Movers ordered to pay $25K for 'unconscionable and extortionate' treatment of family

For eight months, a moving truck filled with the Lawlor family’s belongings was held hostage by Vancouver's Galaxy Mobile Storage. If they wanted it back, they were told, they’d need to pay nearly $3,000.

Galaxy Mobile Storage engages in 'unsavoury and manipulative business practices,' B.C. judge says

Several Rubbermaid containers belonging to the Lawlors were crushed in the move. (Submitted)

For eight months, a moving truck filled with the Lawlor family's belongings was held hostage by Vancouver's Galaxy Mobile Storage. If they wanted it back, they were told, they'd need to pay nearly $3,000.

When the truckload was finally returned to Jillian and Declan Lawlor, it was only because of an order from a B.C. judge. By then, several pieces of the family's furniture and a pair of valuable paintings had been damaged or destroyed, and their electronics were missing.

Galaxy refused to take responsibility, and manager Sean Giesbrecht told the West Vancouver family their stuff was junk to begin with, repeatedly calling them "hoarders," according to court documents.

The Lawlors finally got some satisfaction this month, when a judge ordered Galaxy, Giesbrecht and the company's director, Gillian Epp, to pay the family $25,132 in damages, including $4,500 for punitive damages.

"I have found the defendants to have engaged in unconscionable and extortionate business practices by detaining the claimant's possessions in bad faith for the purpose of extracting excessive compensation. I find they destroyed and damaged the claimant's property intentionally," provincial court Judge Joanne Challenger wrote in a Dec. 6 judgment.

The judge said Epp and Giesbrecht, competitive poker players who are also life partners, should be held personally liable for what happened.

A representative for Galaxy said the company plans to appeal the decision.

Demands for immediate payment

The Lawlors' saga began in July 2016, when Jillian Lawlor contacted Galaxy about moving her family's belongings to a storage facility while they waited to take possession of their new home. She was told the move would take just one day, according to the judgment.

Instead, the movers arrived late on moving day, July 26, one worker quit part way through, and the job couldn't be completed. The next day, the movers showed up late again, and when the loaded truck finally made it to the storage facility, a Galaxy representative named "Mike" called the Lawlors and demanded $2,546 for the stuff to be unloaded.

That was well above Galaxy's quote for the move, but the Lawlors transferred the money, according to the judgment.

This dresser was also badly damaged. (Submitted)

Their problems didn't end there, though. "Mike" — or more likely Giesbrecht, according to the judge — said they'd taken too long with the payment and demanded another $325. When the Lawlors didn't respond within 20 minutes, Giesbrecht told the movers to leave the storage facility without unloading the truck.

The Lawlors filed suit in small claims court the next day. A month later, Galaxy emailed the Lawlors to let them know they owed an outstanding balance of close to $3,000 — plus storage and interest fees.

The badly damaged property was finally returned on March 10, 2017, after a settlement conference.

In her judgment, Challenger calculated the damage to the Lawlors' property at more than $18,500. She said the entire move should have taken one day and cost just $1,138.

'Manipulative business practices'

Challenger also had harsh words for the business practices of Giesbrecht and Epp.

Giesbrecht told the court that he and Epp run a reputable, reliable moving business.

But, the judge wrote, "I do not accept this to be true."

This mirror was smashed by the time Galaxy Mobile Storage returned it to the Lawlor family. (Submitted)

For one thing, there's the seemingly simple matter of Giesbrecht's name. He also goes by Sean Carfrae and sometimes uses the first name Courtney. He admitted in court that he uses different names on his driver's licence, social insurance card and with the Vital Statistics Agency.

He told the court he operates "around 20" websites with different business names that all funnel moving clients to him. Galaxy advertises an address on Kingsway, but there's no office at that location — just a mailbox inside a Money Mart. The company has no employees and no account with WorkSafeBC, and it depends on sub-contractors for labour.

"I suspect that Mr. Giesbrecht and Ms. Epp have engaged in this conduct to shield themselves from being held accountable for unsavoury and manipulative business practices," Challenger wrote.

Galaxy has a C- rating with the Better Business Bureau for failing to respond to complaints.

The company has been the subject of numerous small claims over the years, including one in which an antique grand piano suffered $14,000 in damage during a move. The owner had paid for insurance, but none was provided, according to court documents.

The company's conduct has also landed it in hot water on a much larger stage.

Two years ago, Galaxy agreed to pay more than $187,000 to the Vancouver Canucks for breaching a sponsorship agreement with the team. A Canucks spokesperson said Wednesday that Galaxy has yet to make a single payment on the agreed amount.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.