By Ryan McGreal
Published September 30, 2010
Sean Gibson, a candidate for Ward 3, has been dogged by controversy over a notice of contravention and a restraining order (PDF links) the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities issued this summer against his business The Ontario Barber Association (website currently offline).
Gibson (see his RTH Election Candidate Page) runs The Barber Centre at 510 Main St. E. in Hamilton, and The Ontario Barber Association, a private career college that provides barber training.
According to the Ministry, the Ontario Barber Association violated Section 38 and Section 11 of the Private Career Colleges Act. Section 38 requires that a private career college displays its certificate of registration conspicuously at the entrance or where it can easily be seen. Section 11 prohibits advertising an unregistered private career college.
According to the notice of restraining order, designates of the Superintendent of Private Career Colleges saw a notice on the Ontario Barber Association website advertising a two-month barbering course. This prompted a visit to the Barber Shop on July 15, 2010, where a sign advertised, "Ontario's first educational facility for barbers."
The notice reads:
Designates of the Superintendent entered the shop and spoke with Sean Gibson, a director of the association. He acknowledged that the education is provided in that shop. Designates of the Superintendent asked about the cost and duration of the program. Mr. Gibson confirmed that the course is 8 weeks in length and costs $3,000.
A follow-up email on July 23 asked Gibson so specify the number of students enrolled since January 2009, the amounts paid by each student for enrollment (including supporting materials), the number of instructional contact hours with each student, the current cost and number of hours, and any other courses being offered.
Gibson replied on July 25 in an email "that intimated he would not be providing any further information to the Ministry."
The Ministry followed up on July 26, and on July 27 Gibson replied again, writing, "While we are teaching barbering at this location 'The Barber Centre' The suggestion that our facility is a Private Careers College is erroneous."
The Ministry sent another email reminding Gibson of the July 27 deadline to provide the requested information and warning that he may be subject to penalties for contravening the Private Career Colleges Act.
Gibson did not provide the information, and the Ministry issued the notice of contravention and notice of restraining order on July 30. Gibson was ordered to pay $2,000 in penalties.
RTH contacted Gibson to ask him for more details on what happened. Gibson agreed to an email interview.
Raise the Hammer (RTH): What was the Ministry's objection to your business?
Sean Gibson (SG): The Ministry does not object to my business as a Barber Shop. The problem that the Ministry has is with me charging students to learn the vocation of Barber. However it's not the fact that I am charging but rather how much. I was told that if I charge under $1,000 and spend less than 40 hours educating students, there is no violation.
Our educational facility has been open since July 2006. Laura Thompson of the Hamilton Spectator wrote an article regarding the opening of the school and the Ministry of Training and Colleges were well aware of the institution at that time. The Ministry actually commented on The Barber Centre in the article. (The Barber Centre is the only institution of its kind in Canada).
If we were in such violation, why weren't we issued the restraining order then? The Ministry answers to complaints made by students (complaint driven), but there were no such complaints made about The Barber Centre. This case was a proactive position that the Superintendent took while surfing the internet looking for violations.
The Ministry came across our facility (The Barber Centre) considering we are the only one in the country. They noticed we were charging $2000 for a 2-month courses; this is not in line with the Act. This matter was brought to my attention after four years, hence I no longer offer a two-month Barber Educational program.
RTH: What communications transpired between you and the Ministry that led to the restraining order?
SG: In early July, Cliff McLeod, an Investigator from the Compliance and Enforcement Unit of the Ministry, walked into my business at 510 Main Street and explained that we were in violation of the Act. Prior to that, we stopped communication with the Ministry around 2003.
I explained to Cliff that we haven't had a student since 2009 and we will no longer be offering the program since he identified we were in violation. This wasn't enough: he requested the names, dates, and personal information of ALL the students and seminars we have ever had. To that I said no, hence the restraining order.
The Government was asking me to divulge personal information with no explanation other than "because we said so." I chose to take the fine and have the restraining order put forward. I felt that this was another tactic to discourage me and our association against our efforts to make headway in the industry.
We used to work and collaborate with the Ministry from 1999-2003 until talks fell apart because the Ministry suggested that the Hairstyling Industry already encompasses barbering. That was the primary reason the Ontario Barber Association was established.
RTH: How did you ultimately respond to the restraining order?
SG: I recognized that through legislation, we were in violation of the Act. This was brought to my attention by Cliff McLeod on the day of his visit. I explained to him we haven't had a student since October 2009 he still found it necessary to put forward the restraining order.
"It's okay to teach for free," said Mr.McLeod. OYAP and the many High Schools we work with benefit from these services. Although we are in business to make profit, it was extremely discouraging to hear such disparaging news. We no longer offer the 2-Month program as of today and the site has been removed and were compliant with the Act.
RTH: Is the Ministry now satisfied with your response?
SG: YES! We are no longer in violation. I really didn't understand why so many people have made such a fuss about this matter. The community has truly suffered in this case and this is another example of how progressive, community building, job prosperity, and youth mentoring, have been SHUT DOWN again...what a shame.
RTH: Do you agree with the Ministry's position?
SG: NO! the Ministry is so wrong on this one.... But we have been fighting since 2003 and were not going to stop now. I believe in my trade, I believe in my city and I can't image to have Canada's ONLY barber institution anywhere else but Hamilton. We are worth fighting for.
RTH: Have you paid the $2,000 fine?
SG: No, I have not paid the $2000 fine. Andrea Horwath's office has been working with us for several years concerning this matter and they are currently helping us address that issue as well.
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