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Woman ‘really devastated’ after shelling out $5K for plane tickets she never got

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On the afternoon Andrea Mendez was supposed to fly to Colombia with her family, she went to a police station to file a complaint about her travel agent instead.

“I was really devastated,” Mendez said in a phone interview. “It was a huge investment for us.”

The mother of three, who lives in Mississauga, Ont., had bought plane tickets from travel agent Libia Guerra for six of her family members to visit relatives in Colombia over the Christmas holidays.

Police and Ontario’s travel regulator both confirm they are investigating Guerra following multiple complaints.

The Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO) warned people on Dec. 21 that Guerra and her company, Representaciones Neward, were not registered to do business in Ontario.

“We heard from a number of consumers that had purchased services and did not receive those services,” Dorian Werda, a vice-president for TICO, said in a phone interview.

Libia Guerra, seen in a video on YouTube, interviewed about her company, Representaciones Neward. (Hey Latino TV)

She said among those complainants were people who had booked trips for large groups planning to travel over the Christmas holidays.

In Mendez’s case, she said everything seemed fine at first, with the flight information sent by email after she booked the trip in May 2018.

But in the following months, when she made followup requests, like reserving seats so her family would be seated together, she started to worry.

“Every time I tried to contact [Guerra], she always was saying: ‘Everything is ready, everything is ready,'” Mendez said, but then she never received any confirmation details.

Finally, a day before her Christmas vacation flights were scheduled to leave, she spoke to Guerra on the phone.

“She said, ‘No, you’re not flying tomorrow,'” Mendez told CBC Toronto.

Mendez said she double checked with Air Canada, which told her she had no seats on the flights.

The airline’s information showed tickets had been purchased in May 2018, but were cancelled weeks later.

TICO, Ontario’s travel regulator, sent out this alert about Guerra on Dec. 21. (www.tico.ca)

Peel Regional Police said its fraud unit is investigating Guerra after it first received complaints in November 2018, with more the following month.

For people who may be worried about their travel agent, TICO directs them to its website to verify whether a travel company is registered. A search feature allows people to look up a company using its name, address or phone number.

Guerra agreed to an interview with CBC News to explain her side of the story, but cancelled citing medical concerns.

Alleged victims are sharing their stories

Mendez posted about her experience on Facebook and then heard from others, all members of the Latin American community who had similar experiences.

She’s now part of a message group with other alleged victims.

CBC News has seen photos of a cheque posted by one of them. It’s from Guerra, and in the subject line reads “Refund Punta Cana.”

However, the photo shows the cheque bounced due to insufficient funds.

Mendez and her large extended family, pictured here in Colombia over the Christmas holidays. She says the flights she had to rebook cost $12,000 for six people. (Submitted by Andrea Mendez)

Mendez said she and her family managed to travel to Colombia over Christmas, buying last-minute flights elsewhere that cost $12,000 for six tickets, on top of the nearly $5,000 they had already paid Guerra.

She’s doubtful she’ll ever get her money back, but worries about her personal information, since she sent passport numbers for her and her family to Guerra.

Mendez is also frustrated as she first heard about Guerra through a friend in the Latin American community.

“This shouldn’t be happening,” said Mendez. “She’s targeting Spanish speakers … and it’s hurting the community.”

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Ottawa unveils funding for poultry and egg farmers hurt by free-trade deals

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Canadian egg and poultry farmers who’ve lost domestic market share due to two recent free-trade agreements will soon have access to $691 million in federal cash, Canada’s agriculture minister announced Saturday.

Marie-Claude Bibeau shared details of the long-awaited funds in a virtual news conference.

“Today we position our young farmers for growth and success tomorrow,” she said.

The money follows a previously announced $1.75 billion for the dairy sector linked to free-trade deals with Europe and countries on the Pacific Rim, one that came into effect in 2017 and the other in 2018.

The dairy sector funds were to flow over eight years, and the first $345 million payment was sent out last year.

But on Saturday, Bibeau announced a schedule for the remaining payments that will see the money flow over three years — beginning with $468 million in 2020-21, $469 million in 2021-22 and $468 million in 2022-23.

Bibeau said the most recently announced funds for dairy farmers amount to an average farm of 80 cows receiving a direct payment of $38,000 in the first year.

Payments based on formulas

David Wiens, vice-president of the Dairy Farmers of Canada, said the money will help farms make investments for the future.

“I think particularly for the younger farmers who have really struggled since these agreements have been ratified, they can actually now see opportunities, how they can continue to make those investments on the farm so that they can continue on,” he said.

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Employee of Ottawa Metro store tests positive for COVID-19

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Metro says an employee of its grocery store on Beechwood Avenue in Ottawa has tested positive for COVID-19.

The company says the employee’s positive test result was reported on Nov. 25. The employee had last been at work at the Metro at 50 Beechwood Ave. on Nov. 19.

Earlier this month, Metro reported several cases of COVID-19 at its warehouse on Old Innes Road.

Positive test results were reported on Nov. 2, Nov. 6, Nov. 11, and Nov. 19. The first two employees worked at the produce warehouse at 1184 Old Innes Rd. The other two worked at the distribution centre at the same address.

Metro lists cases of COVID-19 in employees of its stores and warehouses on its website

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Tinseltown: Where 50-year-old ‘tough guys’ become youngsters again

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Audy Czigler wears glitter like a Pennsylvania miner wears coal dust. It’s on his face and hands, in his hair and on his clothing. It’s an occupational hazard that he says he just can’t get rid of.

And when he’s sifting through job applications from people wanting to work at his Tinseltown Christmas Emporium on Somerset Street W. in Hintonburg, the glitter is a consideration. For he’s not looking for people who can simply endure it; no, he’s screening for people who revel and carouse in glitter, for those for whom the 10,000th playing of I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus is as refreshing as the first, for those who believe that the 12 days of Christmas last 365 days a year. The believers.

Sure, he has heard the voices of skeptical passersby on the sidewalk outside his shop, especially in the summer months when visions of sugarplums have receded from many people’s minds.

“I hear them out there a few times a day,” he says, “wondering how a Christmas store can possibly survive year-round.

“I want to go out and tell them,” he adds, but his voice trails off as a customer approaches and asks about an ornament she saw there recently, of a red cardinal in a white heart. Where is it?

There’s scant room for sidewalk skeptics now, crowded out by the dozens of shoppers who, since October, have regularly lined up outside the store, patiently biding their time (and flocks) as pandemic-induced regulations limit the shop to 18 customers at a time.

Once inside, visitors will be forgiven for not first noticing the glitter, or even the rendition of Baby, It’s Cold Outside playing on the speakers. For there’s no specific “first thing” you notice. The first thing you notice is EVERYTHING — a floor-to-ceiling cornucopia of festivity, reminiscent perhaps of how the blind man in the Gospel of John may have felt when Jesus rubbed spit and mud in his eyes and gave him sight for the first time.

https://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/tinseltown-where-50-year-old-tough-guys-become-youngsters-again

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