Ms. Jill Wykes
Travel Industry Council of Ontario
2700 Matheson Boulevard East
Suite 402, West Tower
I am writing to you on behalf of ARTA Canada's Ontario members to express our mutual concerns regarding various statements attributed to you and TICO board member Michael Janigan during the press teleconference conducted by TICO last week in the matter of the One Step Travel independent review.
As you know, the Audit Division of the Ontario Ministry of Finance determined that in the matter of One Step Travel that TICO was not in compliance with its own established policies and procedures dealing with suspension/revocation, audit documentation, inspection and oversight procedures, trust account reconciliations, and the inspection of all of One Step Travel's operations including its two branches.
While TICO may have received an "overall" satisfactory assessment by the Audit Division, particularly regarding consumer and claims handling, the main issue questioned by registrants was whether TICO did enough to monitor, scrutinize, and sanction One Step Travel given the agency's complete disregard for timely financial reporting and working capital compliance.
Having been late in filing its annual financial statements with TICO in each and every year, for all of the ten years in which financial statements were due from One Step Travel, beginning with the year 1996, sometimes 90 days or more late, and in that One Step Travel did not have sufficient working capital in seven of the ten years it reported financial statements; in some years having "negative" working capital (in 2002, One Step was deficient in working capital by $80,000.00 and in 2003, the agency was deficient in working capital by $90,000.00), it is hard for other travel agencies which carefully follow Ontario regulations to understand how One Step Travel was permitted to continue operations without suspension or ultimately revocation of its TICO registration.
That said, two trade press publications have reported the following statement made by you:
"The recommendations that were made [in the Auditors' report] were welcome, but would not have changed the outcome."
Jill, had TICO imposed sanctions on One Step Travel, including suspension or revocation, it would certainly have impacted the permissive climate that TICO itself facilitated and which led up to the closure and fraud at the agency. TICO's lack of sanctions against One Step Travel created an atmosphere of impunity which clearly contributed to the owner's plans to commit the fraud which hit the compensation fund for over $1 million. This is the very same conclusion which the Ontario Court of Justice reached when this matter came to trial.
We have now had two independent assessments, one by the Government of Ontario, and one by the Court, which arrive at the very same conclusion: TICO was remiss in not exercising proper disciplinary procedures and other sanctions, including tighter scrutiny, on One Step Travel.
Your comment borders on a certain presumptuousness, even arrogance, in suggesting that the lessons learned from this review, had they been dutifully applied in this matter, would not have resulted in prevention of this criminal act. It is certainly hard to see how your comment holds any truth given what we now know about One Step Travel and TICO's failures in sanctioning the agency. It is shameful that you are unable to see how much TICO contributed to the circumstances which paved the way for this fraud.
Furthermore, comments attributed to Michael Janigan, a ministerial appointee to the TICO board, were also reported in the press:
"We have a situation where we had a rogue [the owner of One Step Travel], and the rogue absconded with the funds. You can never prevent a fraud with any amount of regulation and monitoring. To a large extent that is why the fund [compensation fund] exists."
The very idea that no amount of monitoring or regulation could have prevented such a fraud is absurd. In fact, had TICO invoked proper sanctions over One Step Travel when it had the chance and good reason to do so, and had TICO followed up with tighter controls and monitoring thereafter, the fraud in 2006 would never have happened, and Ontario travel companies would have been spared a $1 million hit against the fund that they alone finance.
Mr. Janigan, who is a lawyer, may have forgotten that TICO has as much a responsibility to protect the integrity, stability, and application of the compensation fund as it does in protecting consumers. Contrary to his assertion, the fund does not exist to compensate for fraud; it is the last resort to compensate consumers and not a crutch for TICO to rely upon to overcome TICO's missteps in agency scrutiny. It is TICO itself which has a clear duty of care to foster and promote an environment of rigorous financial controls in the Ontario travel marketplace.
If Mr. Janigan does not believe that regulation and diligent monitoring are effective tools in fraud prevention, then he should step down as the regulator's board member. Such a cavalier attitude is an affront to registrants who strive to not only comply with Ontario travel industry regulations, but who are called upon to pay for those travel companies which don't.
ARTA Canada plans to discuss your and Mr. Janigan's comments with the Ministry of Consumer Services. ARTA Canada feels that you and Mr. Janigan have, through your comments, done a disservice to Ontario registrants which, in our view and theirs, expect and deserve more effective leadership from TICO.
Bruce Bishins, CTC
Chief Executive Officer