A man accused of misrepresenting his affiliations while selling CPR classes door-to-door and charging for classes that some allege never take place has vowed to continue despite the criticisms.

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Simon Gardner's TV report can be viewed on the link above.

Richard Tyo is the operator of the Community CPR Project, which has a dozen complaints lodged against it with the Better Business Bureau of Ottawa, mostly for selling classes that purchasers have said they cannot attend because they are repeatedly cancelled.

Daycare operator Carolyn Gauthier said she was convinced to pay $55 for a course after a persuasive man claiming to represent the Community CPR Project came to her door two years ago.

She said she's made more than 10 attempts to take the course, with no success.

"I think it's a big scam and I think everyone should be aware," said Gauthier.

Confusion over credentials

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Carolyn Gauthier said she has tried to take the course 10 times. (CBC)

Tyo told the CBC's Simon Gardner that he's been running CPR training classes for 22 years in Ottawa and that he's helped train 100,000 people in CPR.

He said he was motivated to start what he calls a non-profit because both his parents had cardiopulmonary issues. But he also said the work has come with a learning curve.

"I'm aware that sometimes some people had trouble booking classes or some classes had to be cancelled for weather or an instructor not showing up. These are issues that I'm really trying to address to correct the situation," said Tyo.

Groups say they don't sell classes door-to-door

The University of Ottawa Heart Institute, Ottawa paramedics and St. John Ambulance have all issued warnings saying they don't do door-to-door sales, and the Heart and Stroke Foundation said while they do canvass for donations during Heart month in February, they do not solicit for first-aid or CPR classes.

St. John Ambulance spokesman Les Johnson said his company has received numerous complaints about the Community CPR Project, mostly from angry customers who believed the group was in some way affiliated with St. John Ambulance.

"These names are bandied about by the door-to-door salesmen when in fact we're not affiliated with them in any way, shape or form," said Johnson.

"Our advice is if you want to take first-aid or CPR training, and we encourage as many people as possible to take it, then the best thing to do is call up one of the reputable training agencies and get that done through them," he said.

But Tyo has also been questioned for how he represents his company.

Companies such as the Canadian Red Cross and St. John Ambulance need to be certified to offer courses at workplaces under provincial labour laws. But for a CPR course organized for individuals, there are no such laws governing certification, though most companies that offer training to individuals often have trainers certified by one of the accredited organizations.

Business model is a 'paradigm shift'

Tyo said his business model is based on connecting individuals to trainers at a discounted price under a flexibile schedule. People sign up for the training, and then he tries to organize classes with independent trainers.

He said he is not affiliated with organizations such as the Canadian Red Cross or St. John Ambulance, but said he tries whenever possible to use independent trainers who have been certified by one of these organizations.

He said any confusion is because his business model is new and a "paradigm shift."

Tyo invited CBC News to attend one of his sessions at a Riverside Drive Church. But the instructor, David Grant, was unaware of our plans to attend and did not want to be recorded.

Grant recently worked for another training company but said his contract was terminated and his credentials revoked. He said he doesn't know why he was let go and said his students continue to give him good reviews.

Tyo initially stood by Grant, saying he had been teaching for the Community CPR project for many years. 

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Richard Tyo said he's aware of his company's poor reputation.

But hours later he called CBC News to say that while he feels Grant is a talented instructor, he's decided to suspend him until Grant can get his credentials sorted out.

Video of sales pitch

After CBC News aired the story of Gauthier's complaint, a woman who asked not to be identified told us she had a meeting in her home last year with a representative of the Community CPR Project that made her suspicious. She recorded the meeting on video.

In the video, a man who identified himself as Serge told her she could get training through him with one of any of a number of organizations, including the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, the Red Cross, the Life Saving Society or St. John Ambulance.

Tyo admitted on Friday that he was the man in the video, and said he could have been clearer that he was not directly affiliated with the accredited organizations, but said when people go to a class, any confusion over his organization is usually cleared up.

Red flags to watch for

Micheline Turnau, a representative with the Heart and Stroke Foundation, said people should also watch for red flags that a salesperson may not be working for the organization they claim to represent.

Turnau said to watch out for salespeople who:

  • Demand money up front before a service is delivered.
  • Don't have the promotional material of the group they claim to represent.
  • Claim to represent multiple organizations, or don't know which organization they represent.
  • Give out a phone number that no one answers or is a wrong number.
  • Give out the URL of a website which looks more like a blog than a legitimate organization's website.

Tyo said using different names is "common business practice" for a small business and said he uses Serge Leduc for public relations, and also another name, Benoit Tremblay, when he is on the road.

"It truly is something I am doing to help me out with the business," said Tyo.

'Family Emergency Trainers Association' questioned

People who CBC News spoke with also complained that Tyo is misrepresenting the accreditation of his organization.

Tyo said he gives his students a card saying they've completed the course, one that states the course is "supervised by the Family Emergency Trainers Association."

In one letter to a prospective customer from January 2013, Tyo also insisted his courses had proper instruction.

"We deal exclusively with the Family Emergency Trainers Association and they assure us that the instructors are only certified from the best instructors (sic) agencies out there," he wrote.

The Family Emergency Trainers Association, or FETA, has no known listing, but the certification card Tyo issues lists a phone number for the organization. The number is Tyo's home phone number.

Tyo said FETA is his own organization, and said he doesn't hide this fact.

"It's a little bit like St. John's certificate leads to St. John Ambulance, Red Cross leads to Red Cross, every agency does their own certificate program," said Tyo.

Tyo insists he will continue

While Tyo said he has been in operation for 22 years, Community CPR Project is only the latest incarnation.

The Ottawa BBB also notes Tyo had previously owned two similar companies — Educational Partners Association and Canadian Council for Family Safety — that consumers had alleged followed a similar pattern of charging for classes that were repeatedly cancelled.

As the head of an earlier company, Globovision Marketing & Management, Tyo was also fined more than $100,000 by Quebec's consumer protection office for receiving money before performing a good or service.

Tyo said police have investigated him a number of times, but said they have never pressed charges because he is not doing anything illegal.

Ottawa police spokesman Const. Marc Soucy confirmed they have never charged Tyo with a criminal offence.

Tyo said his past mistakes are behind him now, and said that after speaking with his family, he vows to keep going despite criticisms.