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Man with mental disability nearly bankrupted by door-to-door sales contracts

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For a long time, John Telepcak struggled with a secret. He was facing a « mountain of bills » he couldn’t afford to pay for products and services he didn’t understand, didn’t need or already had.

The Toronto man is one of many Canadians locked into long and pricey contracts after coming face to face with high pressure and misleading sales tactics by door-to-door salespeople.   

Only two provinces have banned unsolicited door-to-door sales of most heating, air and water services. Despite the bans, critics say gaps in the rules leave consumers open to abuse.

Door-to-door salespeople convinced 69-year-old Telepcak, who has a mental disability, to sign long-term contracts for everything from water heaters to carbon offsets. In some cases, Telepcak bought the same product twice from different companies. 

Telepcak was sold two HEPA filters by different companies. One was not even hooked up and just sat in his basement. (David MacIntosh/CBC)

Other contracts show he was locked into leasing agreements that had him paying four, five or six times the retail value of a product. For example, a water softener that retails for around $1,000 cost Telepcak more than $3,600 for the first year alone. 

« Why I went ahead with this and agreed? Uh I don’t know, I don’t know, » Telepcak said from his Toronto home. « They wouldn’t stop talking. Non-stop [talking] just to confuse the issue until, I guess, till I agreed. »

Go Public gets contracts cancelled 

Telepcak broke down at work in March and told his boss Brian Hoecht that he was crumbling under the weight of the more than $700 a month he was obligated to pay under the contracts.

John Telepcak’s boss, Brian Hoecht, tried to help his employee get out of the pricey contracts, but his calls and letters to the companies involved were mostly ignored. (David MacIntosh/CBC )

He didn’t know it yet, but he also had $32,338 in liens against his house from the heating and cooling contracts that were secured against the home. ​​​

Hoecht says his employee showed him so many bills it was hard to figure out how Telepcak ended up in the situation and exactly what he was paying for.

They say you don’t have to look for trouble, it comes to you. Well it’s found me, it’s found my exact home.– John Telepcak

« When I first heard about it, John was sitting in the cafeteria in the [car] dealership where we both work, holding his head in his hands, » Hoecht said. 

« The cafeteria lady, who John is close with, said ‘John needs to talk to you about something.' »

Telepcak had signed so many contracts he’d lost track. They included heating and cooling maintenance plans, a plumbing and drain protection plan, water softener, drinking water system, two HEPA filters and a $70 a month charge for something identified in the billing as « home improvements. » Some of the contracts locked Telepcak in for 10 to 15 years. 

« I have a lot of anxiety over this, » he said. « They say you don’t have to look for trouble, it comes to you. Well it’s found me, it’s found my exact home. »

Hoecht tried to help his employee by calling and sending registered letters to the businesses listed on Telepcak’s bills, asking them to release Telepcak from the contracts. 

He says most of the companies didn’t respond. Those that did, wanted Telepcak to pay thousands of dollars for breaking the contract. 

After Go Public approached the companies billing Telepcak, all but one released him from his obligations. None addressed why they sold Telepcak products and services he says he didn’t understand or need.

The Rules 

After years of complaints from consumers, in March, the Ontario government banned unsolicited door-to-door sales. The ban covers most heating, air and water services, but stops short of including companies in other sectors. 

Alberta is the only other province with such a ban.

Contracts that violate the new rules are void, and consumers are able to keep the goods and services with no obligations. 

Contract lawyer Tom Curran says not only does Ontario’s ban come too late for thousands of people like Telepcak — who signed some of his contracts before the ban — it also does little to stop these kinds of door-to-door sales from happening now. 

Lawyer Tom Curran says even with a ban on door-to-door sales and other consumer protections, it’s hard to hold companies and salespeople accountable. (Marc Robichaud/CBC)

« The new rules in Ontario put a $500 fine in place, well a $500 fine that’s a licensing fee, it’s nothing else, you add $500 to the cost of the merchandise you’re selling to this incompetent client, it’s not going to do anything at all, » Curran says.

Proving a violation is almost impossible because the people who show up at a consumer’s doorstep often don’t work directly for the company they are selling for, he says. Instead, they are third party representatives who make the sale and then disappear. 

« So when the act says that the person who makes that sale could be subject to a fine, it doesn’t really matter, » the lawyer says.

Curran also says the companies behind the contracts will often reinvent themselves or go out of business after selling contracts to financing companies that then collect on the debt. That means the companies that signed the original contracts can’t be held accountable.

Given his mental disability, Telepcak should also have protection under provincial consumer protection laws, but Curran says under those rules violations are also hard to prove. 

Government a ‘toothless tiger’

Jordan Redlin is a former door-to-door HVAC sales person who says he quit after becoming increasingly uncomfortable with how the sales were done and which customers were being signed.

Jordan Redlin runs a business that helps get people out of bad contracts. He says companies that sell door to door often target vulnerable people, like the elderly. (CBC)

He now runs his own business, named Cancel It, that aims to get people out of bad contracts. The service can cost thousands of dollars for longer contracts. He says business is booming. 

« Unfortunately [Ontario’s Ministry of Government and Consumer Services] is a bit of a toothless tiger, » says Redlin.

« They do have a lot of power as far as investigating into the companies and the issues, however, they do not have the power to actually nullify the contracts themselves. »

Go Public asked Ontario’s Minister of Government and Consumer Services Todd Smith about the gaps in consumer protection laws.
 
In an email to CBC News he wrote:

« Our government understands the significant concerns consumers have over door-to-door sales. We are committed to making sure that the appropriate protections are in place to protect Ontario consumers‎.
           
« We will be working with industry, stakeholders and consumers as we determine next steps. I look forward to providing further updates in the coming months. »

As for John Telepcak, he says he’s learned his lesson and won’t sign any more contracts. He also has his family looking out for him. They plan to put legal measures in place to ensure Telepcak can’t sign any more contracts without the approval of his sister.

Submit your story ideas

Go Public is an investigative news segment on CBC-TV, radio and the web.

We tell your stories and hold the powers that be accountable.

We want to hear from people across the country with stories you want to make public.

Submit your story ideas at Go Public.

Follow @CBCGoPublic on Twitter.

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Anglais

Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme

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Get a taste of adventure with Starburst XXXtreme based on the legendary NetEnt Game. The nostalgic themes are sure to capture fans of the classic version as they get treated to higher intensity, better visuals, and features. The most significant element of the game is its volatility. Patience will not be an essential virtue considering the insane gameplay, and there is a lot of win potential involved. It retains the original makeup of the previous game while adding a healthy dose of adrenaline. 

Starburst Visuals and Symbols

The game is definitely more conspicuous than before. The setting happens over a 5-reel, 3-row game grid with nine fixed win lines, which function if a succession from the left to the right reel is present. Only those players that that attain the highest win per bet line are paid. From a visual standpoint, the Starburst XXXtreme slots illustrates lightning effects behind the reels, which is not surprising as it is inherited from the original version. Available themes include Classic, Jewels, and Space. The game is also available in both desktop and mobile versions, which is advantageous for players considering the global pandemic. According to Techguide, American gamers are increasingly having more engaging gaming experiences to socialize to fill the gap of in-person interaction. Starburst XXXtreme allows them to fill the social void at a time when there is so much time to be had indoors. 

Starburst XXXTreme Features

Players get to alternate on three features which are Starburst Wilds, XXXtreme Spins, and Random Wilds. The first appears on reels 2,3, or 4. When these land, they expand to cover all positions while also calculating the wins. They are also locked for a respin. If a new one hits, it also becomes locked while awarding another respin. Starburst XXXtreme offers a choice between two scenarios for a higher stake. In one scenario with a ten times stake, the Starburst Wild is set on random on reels 2,3, or 4, and a multiplier starts the respin. The second scenario, which has a 95 times stake, starts with two guaranteed starburst wilds on reels 2,3, or 4. it also plays out using respin game sequence and features. The game also increases the potential with the Random Wilds feature to add Starburst Wilds to a vacant reel at the end of a spin. Every Starburst Wild gives a random multiplier with potential wins of x2, x3, x5, x10, x25, x50, x100, or even x150.

The new feature is sure to be a big hit with the gaming market as online gambling has shown significant growth during the lockdown. AdAge indicates the current casino customer base is an estimated one in five Americans, so Starburst XXXtreme’s additional features will achieve considerable popularity. 

What We Think About The Game

The gambling market has continued to diversify post-pandemic, so it is one of the most opportune times to release an online casino-based game. Thankfully Starburst XXXtreme features eye-catching visuals, including the jewels and space themes. These attract audience participation and make the gameplay inviting. The game also has a nostalgic edge. The previous NetEnt iteration featured similar visuals and gameplay, so the audience has some familiarity with it. The producers have revamped this version by tweaking the features to improve the volatility and engagement. 

That is characterized by the potential win cap of 200,000 times the bet. Starburst XXXtreme does not just give betting alternatives for players that want to go big. The increase of multipliers also provides a great experience. If the respins in the previous version were great, knowing that multipliers can go hundreds of times overtakes the game to a new level. 

Players should get excited about this offering. All of the features can be triggered within a single spin. Whether one plays the standard game or takes the XXXtreme spin route, it is possible to activate all of the features. Of course, the potential 200,000 times potential is a huge carrot. However, the bet size is probably going to be restricted and vary depending on the casino. It is also worth pointing out that a malfunction during the gameplay will void all of the payouts and progress. Overall, the game itself has been designed to provide a capped win of 200,000 times the original bet. 

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Anglais

‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year

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In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal

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MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.

STUDIO SHORTAGE

The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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