A Nova Scotia town had to get a court order and spent almost eight months trying to recoup nearly half a million dollars it had been defrauded out of by an Ontario man posing as a construction executive, a situation municipal officials say won’t happen again because of stronger internal controls.
Those are some of the details included in an access-to-information request that reveals what Bridgewater — a town with fewer than 9,000 residents along Nova Scotia’s South Shore — did to get the money back, how much it spent on legal fees, and the frustration officials had with banks it felt were unhelpful in resolving the matter.
Bridgewater’s woes began in October 2019 when an Uber driver from Brampton, Ont., posed as an executive with Dexter Construction and requested forms to allow the Bedford, N.S.-based company to receive payment via electronic transfer rather than cheque. The individual, Ayoola Ajibade, had no connection to Dexter, which does work for the town.
At the time, the town was recommending its vendors switch from being paid by cheque to electronic funds transfer, so the request didn’t seem unusual.
After Bridgewater received an invoice from Dexter Construction for legitimate work, it wired a payment of $490,930.43 in early November into a Scotiabank account in Brampton that belonged to Ajibade.
It would be another six weeks before the town learned of the fraud.
How the town found out about the fraud
In an email dated Dec. 18, 2019, Lee Wallet, a banker with BMO in Bridgewater — the bank that handles the municipality’s finances — asked the town’s accounts payable clerk to check whether the $490,930.43 transfer was legitimate after being tipped off by Scotiabank.
Later that day, the town’s chief administrative officer, Tammy Crowder, wrote an email to Mayor David Mitchell.
“The account has been frozen since 2018 for similar activity (so I question how the [money] got put in the account in the first place),” she wrote.
‘It’s only money,’ says mayor’s email
The mayor replied that he expected there would be a way of getting the money back.
“I hope staff are OK and nobody is feeling like this is their fault,” he wrote. “It sucks but nobody did this intentionally and it’s only money. Nobody was hurt.”
On the same day Mitchell sent that email, the town’s director of finance, Dawn Keizer, noted two other transfers had been sent to the fraudulent account:
- $226,583.41 on Dec. 17. “Hoping it can be stopped. Please advise,” Keizer wrote to Wallet.
- $17,040.75 on Dec. 17.
A Dec. 20, 2019, email from Crowder to the mayor said those two payments were rejected by Scotiabank and the money was returned to the town.
With the fraud identified, town officials became frustrated with BMO and Scotiabank’s handling of the situation.
On Jan. 23, 2020, Keizer told Crowder that she was “not optimistic” Scotiabank would be helpful.
“In fact, they seem to be just the opposite, which has been very frustrating for us,” Keizer wrote to the CAO.
An email from Wallet to Keizer later that day noted the “next steps” were with Scotiabank’s fraud department.
Town hoped to avoid legal action
The following day, an email from Mitchell to Keizer and Crowder said he had contacted the head of Scotiabank’s fraud department with the hope it would “expedite the matter and hopefully avoid a full-blown court order.”
An email a week later from Keizer to Crowder questioned BMO’s perceived inaction. The email obtained by CBC News was mostly redacted, but asks, “Is there a reason BMO can’t act on our behalf in this matter?”
Four months later, Scotiabank still hadn’t returned the money.
“It’s frustrating that we can’t get costs or damages though, given that we’ve incurred legal costs and they’ve had our money for all these months,” Keizer wrote in a May 22, 2020, email to two town officials and the outside lawyer the town had hired.
“Disappointing that they wouldn’t at least offer to pay interest on our money.”
On Aug. 10, 2020, a Nova Scotia court ordered Scotiabank to pay back the money after the town pursued legal action.
How much was spent on legal fees
An email from the town’s CAO to Bridgewater council four days later revealed the legal fees spent were an estimated $5,000.
By the end of the month, the town’s missing money, $490,930.43, was back in its account.
It would be another year before the case against the accused went to court.
‘Talking points’ for town council
A Jan. 11, 2022, email from the mayor noted that “people think we were easily duped.” Mitchell called it “a sophisticated scheme” and noted, “Because the [CBC] article says he was just an Uber driver, people think he just called and asked for $500,000.”
A reply from the town’s CAO noted they “don’t want to hang staff out to dry nor give away internal control processes.”
Later that day, Patrick Hirtle, the town’s manager of community attraction and communications, sent an email to town council and the CAO with “talking points” regarding the fraud.
Messaging on fraud origins
The email said the “strength of our internal processes and the working relationships with our banking institutions allowed this elaborate fraud to be caught before it could go any further.”
In an interview, Mitchell told CBC News that while the first fraud went undetected by the town, its internal processes played a role in catching the second and third transfers.
When asked why he responded, “It’s only money,” when told about the missing $490,930.43, Mitchell said he was speaking solely out of concern for the well-being and safety of his staff.
“When you have mistakes, you can have loss of life, you can have someone physically injured,” he said. “That was my comparison … I wouldn’t want people to kind of think, ‘Oh, the mayor’s just throwing around money.'”
He said the town has strengthened its controls to prevent this kind of fraud from ever happening again, but declined to provide specifics, likening it to giving away “the combination to the safe.”
Mitchell said that because governments post so much information and the email addresses of their employees publicly, it makes them a target for fraud.
“Fraud is being constantly attempted on municipalities and provincial and federal governments, daily,” he said. “And in this case, one slipped through. But we’ve learned from it, we’ve changed the processes and it’s not going to happen again.”
What the banks are saying
Asked for comment about the frustration town officials felt with the banks, Scotiabank declined comment, saying the matter was before the courts, while BMO said it has strong security measures in place to protect customers.
Ajibade is scheduled to be sentenced today.
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A shortage of pilots is making travel chaos in Canada even worse – CBC News
From pandemic-related travel restrictions to extreme weather events, Canada’s travel industry has navigated an unprecedented amount of uncertainty of late. And now, just as demand for travel has returned to its 2019 level, airlines are navigating their next patch of turbulence: a lack of qualified pilots.
According to Transport Canada, in a typical pre-pandemic year, roughly 1,100 pilot licences were issued. When complemented by foreign-trained pilots, that was generally more than enough to satisfy the needs of carriers as large as WestJet and Air Canada, all the way down to regional, charter and cargo airlines.
But as demand for flying collapsed in 2020, so did the number of new pilots getting their paperwork. Government data shows less than 500 licences were awarded in 2020, a figure that fell to less than 300 in 2021 and just 238 last year.
The department told CBC News in a statement that while labour shortages in the airline sector has been “identified as a priority area for action,” there are no current plans to loosen regulations. But the agency says it’s doing what it can to “increase the competitiveness of the Canadian flight training industry as well as improve the viability of aviation careers to address any shortages.”
Whatever changes do come will do little to help anyone in the short term, and travellers are already seeing the impact of the industry’s current labour crunch.
Staff shortages were a factor in charter airline Sunwing’s cancellation of 67 flights over the last two weeks of December, along with extreme weather.
Salaries for experienced pilots generally go up faster and higher at the major airlines than they do at most others, they are so typically able to have their pick among those available. That causes shortages just about everywhere else.
The head of the Air Transport Association of Canada says it’s a problem that had been brewing for many years, even before the pandemic.
“We haven’t had enough pilots for a long time, mostly at the regional level,” John McKenna said.
Long, expensive process
Getting a commercial licence is the last step in a multi-year process of becoming a pilot, a journey that can cost tens of thousands of dollars and take years.
In Canada, for many that journey ends with a dream job at either WestJet or Air Canada, but because of the expense and time commitment of training a new pilot, the major airlines often hire top staff from smaller carriers instead of methodically developing their own.
“Their fishing grounds is the regional carriers. And the regional carriers go down to the smaller carriers, air taxi groups … those levels have been hurting for many years,” McKenna said.
Canada’s two biggest airlines told CBC News in emailed statements that while there is indeed a higher than normal demand for pilots right now, both of them are managing to meet their needs.
“As a large global carrier operating the most modern, largest aircraft, we are a very desirable destination for talented pilots,” AIr Canada said. “As a result, we are able to attract pilots as required.”
“We have and continue to responsibly manage and plan our operations to meet the anticipated demand of our guests and are fully staffed across our network to support our operation,” WestJet said.
That’s not the case for everyone else. Small airlines often have so few pilots on staff that it doesn’t take the loss of very many to stop planes from flying.
In the fall, Sunwing applied to bring in more than 60 temporary foreign workers to meet demand for pilots, but that application was rejected, which exacerbated the chaos seen at the end of 2022. The airline has since cancelled almost all flights out of Saskatchewan and most out of Manitoba for the rest of the winter travel season.
Pandemic reduced numbers, too
It’s not just the big boys gobbling up all the qualified pilots, either. Many simply left the profession during the pandemic.
“Two years ago, to the day, literally almost every pilot [was] out of work,” says Dave Boston, a pilot with 25 years experience who’s also the man behind Edmonton-based aviation job board, Pilot Career Centre.
Faced with furloughs and layoffs at airlines big and small, many pilots tried to wait it out, but many simply moved on, he told CBC News in an interview.
“Many who had businesses or other interests, after maybe six months to a year, had to put food on the table, and they left the industry,” Boston said.
For the pilots who are left, headhunting is the new normal. He says he hears from desperate airlines every day, because they either can’t find the staff, or just lost yet another one. “It’s very common for pilots, unfortunately, to work there for six months [then] get a surprise interview that they don’t expect to get, and then they’re gone,” he said.
“It’s a real challenge right now.”
One person hoping to meet that challenge is Zona Savic, a soon-to-be graduate of one of Canada’s premier aviation schools, Seneca College in Peterborough, Ont.
While she had planned to go into engineering, she joined the Air Cadets while in high school, and was quickly bitten by the aviation bug.
“I just knew from the moment that I was in that plane, this is what I was going to do,” she told CBC News in an interview.
She’s on track to get her pilot’s licence soon, and while she may do additional training to become an instructor herself, she says it’s a load off her mind to know that she won’t have to worry about finding a job.
And even better for the industry, she has no qualms about working her way up at smaller carriers flying niche, remote routes.
” I just love the feeling of flying, so if that’s what I’m doing, I don’t really care if I’m in Paris, or in Nunavut,” she says. “Anything is good for me, as long as I get to experience that.”
Q4 economic growth slows to 1.6% as aggressive hikes bite – BNN Bloomberg
Canada’s economy geared down at the end of 2022, growing at about half the pace of the third quarter and setting the stage for a period of little to no growth.
Preliminary data suggest gross domestic product was flat in December as increases in retail, utilities and the public sector were offset by decreases in the wholesale, finance and oil and gas industries, Statistics Canada reported Tuesday in Ottawa. That followed a 0.1 per cent gain in November, which matched economist expectations in a Bloomberg survey, and a 0.1 per cent increase in October.
Overall, the monthly gains point to annualized growth in the fourth quarter of 1.6 per cent, according to an initial estimate from the statistics agency. Though it will likely be revised, it’s down sharply from a 2.9 per cent pace in the third quarter, 3.2 per cent during April to June, and 2.8 per cent in the first three months of last year.
The numbers show that higher interest rates, which have jumped 425 basis points since last March, are slowing economic activity and weighing on consumption. The lagged effects of the Bank of Canada’s aggressive tightening campaign are expected to drag growth to a halt this year, with economists seeing two quarters of shallow contraction in the first half of 2023.
That’s a key reason why Governor Tiff Macklem and his officials said this month they plan to hold the benchmark overnight lending rate at 4.5 per cent if growth and inflation evolve broadly in line with their outlook. While the 1.6 per cent growth in the final quarter is slightly stronger than policymakers forecast last week, signs of slowing demand are mounting.
“The economy hasn’t yet absorbed the impact of past rate hikes,” James Orlando, an economist at Toronto-Dominion Bank, said in a report to investors. “Even though today’s growth numbers are holding up well, the BoC can feel comfortable keeping its policy on cruise control a little while longer.”
In November, growth in services-producing industries was partially offset by a decline in the goods sectors, the statistics agency said. Interest-rate increases continued to dampen activity for real estate agents and brokers, residential building construction, and legal services which have been trending downward since spring.
Construction dropped 0.7 per cent, with new construction of single detached homes and home improvement leading the decline. Accommodation and food services contracted 1.4 per cent on lower activity in bars and restaurants. Retail trade decreased 0.6 per cent, with the food and beverage subsector falling to its lowest level since April 2018.
The central bank expected fourth-quarter growth of 1.3 per cent annualized, while economists in Bloomberg surveys predicted a gain of 0.9 per cent. Official data for December and the fourth quarter will be released Feb. 28.
Based on initial estimates, Canada’s economy expanded 3.8 per cent in 2022, broadly in line the Bank of Canada’s estimate for a 3.6 per cent growth.
“The overriding message is that the economy is just managing to keep its head above water, which squarely fits with the BoC’s view,” Doug Porter, chief economist at Bank of Montreal, said in a report to investors.
Nike sues Lululemon, says footwear infringes patents – CTV News
Nike sued Lululemon Athletica on Monday, saying that at least four of the Canadian athletic apparel company’s footwear products infringe its patents.
Nike in a complaint filed in Manhattan federal court said it has suffered economic harm and irreparable injury from Lululemon’s sale of its Blissfeel, Chargefeel Low, Chargefeel Mid and Strongfeel footwear.
Nike said its three patents at issue concern textile and other elements, including one addressing how the footwear will perform when force is applied.
The Beaverton, Oregon-based company is seeking unspecified damages.
Lululemon, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Christopher Cushing)
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