British Columbia·CBC Investigates

Former students sue Surrey college, allege they were 'misled' by police foundations course

A “police foundations” program offered by the Discovery Community College is under fire by three former students, who are suing to get tens of thousands of dollars in tuition returned.

Discovery Community College says complaints over $20,000 program ‘are without foundation’

Discovery Community College's Surrey campus, located in a mini-mall on King George Boulevard, is being sued by three ex-students of its Police Foundations program. (Eric Rankin, CBC)

Three former students of a private B.C. career college in Surrey are claiming they were "misled" and "duped" into believing a police foundations course would lead to "a rewarding career in police services."

They're suing Discovery Community College, which offers the program, to recover tens of thousands of dollars in tuition.

The college charges $20,000 for the 60-week program.

The three students allege they contacted multiple law enforcement agencies, and "all of them denied any kind of…acceptance of this program," according to one of the lawsuits.

CBC News has learned the province's Ministry of Advanced Education is reviewing the course, and two ex-instructors — retired veteran police officers — say they have quit due to their concerns over the program.

The only certification students receive upon graduation is for "Basic Security Training" (BST), which is taught in the first 40 hours of the course and can be obtained online through the Justice Institute of B.C. for just over $350.

A BST certificate entitles the holder to apply to become a security guard.

Ex-students demand refunds

The students, Gauravindra Sharma, Salwan Salman and Gurleen Walia, have launched small claims actions against Discovery Community College (DCC).

Walia, 22, alleges she "was misled about DCC's B.C. police foundations program as I was assured…this program would qualify me to become a police officer."

Sharma, 35, claims he was "misled and duped" into believing the program "was accredited by law enforcement agencies."

And Salman, 22, alleges he, too, was told the "program was accredited," but that was a "misrepresentation."

Gauravindra Sharma, 35, alleges in his small claims action he was 'misled and duped' into taking the $20,000 course. (Martin Diotte, CBC)

The college website claims its Police Foundations graduates "leave school ready to pursue career opportunities in a wide variety of environments, including Municipal Police services, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Correctional Services, Border Security…and more."

In interviews with the CBC, the students say they each attended classes for three months, before quitting in July.

By then they had paid half their tuition, mostly through student loans, but say the college told them they would only get a partial refund under their enrolment contract.

They're each seeking full refunds averaging $10,000. 

None of the allegations has been proven in court.

'Complaints...without foundation': college

In a statement to CBC News, DCC's director of education, Patrick Kelly, says "we have investigated the complaints and believe they are without foundation.

"As the name of the program indicates, the PF (police foundations) program is a foundation program," writes Kelly. He says while the college doesn't grant degrees, "the PF program is nonetheless the kind of post-secondary training that can be taken into account by law enforcement agencies…to improve a candidate's application."

In legal responses to the three small claims actions, the college "denies it made the representations alleged" by both Sharma and Salman, and "denies that it misled" Walia.

"(The college) does not represent that the program will meet any specific pre-requisites for any particular position," states the legal defence. It also claims the students signed up, knowing it was up to them to ensure they were able to meet job requirements.

DCC insists under their contract, the students must pay half the course fee.

Province reviewing college program

Meanwhile, the provincial ministry that regulates private training institutions in B.C. is investigating a student complaint filed over the police foundations program.

"The ministry is reviewing the findings from a recent inspection," says Melanie Mark, B.C.'s Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Training.

Mark says the college will have a chance to respond, which "will determine next steps."

"No student should be misled and complaints are taken very seriously," says Mark.

Retired police officers Curtis Robinson and Patricia Yendrys say they quit teaching the Police Foundations program because they grew concerned over what students were telling them. (Martin Diotte, CBC)

In an email to the CBC, Discovery College says the ministry conducts inspections of private institutions "from time to time and we are very comfortable with this process."

'It broke my heart': ex-instructor Patricia Yendrys

Two former instructors of the police foundations course say they quit teaching the program, because they were concerned over what students were telling them.

"These guys wanted to be RCMP, VPD, Corrections, and I realized 'what are they telling you when you joined?'" says Patricia Yendrys, a retired 31-year-veteran of the RCMP. "It broke my heart."

Her concerns are echoed by Curtis Robinson, who retired as a sergeant with the Vancouver Police Department after 28 years. "It was very clear that some of these kids were simply never going to be considered for a job in policing," he says.

Both say they eventually resigned for "moral and ethical reasons," and believe the program should be shut down and revamped. 

Changes web page

Over the past few months, DCC has been changing its web page promoting the police foundations course.

Until the beginning of October, the main photo featured a uniformed male sporting police badges and shoulder flashes, under the headline: "Get the Skills to be a Law Enforcement Professional."

Now, the image has been replaced by a stock shot of smiling students.

A screen capture of a June 4 Facebook ad shows the claim of '98.46%' job placement within one year for graduates of the BC Police Foundations program. (Supplied)

Another earlier version of the web page had a sub-heading, "Getting Hired: Over 98% Job Placement".

That claim, now deleted, was repeated in a Facebook ad from the college as recently as June, according to a screen capture supplied to the CBC.

The college now admits that was an "error", and it wasn't aware the percentage was being used "in the advertising created by our social media vendor."

Patrick Kelly says, "98.46 per cent is the percentage of graduates from all DCC programs in 2016 who were employed following graduation."

The college did not supply the correct percentage for the police foundations course, but says within one year graduates have found work in related fields, including "Sheriff services, the RCMP, Canada Border Services, community policing…airport security," as well as "private security firms."

'Policing was one of my dreams'

The students suing the college say their dreams of becoming law enforcement officers will be dashed if they don't get their money back.

"Policing was one of my dreams when I was a child," says Salman, who came to Canada as an Iraqi refugee in 2013.

"I couldn't make it (happen) in my country. So I decided to do it here. And serve this country and serve other people," says Salman.

"And after all this, I was just shocked."

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.