Kusinski will have his day in court

Student claims Western falsely advertised the Trois-Pistoles experience

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Adam Kusinski

Jonas Hrebeniuk

A Western student is taking the university to court, alleging his accommodations in Trois-Pistoles were unsafe and barely inhabitable.

Adam Kusinski, a fourth-year social science student, attended the five-week program this past summer.

Trois-Pistoles is Western’s French immersion school, offering university-level courses ranging from basic language classes to theatre, political science, or business. Students stay with local residents and attend classes in the small town of Trois-Pistoles, Québec.

After enduring “unsatisfactory living conditions” during his first two weeks in Trois-Pistoles, Kusinski left the program without completing his courses.

On Sept. 4, he filed a Statement of Claim against the University of Western Ontario in Ontario small claims court to gain compensation for his experience.

Kusinski, who is representing himself, is seeking $10,000 in damages from the university " the maximum allowed in small claims court. A settlement conference between the parties is scheduled for Nov. 2.

Kusinski tried to rectify the situation in the summer.

On July 24, he wrote a letter to the Academic Counseling office in an attempt to have Oral French 135a removed from his transcript. Though he left Trois-Pistoles after the Add/Drop deadline, this request was granted.

As of Aug. 12, Kusinski had not yet received his $100 deposit back and wrote a letter to President and vice-chancellor Paul Davenport requesting the return of his deposit " and a full year’s tuition.

He expected Trois-Pistoles to be a safe way to bump up his average, but dropping out cut short his goal of graduating with a Business Management and Organizational Studies degree.

“I needed to take a course and get at least 70 per cent. I just needed to raise my average 0.5 per cent to get into the BMOS program " if I couldn’t do that by August, I would have to be re-adjudicated in a year,” Kusinski explained.

Kusinski alleges he was placed with a host family five km away from Trois-Pistoles, where he lived in a cold basement cellar and shared a bathroom with four other students, without enough hot water to go around. In addition, Kusinski claims he had to bicycle down a major highway to attend class.

Kusinski says he requested to switch into a house in Trois-Pistoles, but this proved unsatisfactory as well. Upon hearing he was leaving, he alleges his original family locked him out of the house without some of his personal belongings, including his laptop.

When Kusinski did finally switch to his new lodgings, he alleges there was no privacy " he claims 12 students lived in the family’s “normal size house” alongside the parents and their two children.

Kusinski’s allegations against the university have yet to be proven in court.

Western is represented by Christopher M. Bartlett of Cassels Brock and Blackwell LLP. Both Bartlett and Davenport refused to comment on the case.

In its Statement of Defence filed in London small claims court on Sept. 24, Western disputes Kusinski’s full claim.

Western further denies that any of Kusinski’s homestay placements constitute negligence.

The university’s Defence outlines the measures taken to ensure the quality of host families, including a screening process, periodic visits from the Homestay Coordinator and students’ evaluations of each family.

The Defence also states Kusinski received a bursary from the Department of Canadian Heritage’s Explore Bursary Program, which fully subsidized his tuition and various fees associated with Trois-Pistoles.

The defence also claims it granted the plantiff’s request for a compassionate withdrawal from the course, for the removal of the course from his record (without financial penalty), returned the $100 deposit and all of the plantiff’s possessions left with the first host family.

Kusinski described the defence as “totally misinformed.”

“Everyone knows that something wrong happened here,” Kusinski said.

Jane Lampkin, Trois-Pistoles coordinator, said Kusinski’s complaints were “unexpected.”

“I have only heard positive feedback over my six summers here,” Lampkin added.

“[Kusinski] came in with certain expectations and we regret that we could not meet them.”

Kusinski claims Trois-Pistoles’ brochure was misleading.

“I only signed up because of what I read in the brochure ... if I had known all this, there’s no way I would have gone.”

In a letter to Davenport, Kusinski quoted the Trois-Pistoles pamphlet, which stated: “You will be ... placed with a specially selected family in Trois-Pistoles.” Kusinski claims this was false advertising.

Lampkin explained, “We always tell our students, you will not be living in a hotel where everything you expect from home will be provided ... [Trois-Pistoles] is a totally different environment and most people are able to adjust after the first hump.”

Western alumna Jennifer Wilhelm, who attended the 2006 spring session of Trois-Pistoles, said, “While the home I stayed in might not have been a five-star hotel, my family was welcoming and fulfilled my expectations of the program.”

Wilhelm admitted the home-stay aspect has “imperfections,” such as one home-stay family who smoked constantly in their house, but she said legal action would harm the program to the detriment of future students.

Jonathan Yazer, a Western alumnus who also attended Trois-Pistoles in spring 2006, shared Kusinski’s negative biking experience. Yazer bicycled one hour each day, often through miserable weather.

“I might’ve muttered obscenities to myself on particularly cold and windy days, but ultimately I didn’t feel like I had suffered anything near irreparable harm ... [that is] normally required to file a legitimate, non-frivolous lawsuit,” Yazer said.

Kusinski is adamant he deserves compensation.

“If I had simply been provided with a specially selected host family that was located in town, did not freeze me at night, didn’t sleep naked on the couch, wouldn’t lock me out of the house and fail to return my hair dryer, and wasn’t filled to the roof with students … then this situation would have been avoided.”

If a settlement is not reached on Nov. 2, the case will go to trial. Kusinski said, “I don’t want it to go to trial ... I just want them to admit they made a mistake.”

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