Manitoba families out thousands of dollars for international school trips cancelled because of COVID-19 travel advisories have joined a national class-action lawsuit in the hopes of finally getting their refunds.
Despite many purchasing insurance, parents in all corners of the province claim they haven’t been fully reimbursed — if refunded anything — by the educational travel company or insurance agency they booked with, seven months after the trips were called off.
These families are among hundreds of other Canadians with similar allegations against Explorica Canada Inc. (owned by WorldStrides Canada, Inc.), Arch Insurance Canada Ltd. and Old Republic Insurance Company of Canada.
"This was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime for my son. He’d done so well in school and then it just got ripped out from under him," said mother Laurie Drysdale-Campbell, whose son’s senior trip was cancelled because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
It was on March 13th that Ottawa called on Canadians to cancel non-essential international travel plans.
Drysdale-Campbell’s son, Seth Campbell, was supposed to visit Portugal and Spain for a seven-day trip with his classmates at Lorette Collegiate in the spring. It was his graduation present, his mother said, adding she gifted him a new suitcase for Christmas for the occasion.
The trip price tag was $4,000, including insurance purchased from Arch, but Drysdale-Campbell said she has yet to see anything other than $100 the division reimbursed her — despite trying to get answers via phone and email for months.
"It’s just so depressing. It’s just such a rigamarole. As far as I’m concerned, all three companies are to blame for this," she added.
Although Winnipeg mother Andrea Dodgson has received $2,000 of the approximately $4,500 she said she’s owed, she echoed similar sentiments Friday.
"The whole grad year for these kids has a black cloud over it," said Dodgson, whose daughter graduated from St. John’s Ravenscourt School last year — with a very different end-of-year than anticipated, with the cancellation of a Europe trip and virtual convocation.
A growing number of related accounts, many of which have been documented in a Facebook group called Explorica Canada — Trying to get our Refunds since it was created in August, prompted two Canadian law firms to partner to propose a nationwide class-action.
Last week, lawyers at Toronto-based Sotos LLP and St. John’s-based Curtis Dawe filed a statement of claim against WorldStrides, Arch and Old Republic in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. The claim, which names two families on behalf of class members, seeks full refunds for all families involved and $5 million in damages from the two insurance companies.
"Nobody’s denying them a refund; that’s important to remember… This is a situation where the companies are in a dispute against each other about who pays," said lawyer Travis Payne of Curtis Dawe, when reached Friday in St. John’s.
Families involved have reported being told by their insurance company that Explorica needs to provide more information before they can provide a refund.
Meantime, a spokesperson for Explorica said in a statement the company stands by its position it has fulfilled its portion of refunds owed to customers under its program terms.
A spokesperson for Arch declined to comment, saying the company has a policy not to comment on matters of pending or active litigation. Old Republic did not respond to a request for comment before deadline Friday.
A conservative figure of the estimated sum owed to families is "north of $12 million," Payne said.
Upwards of 250 students in Manitoba, from schools including Niverville High School, Lorette Collegiate, St. John’s Ravenscourt School, Fisher Branch Collegiate, Windsor Park Collegiate and College Churchill, are members of the class-action, Payne said, adding he’s been personally contacted by 800 Canadians with similar concerns in recent months.
Since the class-action isn’t the only one that’s been filed in recent days, Payne said lawyers are waiting to get their case certified to get families the refunds they deserve.
For now, all Teresa Moore’s daughter has as proof of the trip she worked so hard to pay for throughout high school is a travel credit for Explorica, which can be redeemed before Dec. 31, 2022.
Since the Moores, who are from Inwood, did not purchase travel insurance, they have been denied the $3,878 it cost for a cancelled Fisher Branch Collegiate Europe trip outright.
Moore said Friday the family has no intention of redeeming the Explorica credit. Instead, she said, they will wait.
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.