In Ontario, you still can’t legally buy a haircut at this point in the COVID-19 pandemic. But last year, you could sign up and study at a barber school east of Toronto with the hope of getting a job cutting hair.
Debra Tate told Global News she thought it was a great idea as she planned to travel the world and figured she could earn money if she had some marketable skills with scissors.
“I thought it was a trade I could take with me on the road,” Tate said in an interview.
So she plunked down $7,000 on her credit card to sign up and started when the course began. Now, months later, Tate said it was a big mistake. She claimed the hair program didn’t live up to expectations — even before the program had to be suspended because of COVID-19 restrictions.
“There was one class (where) we sat there for three-and-a-half hours. They didn’t have that day’s presentation put together,” Tate said, referring to Shear Brilliance Barber Academy in Durham region.
Tate and another student contacted Global News in April about the school, claiming that they had been misled about what they would get for the money invested.
“One thousand per cent,” Tate said, complaining that the program fell short.
She said she expected to receive a tax receipt after paying tuition, but the school isn’t able to issue one. Tate said she found out later that a government-authorized certificate of completion would not be provided because the barber school is not sanctioned by the Ontario government.
Two partners in the company agreed to a television interview with Global News to defend the school.
“At Shear Brilliance, we are — if anything — aboveboard about everything,” said Sam Musa, a co-owner.
“You walk out of the program with a lot of training and a lot of expertise.”
Musa said Shear Brilliance is a “non-vocational” school and as such is not regulated by the Ontario government. He said the school could not offer tax receipts to students as some, including Tate, might have expected.
With regard to promising official completion certificates, Musa said they didn’t make that promise either.
“Not once did (we) promise a provincial certificate or a certificate recognized by the Province,” said Musa.
However, in its initial marketing, such a certificate was promised in writing.
The “overview” page of the Shear Brilliance website, dated 2021, reads as follows, including capitalization: “Students that successfully complete any of the available workshops will receive a certificate upon completion. Each workshop is recognized by the PROVINCE OF ONTARIO… All hours completed in each workshop will go towards the PROVINCE OF ONTARIO required apprenticeship hours.”
Musa told Global News a third-party web developer provided the content, which was later taken down.
“The website may not have been as clean as we would like it to have been,” Musa said.
He described Shear Brilliance Barber Academy as a “non-vocational” school with different responsibilities than vocational schools.
Global News contacted the Office of the Minister of Colleges and Universities to find out if the school is obligated to be registered.
“A private career college is not allowed to offer vocational training until it has completed the registration and the Superintendent of private career colleges has approved the program it intends to offer. Shear Brilliance Barber Academy is not currently a registered private career college,” wrote Scott Clark, press secretary to the minister.
At the request of Global News, the ministry reviewed the status of Shear Brilliance Barber Academy to see if it was complying with current regulations.
“In Ontario, private businesses that offer vocational training programs such as barbering and hairstyling programs to fee-paying students must register as private career colleges under the Private Career Colleges Act, 2005, and must secure the approval of the superintendent of private career colleges for each vocational program they offer,” Clark wrote.
“I want my money back,” Tate said.
Shear Brilliance Barber Academy had offered $2,500 to Tate prior to her interview with Global News. That amount increased to $5,250 following the April 21 interview, but the refund came with conditions.
In a back-and-forth exchange of text messages, Shear Brilliance Barber Academy told Tate in a message that in order to get the refund she would have to “withdraw the request to do the story that he (Sean O’Shea) and Global News no longer have your permission to run the story.”
Tate never asked Global News for the story to be withheld.
Musa said there’s nothing inappropriate about asking the student to retract her story in order to get money back.
“If (she) and I come to a settlement, it becomes an issue that is no longer in existence,” Musa said.
Shear Brilliance Barber Academy partner Amjad Steitieh told Global News they will use Tate’s case as a learning experience.
“We’re definitely committed to making sure everybody gets what they’re looking for,” said Steitieh.
Meanwhile, Tate said she has asked her credit card company to charge back the full amount for the course and the card issuer is still investigating her claim.
Asked what value she got for the $7,000 she invested in the barber school course, Tate laughed.
“A life lesson,” she replied.