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Edmonton hot tub company facing 49 charges under Consumer Protection Act

An Edmonton hot tub company is facing charges under Alberta’s Consumer Protection Act after nine customers complained to the province’s consumer investigations unit about its business practices.

Sunray Manufacturing Inc., registered in 1998 and operating as Sun Ray Hot Tubs & Patio at 7509 72A St., is facing 49 counts of violating the Consumer Protection Act.

The same charges have also been laid against a Sunray salesperson and the company’s owner, Brad Roberts, 51.

Roberts and the salesperson also face eight Criminal Code counts of fraud under $5,000.

Some of the Consumer Protection Act charges were laid last month, and others in 2023. They relate to transactions with nine customers between August 2020 and August 2021 and include:

  • Misrepresenting the ability to supply goods.
  • Reasonably misleading or deceiving a consumer.
  • Misrepresenting a supply date to a consumer.
  • Entering a consumer contract when the supplier knew or ought to know the consumer would be unable to receive any reasonable benefit.
  • Using exaggeration, innuendo or ambiguity in a consumer transaction.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

CBC News asked Roberts repeatedly for comment on the Consumer Protection Act and criminal charges.

He did not make himself available for an interview but sent an email that said: “We are vigorously defending the charges and we don’t think that they will be proven in court.”

Waiting 3 years for tub

Martin Duckworth, who lives in Edmonton, said he put down a $2,500 deposit on a 30-jet hot tub in October 2020.

He said he and his wife thought a tub would help with their aches and pains and went with Sunray because the company said it could supply a tub heated with propane instead of electricity.

His sales agreement, which he shared with CBC News, said the tub’s estimated delivery date was four to six months.

More than three years later, Duckworth said, he has not received the hot tub he ordered.

A man in black holds a blue file folder.
Martin Duckworth says he’s been waiting more than three years for the hot tub he ordered from Sun Ray Hot Tubs & Patio. (Pete Evans/CBC)

Duckworth said he has contacted the business many times to ask about the hot tub or a refund of his deposit.

He said Roberts told him the company does not allow refunds or cancellations. 

In small print, the sales agreement says the delivery date is an estimate and does not represent a warranty by the seller. The agreement also says the delivery date is subject to the availability of materials, labour and demand on the manufacturer.

“It’s just very frustrating that a corporation has the ability to do something like this to consumers,” Duckworth said.

He reported the issue to Service Alberta’s consumer investigations unit, which investigates contraventions of consumer protection legislation.

He received a letter from Julie Matthews, a senior investigator and peace officer with the CIU, in October.

Matthews’ Oct. 17 letter said evidence gathered during her investigation supports the allegation that the company, its owner, and a salesperson “did commit unfair practices in relation to your consumer transaction.”

The letter summarized Duckworth’s complaint and history of calls to the business, mentioning that he was refused a refund, and said the court process could take a year or more to conclude.

Customers go to small claims court

Other Sunray customers with similar stories have sued the business in recent months. 

Civil claims filed in the fall of 2023 in the Alberta Court of Justice show three cases of customers alleging they paid deposits for hot tubs in 2021 but had not received the tubs or their deposits back.

Two of the cases involve customers in the Edmonton area and the third involves a customer in British Columbia. 

One of the cases involves a couple who also complained to the CIU and whose complaints led to some of the charges laid against the company.

The company denied all three claims. In dispute notes filed with the court, it said that its sales contracts prohibited cancellations or refunds. It also said the contracts spelled out that delivery dates were subject to demand and availability of materials and labour. 

A beige hot tub sits on a platform on a grassy yard.
Owner Brad Roberts said the company is “vigorously defending” itself against charges. (David Bajer/CBC)

In one of the three cases, Sunray Manufacturing has filed a counterclaim for $1,141, saying the company had picked up the customers’ old hot tub and stored it for four months before disposing of it. 

The British Columbia customer received a judgment in his favour last week for nearly $30,000, plus interest and costs.

Tony Slemko, an Edmonton lawyer who bought a hot tub from Sunray in June 2019, said he and his wife started to worry that fall when the tub had not been delivered.

“We’re coming on six months, [Roberts] wouldn’t give a delivery date, and he wouldn’t give the money back,” Slemko told CBC News.

Slemko filed a claim against the company in small claims court in November 2019 and a year later, received a judgment in his favour.

The company was ordered to pay Slemko $5,230, plus interest and costs, and its counterclaim was dismissed. 

2021 order and appeal

Rita Sibbio, who lives in Sherwood Park, Alta., said she and her husband put a $2,500 deposit on a hot tub from Sunray in May 2018.

Sibbio said the company told them the tub’s estimated delivery date would be 10 to 12 weeks, but it took more than three years for the tub to arrive.

After complaining to the Better Business Bureau later that year, Sibbio said the company gave them a loaner tub and the couple paid the full price of their undelivered one in the meantime.

She and her husband complained to the CIU in 2019.

Service Alberta issued an order against Sunray in 2021, finding the company had contravened the Consumer Protection Act. The order directed the company to cease unfair business practices.

“Even if there were other factors to explain the delay, the terms make this transaction excessively unfair,” the order stated.

The company appealed the order.

Sunray’s lawyer argued that several unfortunate and unforeseeable events, including shutdowns of its factory, led to large delays.

Roberts said in the hearing that the business moved multiple times and had labour and supply-chain disruptions as a result of the pandemic and economic factors.

In a majority decision, an appeal board upheld the order. Sunray then appealed to the Court of King’s Bench. 

In a March decision, Justice Lorena Harris quashed one of the appeal board’s findings, that Sunray had used exaggeration, innuendo or ambiguity with respect to a consumer transaction, but dismissed Sunray’s other grounds of appeal.

A hot tub is on during a winter day.
Rita Sibbio said she and her husband received their hot tub from Sunray more than three years after ordering it. (Submitted by Rita Sibbio)

Sibbio said she and her husband also sued the company in small claims court and received the tub they had ordered after mediation.

She said she and her family are happy with the quality of the tub and use it regularly.

Monetary penalties

Martin Abramowski, a lawyer at SB LLP in Edmonton, said the Consumer Protection Act protects against unfair actions in relation to transactions for goods and services. 

“If it’s been some time and you haven’t received the thing you’ve put the deposit down for … then I think you need to potentially see if you can speak to a lawyer about what your options are at that point,” Abramowski said.

A man in a suit sits in an office.
Lawyer Martin Abramowski says the Consumer Protection Act offers Albertans protections against unfair business practices. (Pete Evans/CBC)

The maximum penalty for someone convicted of an offence under the Consumer Protection Act is $300,000 or three times the amount obtained as a result of the incident, whichever is more, and up to two years imprisonment.

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