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Allegations of price gouging in Alberta flood zone

A flooded downtown Calgary is seen from a aerial view of the city Saturday, June 22, 2013. Many cite extreme weather events such as this as proof of climate change.
A flooded downtown Calgary is seen from a aerial view of the city Saturday, June 22, 2013. Many cite extreme weather events such as this as proof of climate change. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

EDMONTON – The government is encouraging people who have been victims of price gauging following the severe flooding in southern Alberta to take photos, keep receipts, and report incidents to Service Alberta.

Stories of stores hiking prices on water bottles and bags of ice have been rampant on social media since the flooding began, even sparking hashtags and a Facebook page.

Photos allegedly documenting outrageous prices for water and bags of ice have been circulating on social media.

Calgary officials have said incidents like this are very isolated.

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“There have been some concerns expressed out there about things like looting and price gouging,” said Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi on Saturday. “I’m here to tell you that we have no evidence that any of that is happening beyond extremely isolated incidents. Calgarians are being extremely disciplined. Calgarians are looking after their neighbours and looking after one another.”

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However, Nenshi added these cases will be taken very seriously.

“I will remind folks that under a local state of emergency price gouging is in fact illegal. We will continue to monitor the situation very, very carefully but we haven’t had very many problems on that yet.”

If a business is found in contravention of the Fair Trading Act, it could be fined up to $300,000 or two years in jail.

To report incidents of price gouging, contact Service Alberta at 1-877-427-4088 or file a complaint online here.  Service Alberta is encouraging people to take photos of the alleged price gouging and keep receipts as they file complaints.

Officials say they have taken very few calls on price gouging during the flood, and that there have been no new complaints since Saturday.

The Calgary Police Service asks anyone with concerns about alleged price gouging to call its non-emergency complaint line (403) 266-1234.

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Social media is also spreading the word about companies who are going over and above to help those impacted by the flooding.

Both Westjet and Air Canada are waiving fees for anyone wanting to reschedule or cancel flights in or out of Calgary until Wednesday. Air Canada is providing the same offer for Medicine Hat flights as well.

Travelocity says most hotels have also relaxed cancellation policies for customers who were booked to stay in communities impacted by the floods.

In a statement to Global News, Brian Simpson, operations and media relations manager at Travelocity, said:

“First off, our thoughts are with everyone affected by last week’s terrible flooding.  Our team has been engaged since last week and we have reached out to any Travelocity.ca customers whose travel plans may have been impacted by the situation in Southern Alberta.  Travelocity.ca doesn’t charge cancellation penalties ourselves but most airlines and hotels have relaxed their change and cancellation policies for affected customers for specific travel periods, and this information is quickly distributed to our call centres to ensure that they are able to effectively handle any inquiries from affected customers.  And while we did see elevated call volumes, the number of calls has since stabilized and is returning to normal levels.

“The best advice is that if your dates fall within the periods outlined in the flexible travel policies being offered by airlines and hotels, consider taking advantage of those policies and temporarily postponing non-essential travel to any of these affected areas.  This will allow emergency workers to assess the situation and quickly get the area back to normal.  But at the same time and like most cities, Calgary will rely heavily on tourist dollars to assist with the recovery, so travellers should still plan to visit this great city soon.”

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With files from Julie Matthews

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