed as possible about this issue, we also launched a web page with the latest information, which you can view at,” Samuel Lessard of Edelman Montreal wrote in an email to CBC News.

On the website, Explorica maintains:

  • Explorica has fulfilled its portion of refunds owed to customers under its program terms.
  • Explorica has sent all information to Old Republic Insurance Company of Canada and Arch Insurance in order to process claims.
  • ORIC and Arch Insurance are attempting to use the unique circumstances around COVID-19 to redefine their rights and obligations under these travel policies and shift the losses of this pandemic back onto you.
  • The way in which these insurance providers have characterized Explorica’s involvement is categorically false and leaves the impression that the insurers’ goal is to obstruct the process at the expense of students and families.

Insurance for the trip was mandatory, and all of the polices were underwritten by ORIC or Arch Insurance, who did not respond to multiple interview requests.

However, in correspondence, both companies have told parents they have not received the information they require from Explorica to review and process the claims, such as any refunds Explorica has received from airlines or hotels.

“Unfortunately, we have experienced difficulties in obtaining the necessary information to assess your claim,” ORIC wrote to one parent in a letter dated Aug. 21.

“The policy is clear; it provides coverage for non-refundable, prepaid expenses for travel arrangements, less any credits or refunds, including replacement travel options.… As a secondary payer, we are unable to determine the amount owed until this information is received from Explorica.”

Parents lawyer up

Last Friday, Newfoundland and Labrador lawyer Travis Payne sent a letter to Explorica, ORIC and Arch on behalf of parents.

“And the tone of the letter is basically, ‘Get on the same page. You owe a duty to your insured to perform your contractual duties in good faith and pay these refunds out so the money gets in the right pocket.’ And the fight among them — that can happen afterwards if necessary,” Payne said.

He has given the companies until Friday to respond, and warned in the letter, “We are exploring all possible legal options, including class action litigation.”

With files from Karen Pauls, Elissa Carpenter and the Calgary Eyeopener.

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