Great Glasses affidavits not true: franchisees

Chelcia Pratt, owner of two Toronto-area franchises, alleges she, too, was instructed by Bergez that if she didn't co-operate by signing the 2009 affidavit, she would lose her stores. Pratt alleges in her new affidavit that she was "under pressure by Mr. Bergez and Gowlings to sign it" but when she met with Devine, she had trouble understanding what was happening "and whether Gowlings was protecting my interests."

The Hamilton Spectator
August 20, 2010

Great Glasses affidavits not true: franchisees

Great_Classes_Bruce_Bergez.jpeg

Bergez Hamilton Spectator Photo

Several Great Glasses franchise owners are alleging in new court documents that they were instructed to sign untrue affidavits under oath last year as part of ongoing legal proceedings between the "3-for-1" eyewear chain and regulatory agencies.

Some of the franchise owners claim they signed the sworn statements in 2009 against their will and, sometimes, with no knowledge of what they were signing.

Some of the franchisees also allege they were threatened by Great Glasses founder Bruce Bergez with the loss of their stores if they didn't sign the affidavits as presented.

The startling allegations are contained in a court report filed Wednesday by accounting firm Deloitte & Touche, the court-appointed receiver that has been looking into certain issues related to the Great Glasses chain since July 2.

Bergez did not respond to requests seeking his responses to the allegations.

On Monday, Bergez and his wife, Joanne, will be in Hamilton court for sentencing after being found guilty of criminal contempt for flagrantly defying a number of court orders for the past seven years.

Ontario's Ministry of the Attorney General, College of Optometrists and College of Opticians are jointly recommending Bergez and his wife be imprisoned for two years and one year respectively.

Bergez, his wife and their companies have accumulated millions of dollars in fines for not being in compliance with Ontario legislation governing the prescribing and dispensing of eyeglasses and contact lenses since 2003.

In November 2006, the colleges for optometrists and opticians began new legal action against the individual operators of Great Glasses stores in an effort to also force the franchisees to comply with Ontario legislation.

In 2009, affidavits were filed on behalf of the franchisees in response to the colleges' court action.

The affidavits were intended to convince the court that the franchisees weren't the owners of the individual stores, suggesting instead that Bruce Bergez and his companies were the responsible parties for the franchises.

But a number of franchise owners have now sworn new affidavits before the receiver claiming that their 2009 statements were untrue.

The franchisees allege Bruce Bergez and a lawyer for Hamilton's Gowlings office were responsible for the wording of the 2009 affidavits.

Anna Mifsud, owner of the Brampton Great Glasses store, alleges in her affidavit to the receiver that she and other franchisees were told in March 2009 to go to the Gowlings office in Hamilton to meet with Heather Devine, a lawyer who was representing Bruce Bergez at the time.

The franchisees were presented with an affidavit to sign, Mifsud alleges.

"All the franchise owners that attended the meeting with me objected to the wording of the affidavit because it did not reflect that we were franchise owners," Mifsud's affidavit alleges.

"The affidavit also gave the impression that we had no control over our own stores and contained a lot of other technical information that the franchisees did not understand.

"As a result, we did not want to sign the affidavit," she stated.

According to Mifsud's new affidavit, Devine told the franchise owners that their sworn statements were "strategic, technical and boilerplate," and the lawyer also said that the affidavits "would be sealed in the vault and most likely not used at all, without the franchisees' permission."

"I therefore signed the affidavit without really understanding what I was signing or what it was going to be used for," Mifsud alleges.

Mifsud stated she was upset to learn recently from a new lawyer she retained that her 2009 affidavit had indeed been filed in court by Gowlings "without my permission or knowledge."

Devine did not respond to several requests yesterday seeking her responses to the allegations.

Bill Duncan, franchise owner for the Brantford and London Great Glasses stores, alleges Devine drafted the 2009 affidavits and Bergez told him they were "strategically worded" to protect the franchisees from the colleges' "scare tactics."

According to Duncan's new affidavit, the lawyer indicated the affidavits would either not be submitted at all or "they may be submitted with the content blacked out showing only the names and signatures."

"I would not sign anything saying I was not a franchisee," Duncan alleges, "however, Mr. Bergez convinced me that signing a document saying I am not the 'directing mind' of the location was the truth since the courts had already declared Mr. Bergez to be the 'directing mind' of all the Great Glasses."

Ashtar Abdulqader, owner of the Dundas franchise, alleges she refused to sign the 2009 affidavit because it contained inaccurate information. She then contacted Bergez and raised her concerns with him.

"He told me to sign the affidavit and that if I did not, he would terminate the franchise agreement and kick me out of my store, which would have resulted in my financial ruin," Abdulqader alleges in her new affidavit.

"As a result, I proceeded to sign the affidavit."

Chelcia Pratt, owner of two Toronto-area franchises, alleges she, too, was instructed by Bergez that if she didn't co-operate by signing the 2009 affidavit, she would lose her stores.

Pratt alleges in her new affidavit that she was "under pressure by Mr. Bergez and Gowlings to sign it" but when she met with Devine, she had trouble understanding what was happening "and whether Gowlings was protecting my interests."

Pratt alleges that the 2009 affidavit was drafted with information from someone else and the affidavit wasn't even read to her. She was merely presented with the last page and told to sign it.

"Nothing in it at that time was explained or read to me," Pratt alleges.

It was only when she retained a new lawyer who took her through the original affidavit that she realized she had signed a document stating she wasn't the owner of her stores.

"These are not my statements and as I have attested these were pre-drafted paragraphs that I was told were strategic, technical and boilerplate for all operators," Pratt now alleges.

"I never gave this information to Gowlings, was not privy to it and have no knowledge of it."

A senior representative of the Gowlings firm in Hamilton did not respond to a request for comment yesterday.

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