The college originally sued Mark Brand Inc. (MBI) in September 2015, claiming the Save On Meats operator failed to provide an accounting of how more than $300,000 in funding was used on the project, which also received funding from the City of Vancouver.
On February 23, VCC secured a default judgment against the company for damages and costs “to be assessed.” The judgment notes that Mark Brand Inc. failed to respond to the college’s lawsuit in time. The deadline to respond was October 2, 2015, but the company wanted the matter settled out of court and did “not intend to file a response until [it is] certain that cannot be achieved,” wrote Ash MacLeod, the company’s managing director, in a letter to VCC’s lawyer, R. Barry Fraser.
According to court documents, Fraser, who did not respond to requests for comment on this story, told MacLeod that the college wouldn’t seek a default judgment if a response was filed in BC Supreme Court by October 9, 2015, which did not happen. In a phone interview last month, owner Mark Brand said the default judgment was “news to [his company], unfortunately.”
“We have not been served with any such documents.”
Brand added that his company was working with other partners in the project, including the City of Vancouver, up until December 2015. He said his company was working toward a mediated solution that would avoid unnecessary legal costs.
“We weren’t sure what was going on and we were just hoping that they were going to get back to us and get back to the table and continue their commitments.”
Brand said he was “advised by multiple people” that not responding to the lawsuit was acceptable because he believed all the partners were still working for an out-of-court solution to the dispute. But, he said, the company would “fight it to the letter of the law.”
“The money went directly into the budget, which is now overrun by over a quarter-million dollars because the rest of VCC’s responsibilities of supplying students to help us offset our costs were not able to be met,” Brand said. “We have documentation to back the entire thing up.”
The company applied to set aside the judgment on March 31, stating that it was unaware of it “until March 17, 2016, when Mr. Brand was contacted by a reporter who wanted him to comment on the lawsuit.”
The application states that Brand last met with representatives of VCC and the City of Vancouver in July 2015, and “although MBI had not been able to obtain receipts from all of the suppliers of the incubator kitchen,” city officials, including deputy city manager Sadhu Johnston and social policy managing director Mary Clare Zak, and VCC vice-president Irene Young “were pleased with the progress MBI had made.”
For its part, the City of Vancouver said in an emailed statement that it doesn’t share VCC’s concerns.
“The city’s $100,000 contributed towards the purchase and installation of kitchen equipment to provide free or low-cost access to commercial kitchen space to support low-income residents, and food business development,” city communications manager Tobin Postma wrote. “The city is satisfied with how its investment has been spent and believes in the value of having kitchen space available to enable local community groups, social agencies or entrepreneurs to provide low-cost/no cost meals, and to achieve entrepreneurial or social enterprise aims.”
Vancouver Community College, meanwhile, refused to comment on the latest developments.
“As this matter is now before the court, VCC is unable to release additional information or comments at this time,” VCC communications director Karen Wilson wrote.
Mark Brand Inc. is no stranger to legal actions, having faced claims from food supplier Sysco Canada over unpaid invoices totalling more than $300,000, although Brand says the dispute is resolved. The company was also the subject of two writs of seizure and sale in the Federal Court of Canada in May and December 2015 over more than $425,000 in unpaid income and excise taxes.
MacLeod said the company has been paying off the tax debts over the last 18 months and continues to work with the Canada Revenue Agency to resolve the debt.