Nfld. & Labrador

St. John's lawyer seeks class-action suit over refunds owed to families after school trips cancelled

Thousands of people from over 125 schools across the country are looking for their money back after school trips were cancelled amid the pandemic.

7 schools in N.L. affected by hold on refunds which could amount to $500,000

Grace Dawson, left, and her mother, Renee Dawson, are still waiting for a full reimbursement after a school trip to New York City was cancelled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

Grace Dawson was looking forward to making memories with her friends on what should have been a once-in-a-lifetime school trip from St. John's to New York City.

But the COVID-19 pandemic had other plans, cancelling hundreds of trips like Grace's across the country as a result of border closures and a growing number of cases throughout the United States which now has the world's largest caseload at over seven million.

"We had a lot of stuff on the itinerary. Some sightseeing, some Broadway shows," Grace told CBC News on Friday. 

"Of course I was really sad, but I understand with the pandemic that we had to cancel."

Her trip totalled about $2,500 — money she had saved with the addition of a few dollars happily donated by her mom, who knows the value of vacation with friends. 

"I think they would have had a really good time," said Renee Dawson, Grace's mother. "Much more than with their mom and dad."

But with trips now cancelled, parents and students alike are looking for their money back. 

Lawyer Travis Payne says he is moving ahead with a national class-action lawsuit, as thousands of people have been left without refunds from cancelled school trips booked through Explorica Canada. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

Renee Dawson said she knew they would get their money back, after officially cancelling the trip 51 days ahead of time, but they received only a portion of the total — around $600.

"Some of us had insurance, some of us didn't. We were told and we understood that what wasn't given back to us by Explorica, the travel company, would be covered by the insurance company," Renee Dawson said. 

Explorica Canada, based in Toronto, provides a trip-booking service for teachers and schools to plan educational vacations for groups of students to cities around the globe.

On its website, the company said it has fulfilled its refund obligations to families, and the rest remains on the shoulders of the insurance companies. 

Legal action

Thousands of people across the country are also looking for their money back.

Travis Payne, a lawyer with Curtis Dawe Lawyers, which represents some of the complainants, told CBC News he sent a letter to Explorica Canada and its insurers, Arch Insurance Canada and Old Republic Insurance Company of Canada, giving them a week to respond to the missing refunds and avoid litigation.

Payne sent the letter on behalf of the members of the Facebook group Explorica Canada-Trying to get our Refunds.

The membership of the group has doubled in size, to 960 members, since CBC News first reported unreturned money related to cancelled Explorica trips last week.

Payne's deadline passed Friday, and he said he's moving forward with a national class-action lawsuit. He said there is more than $500,000 in estimated refunds for students from seven schools in Newfoundland and Labrador, with more than 125 schools involved across Canada.

"We're still running the numbers, but [it's] easily in the thousands of people without money," said Payne, who estimated $8 million to $12 million is owed in refunds across the country.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Anthony Germain