British Columbia

B.C. career college cited for 'false or misleading' advertising of police course

Discovery Community College has had its knuckles rapped by the province for “false or misleading” advertising of its police foundations program— a $20,000 course the college says gives students “the skills to pursue a career as a law enforcement professional.”

Discovery Community College doesn’t ‘believe that anyone has actually been misled,’ but settles two lawsuits

Discovery Community College offers a police foundations program at three of its seven campuses across B.C., including this one located in a Surrey mini-mall. (Eric Rankin, CBC)

Update: On May 10, Discovery Community College (DCC) settled with the third former student to launch a small claims action over the Police Foundations course. Gurleen Walia had sought a full refund of the $7,000 payment she made towards the $20,000 program. DCC says the terms of the settlement are confidential. In addition, Walia also accepted $2,500 offered from the Student Tuition Protection Fund after it determined she had been misled by the college.

Discovery Community College has had its knuckles rapped by the province for "false or misleading" advertising of its police foundations program — a $20,000 course the college website says gives students "the skills to pursue a career as a law enforcement professional."

Some ex-students launched lawsuits in October alleging the value of the course was "misrepresented" and that they were "misled" into signing up.

Now an investigation by the Private Training Institutions Branch (PTIB), part of the B.C. Ministry of Advanced Education, has found the college contravened a section of the Private Training Act that prohibits "advertising or … representation that is false, deceptive or misleading."

A separate review by the trustee of the province's Student Tuition Protection Fund also found a former student of the program was "misled" by Discovery Community College (DCC).

That student, Gurleen Walia, is delighted with the findings.

"This will raise awareness for anyone wanting to join the police program [to] know what they are getting into," says Walia.

DCC offers the 54-week program at three of its campuses located in mini-malls in Surrey, Nanaimo and Campbell River.

In this October 2018 photo, Discovery Community College promotes its police foundations program in a sign outside its Surrey office. (Eric Rankin, CBC)

Ministry 'directed the college to make changes'

The ministry says it doesn't release specific compliance orders due to the potential economic harm to the businesses involved, but states it "directed the college to make a number of changes related to their advertising of the police foundation program."

It notes DCC acted before the formal compliance order could be issued, so the ministry "considers the contravention to be remedied."

Discovery Community College says it doesn't believe it misled anyone — but has made changes to its promotional material to end "potential confusion" over the course.

Students alleged they were 'misled,' 'duped'

The finding of false or misleading advertising comes after three former students filed small claims lawsuits last fall, alleging they were "misled" and "duped" into entering the police foundations program.

They claimed the college promised them "a rewarding career in police services" upon completion of the course, but the students contacted multiple law enforcement agencies and alleged "all of them denied any kind of … acceptance of this program."

The only certification students receive upon graduation is for basic security training which can be obtained online through the Justice Institute of B.C. for just over $350.

It entitles the holder to apply to become a security guard.

The career college claims the vast majority of its graduates find work. (Eric Rankin, CBC)

In late October, DCC said it believed the complaints were without foundation and filed legal responses denying "it made the representations alleged."

But the college has now reached settlements with two of the three ex-students saying the terms are confidential.

'It was not easy to pay what they took from me'

Walia, 23, is the third former enrollee to challenge the college and still has an outstanding small claim.

She wants to recover the $7,000 payment she made towards the $20,000 program before she quit last year. She has already won a partial victory from the Private Training Institutions Branch which awarded her a $2,500 refund.

"The Trustee of the Student Tuition Protection Fund has determined, after a review of … your complaint, you were misled by Discovery Community College," writes the branch.

The trustee found Walia had received some benefit from her studies, hence the partial refund.

But she has refused to accept the money, instead pressing on with her lawsuit against the college.

"I'm very determined," says Walia. "I feel like I should be getting that back, because it was not easy to pay what they took from me."

"I want the full amount, a full refund, not a partial."

Walia's allegations have yet to proven in court.

'We do not believe anyone ... has been misled' 

Despite both rulings, a college spokesperson downplays the findings.

"Although we do not believe that anyone has actually been misled about the [police foundations] program, when the issue was raised last year, we undertook a review of our material to ensure that there was no potential for confusion on anyone's part," writes Krista Livingston Clark in an email to the CBC.

"[The] PTIB did not order us to take any specific action, as it stated that the contravention … has been remedied," says Livingston Clark.

Discovery Community College has now revamped the promises made on its police foundations recruitment web page.

It added a new section marked with asterisks stating "completion of this program does not guarantee entry into any law enforcement or regulatory enforcement profession."

About the Author

Eric Rankin

Investigative journalist

Eric Rankin is an award-winning CBC reporter. His honours include the 2018 Canadian Screen Award for Best Local Reportage, the 2017 and 2015 RTDNA awards for Best In-depth/Investigative Reporting, and the 2009 Jack Webster award for Best News Reporting.

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