Unlicensed optician jailed for flouting court orders

“The Great Glasses business, both through the respondent stores and through all of the ‘franchised’ stores, has been structured as a sham for the purpose of evading the law to create an unjust competitive advantage for monetary gain,” Crane concluded in 2006. Crane slapped the Bergezes with a $1 million fine for being in civil contempt of the law. It was the largest such fine in Canadian judicial history. But the Bergezes never paid it.

The Toronto Star
November 25, 2010

Unlicensed optician jailed for flouting court orders
Brett Popplewell

Bruce_Bergez_Great_Glasses.jpeg

Bruce Bergez, seen here arriving at court last summer, has previously been ordered to pay $15.9 million in fines for not complying with court orders. RON ALBERTSON PHOTO

An unlicensed optician who undercut the competition and illegally prescribed eyeglasses to unsuspecting people has been sentenced to jail for civil contempt.

Bruce Bergez, founder of the Great Glasses chain of stores, was sentenced to one year in jail with no chance of parole by a Superior Court judge in Hamilton in early October.

Bergez’s wife and business partner, Joanne, is to be sentenced for her part in the business next year upon her husband’s release.

The Dundas, Ont., couple has also been ordered to pay $15.9 million in fines for not complying with earlier court orders that found they violated the Regulated Health Professions Act.

By law, eyeglasses and contacts must be prescribed by an optometrist or physician, and dispensed by an authorized health professional such as a licensed optician.

Great Glasses — which has 23 locations across the GTA and southern Ontario, and advertises free eye exams and discount glasses — was instead using a diagnostic computer for its eye exams and selling glasses without a proper prescription.

Lawyers for the College of Optometrists of Ontario sent out a news release about the month-old case on Thursday, partly because the licensing body wanted to raise awareness the chain is still in business.

Lawyer Brian Moher has been pursuing Bergez for eight years.

“He was having non-health professionals (analyzing) the eye examinations,” said Moher. “Unfortunately we understand some of them to be high school students dressed up in lab coats.”

Although there was no evidence anyone was ever harmed by the way Great Glasses conducted its business, the Bergezes’ contempt for the court orders was “too bizarre for fiction,” Moher said.

It was that contempt and the failure of millions of dollars in fines to stop the Bergezes from violating the act that led Justice James Turnbull to throw Bruce Bergez in jail.

“The level of defiance in this case is longstanding and is truly extraordinary,” Turnbull said in his decision.

After submitting a long and defiant explanation for why he didn’t think he had broken the law, Bergez told the court: “I gather from the tenor of your comments that we have a serious debt to pay to society.”

Joanne Bergez could not be reached for comment.

In 2003, an Ontario Superior Court justice ordered the Bergezes and their stores to fall into line with the law.

Bruce Bergez later said he misinterpreted that decision, believing he had actually won the case.

Three years later, another Ontario Superior Court justice found that employees at 17 Great Glasses stores were dispensing prescription eyewear unlawfully. Justice David Crane also concluded the Bergezes had established multiple corporate aliases to mask their ownership of the growing chain.

“The Great Glasses business, both through the respondent stores and through all of the ‘franchised’ stores, has been structured as a sham for the purpose of evading the law to create an unjust competitive advantage for monetary gain,” Crane concluded in 2006.

Crane slapped the Bergezes with a $1 million fine for being in civil contempt of the law.

It was the largest such fine in Canadian judicial history. But the Bergezes never paid it.

A year later, another Ontario Superior Court justice ordered that the Bergezes pay $50,000 for every day they were not in compliance with the 2006 fine.

Having been in violation of the Regulated Health Professions Act for 318 days, the Bergezes accrued $15.9 million in fines.

Though a receiver has been appointed to liquidate the Bergezes’ assets, the Great Glasses stores remain open across the GTA.

An employee at the store on York Mills Rd. near Leslie St. said Thursday the store’s management is currently trying to change the name of that location.

With files from the Hamilton Spectator

http://www.thestar.com/news/article/896780--unlicensed-optician-jailed-for-flouting-court-orders


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