Montreal·CBC Investigates

Stuck in California, this McGill student paid movers to ship his stuff home. 2 years later, it's still missing

When the pandemic struck, Randy Li went to the United States to be with his mother. When the borders closed, he had to vacate his Montreal apartment and that's when his problems started.

Shippers say they can't find any trace of 21 boxes that contained Randy Li's life

Randy Li says he lost high-end clothes, shoes and jewelry when he tried to have his belongings moved from Montreal to California two years ago. (Submitted by Randy Li)

When McGill University suspended classes and exams at the start of the pandemic in March 2020, the break was expected to last only two weeks.

Randy Li decided he'd spend that time in California with his mother.

He packed a suitcase with enough clothes for a few days, not realizing it would be the last time he'd see the rest of his belongings.

"Everything was still left in my apartment," said Li, 26. "My shirts, jackets, shoes, my notes, textbooks, school files, my laptop, my watch, my piano, some jewelry."

Shortly after Li left Montreal, non-essential travel was banned between the United States and Canada, making it impossible for him to return.

With his apartment's lease set to expire, he hired a local mover to pack everything up at the end of May 2020. The boxes were then supposed to be sent to him via an international shipping company.

Li says he provided the moving company, ASAP Moving and Transport, with his mother's credit card number to pay the $1,750 shipping fee.

Randy Li had to leave his apartment in the McGill University student housing complex, evo. (Charles Contant/CBC)

A month went by. Then two.

When his possessions still hadn't shown up by August, Li called the mover.

Li says the company expressed surprise and told him it had no idea what had happened.

Although each of the 21 boxes had a unique tracking code, the shipping company that ASAP had used, Canpar Express, couldn't find any trace of them.

Li says the boxes contained thousands of dollars worth of high-fashion clothing, accessories and jewelry. He also had an expensive collection of footwear, including limited edition Yeezy and NMD sneakers, which are made by Adidas. The priciest pair was worth $1,500.

Li also lost important computer files he needed for school and for job applications.

Besides the expense and inconvenience, Li says many of his belongings had sentimental value.

"It was such a painful experience," he said.

ASAP denies responsibility for Li's lost items and blames Canpar Express, while Canpar told CBC the "situation is between ASAP and their client."

Boxes went to Toronto, then came back

At first, Li hoped his items would be found.

He says he spent hours on the phone and sent numerous emails trying to figure out what had happened.

Initially, it was difficult for him to get information because the sender was listed as ASAP, not Li.

Li also had no proof of how his boxes had been packed, what was inside each box or the condition of the boxes. ASAP had promised to do a Facetime video during the move, but that hadn't happened.

Based on Canpar's tracking information, Li's boxes travelled from Montreal to Toronto. The boxes remained there for three weeks before being returned to ASAP's offices in Montreal at the end of June 2020.

Li said a customs form hadn't been filled out, but he doesn't know if that's what prompted their return.

ASAP said it doesn't know why Li's packages were returned either. It said Canpar's driver showed up unannounced.

The shipping company, Canpar, says it has no trace of Li's belongings. (Charles Contant/CBC)

"They gave zero notice before they came," said ASAP's president, Alex Kostiuk. "No emails, no call, no nothing."

Kostiuk says his manager went outside and saw Li's boxes "strewn" around the back of Canpar's delivery truck.

His manager told the driver there must be a mistake as the boxes were supposed to be on their way to California.

In a three-way phone conversation Li recorded between himself, Canpar and ASAP in January 2021, Kostiuk's manager said ASAP also refused the return because "stuff had been tossed all over the place," and it was worried Li's boxes had been poorly handled.

"No boxes came out of his van," said Kostiuk. "It was just the driver with his paperwork. We refused the return. We didn't understand why they were there."

Kostiuk said they did not let Li know the shipment could be delayed due to the suspected mix-up.

"Personally, I thought it was Canpar who just made a simple error, and they were going to bring it to him," said Kostiuk.

Value of contents not flagged

In the fall of 2020, Canpar exhausted its search for Li's boxes and told him his items were considered lost. It encouraged him to submit a claim through ASAP Moving, which he did, for $43,000.

For months, neither ASAP nor Li received any updates on the claim.

Finally, at the end of March 2021, nearly six months after ASAP had first submitted the claim, Canpar sent ASAP a cheque for $2,400.

The value of the boxes was based on weight, which is common in the moving industry.

Li said he had no idea the value of his belongings would be calculated this way, and if he had, he wouldn't have agreed to it. He refused to accept the cheque and said ASAP did not inform him about insurance when he booked their services.

The tracking ticket from Canpar Express shows Randy Li's boxes remained in Toronto for three weeks before being returned to Montreal. (Submitted by Randy Li)

Li blames the company for what he considers a series of mistakes in the shipping process. He says their explanations and excuses about what happened don't make sense to him. He is also upset the company never went to the police.

"I have never been so pissed off like this in my life, ever," said Li.

Li says he doesn't understand why ASAP chose Canpar to ship his possessions in the first place.

The company has poor online reviews and a failing grade with the Better Business Bureau. Over the past three years, Canpar Express has received dozens of consumer complaints, mostly about delivery problems.

After filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau about ASAP, Li said the mover threatened him with legal action if he didn't remove it.

Kostiuk said he's worked hard to maintain a good reputation in the moving industry and he feels the complaint is unfair.

"Why are you leaving us these negative reviews while we're trying to help you?" said Kostiuk.

Most moves are local, company says

About 90 per cent of ASAP Moving and Transport's business is residential moves around the greater Montreal area, says Kostiuk.

The company rarely does cross-border moves, but Kostiuk says it agreed to because it wanted to help Li out.

ASAP charged Li about $500 for moving services and an additional $195 to weigh and measure the boxes. They then helped him get a quote for shipping with Canpar.

ASAP Moving and Transport denies any responsibility for losing Randy Li's belongings. It claims Canpar Express lost the boxes. (ASAP Moving and Transport/Facebook)

Kostiuk said it chose Canpar because it's a globally recognized company and because it was convenient. Li wanted his items shipped quickly and Canpar was available. Kostiuk says he was not aware of the company's negative reviews until after Li's items went missing. 

On the day of the move, he says, his employees did try to contact Li to do Facetime, but couldn't reach him.

"We didn't take on the role of general contractor," said Kostiuk. "We had this little role where we had billed $195 for this small service, and this has now taken hours and hours of emails and phone calls and leaving messages. It almost seemed to be never-ending."

Although Li was upset at the low amount he was offered for his lost belongings, Kostiuk said insurance details are available on ASAP's website. He said Li never told ASAP he was shipping expensive items until after they went missing.

"We can offer a higher value or full value assurance, but we need to be informed of that at the beginning," he said.

Kostiuk said he understands Li is upset but feels his frustration is misdirected.

"What happened to Mr. Li and his belongings is very unfortunate," said Kostiuk. "I wish it never happened."

Each of the 21 boxes containing Randy Li's belongings had a tracking number, but Canpar Express could not find any of them. (Submitted by Randy Li)

He said ASAP did not mismanage or lose Li's items. Kostiuk blames Canpar and made a complaint about them to the Better Business Bureau.

"They lost this guy's stuff," said Kostiuk. "Their records indicate they were the ones who had it in their possession last."

In a voicemail, Canpar said it had no further comment on this case.

In February, Li sent ASAP a legal demand letter asking for more than $55,000 in damages and an apology.

ASAP also hired a lawyer, who has argued Li's demands are quarrelsome and abusive. 

Research goes a long way

If people are planning a long-distance move, Quebec's Better Business Bureau recommends people do their homework.

Get multiple quotes from different companies and choose a company that does cross-border moves.

Consumers can check with the BBB or the Canadian Association of Movers to see if the business is accredited or check for prior complaints.

ASAP Moving and Transport said it's not a member of the CAM because it hasn't gotten around to it.

If you're looking for a mover, the CAM has a search function on its web site that can provide a list of certified movers in your area.

Many people don't read the fine print when it comes to insurance, but it's important to know ahead of time what is covered and what isn't.

CAM's president, Nancy Irvine, said if you can't be present for the move, have someone else there who can keep an eye on how everything is being packed and can keep an inventory of your belongings. That way, if there's something missing at the end, you have a record.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Leah Hendry is a TV, radio and online journalist with CBC Montreal Investigates. Send tips to montrealinvestigates@cbc.ca.

With files from Steve Rukavina

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