Money Mart is suspending a gift-card-for-cash exchange offer, says Ontario's consumer minister, who is promising to look into the practice of reselling gift cards.

Money Mart changes poster

A Money Mart franchise on James Street North near Wilson Street in Hamilton had changed the poster in the window on Friday afternoon from its previous "gift cards for cash" exchange offer. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

A Money Mart franchise in Hamilton that on Thursday displayed a "Gift Cards for Cash" poster in the window had changed the poster to one of its regular advertisements for a cash advance on Friday afternoon. 

The company had been offering a 50-cents-on-the-dollar exchange for customers who had gift cards to trade in. 

David Orazietti, minister of government and consumer services, said his office contacted Money Mart on Thursday. 

"Money Mart has now voluntarily suspended the gift card exchange pilot program," he said in a statement. "The ministry is looking into this issue further and will examine if there needs to be increased regulation around the reselling of gift cards."

The offer drew criticism from anti-poverty advocates and government officials disheartened by a program they said targets vulnerable people during the holiday season. The Money Mart offer came at a time when more charitable agencies are giving gift cards to clients to purchase gifts and groceries as an alternative to food banks and toy drives.

The rate for the exchange prompted comparisons to the Grinch at Queen's Park by NDP government and consumer services critic Jagmeet Singh.

"I think everyone in this house agrees that this type of scheme that takes advantage of people that are already so vulnerable, particularly at this giving time of year, is not acceptable," Singh said Thursday.

Tom Cooper, director of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction, called the rate of exchange "absolutely reprehensible." 

"Particularly at this time of year when people are going through a very stressful situation, it really does prey on the vulnerable," he said.

Money Mart issued a statement sent by email early Friday morning, saying it "believes it is offering customers a convenient, value-added product through this service.”

The company did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday after Orazietti released his statement. 

With files from Mike Crawley