Local private college countersues after closure

Royal Canadian Institute of Technology alleges provincial government agency needlessly shut down the post-secondary business and interrupted its students' education

Michael Khan co-founded the Royal Canadian Institute of Technology in February 1998

A private career college is fighting back against the Crown corporation that shut it down in October.

The Royal Canadian Institute of Technology (RCIT) offered nursing, information technology, business and banking courses in Vancouver and Surrey until the Private Career Training Institutions Agency of B.C. (PCTIA) ordered it closed October 5.

PCTIA sought a BC Supreme Court injunction October 11 to freeze RCIT's assets, claiming RCIT students had not completed programs within the time periods specified in their contracts and that contract dates had been adjusted without the students' knowledge.

RCIT's November 20 defence statement and countersuit claimed there was no need to close the institution or interfere with the students' education.

"There was not a reasonable basis for the cancellation of the defendant's registration and accreditation," said the defence statement from lawyer Andrew Gay of Gudmundseth Mickelson. "Further, the cancellation decision was made in a manner that violated the duty of procedural fairness owed by the plaintiff to the defendant."

RCIT surrendered files to the PCTIA, but now it wants those that contain intellectual property to be returned. The court filing claims that PCTIA has shared proprietary lesson plans with RCIT's competitors. PCTIA regulates an industry in which 51,000 students pay $300 million a year in tuition to 300 private post-secondary institutions and is supposed to be a consumer protection body for students.

In an interview with CKNW radio, PCTIA CEO and registrar Karin Kirkpatrick conceded that RCIT had no student complaints or financial problems. RCIT was suspended August 24 after its five-year audit and ordered to fix various administrative problems by October 1. The PCTIA acted after a sudden change in RCIT ownership violated its mandatory 60-day vetting period.

Michael Khan and his mother, Ahmedi Behum Khan, founded RCIT in February 1998. In July 2011, they transferred ownership to Yourie Pankratz, a Simon Fraser University linguistics professor, but Pankratz tendered his resignation on October 5.

Under Pankratz, RCIT made an unsuccessful bid to obtain the province's Education Quality Assurance seal of approval to offer international students post-graduate work permits of up to three years.

Michael Khan said RCIT grossed nearly $1.67 million and netted more than $560,000 last year. Twenty people lost their jobs in the school's closure.

Michael Khan was a director of the University of Northern Washington Inc., which was cited by the State of Hawaii for various violations but reached a $34,500 settlement in April 2001.

John Boon, a Vancouver lawyer specializing in private education, said there appeared to be "no imminent risk for the students" in the RCIT case.

"The end is to protect the consumer, not just to blindly enforce rules," Boon said. "The regulator may know something that I don't know, but the public needs to look at this with an open mind and not just assume, another private school, another shyster."

Students paid $10,000 to $18,000 a year to RCIT. After PCTIA's November 15 board meeting, it claimed 93 students filed claims and 35 were approved. Four claims were in the final stage of processing, but 54 were deemed incomplete. A list of 33 students who filed claims for $246,995.29 of tuition showed 24 were placed with alternate institutions, seven got refunds and two were undecided.

PCTIA also sent Khan a bill for $250,000 to cover the 30 students. Students whose paperwork PCTIA deemed insufficient were asked to report to PCTIA on December 13 or 14 for interviews under oath by in-house lawyer Luce Lafontaine, with a court reporter present. The transcripts were to be forwarded to the board for a decision on tuition refunds. The law firm PCTIA hired against RCIT and a separate action against Prana Yoga Teachers College is Lawson Lundell. One of its partners is Murray Campbell, husband of PCTIA's Kirkpatrick. Campbell's name is not in the court filings. Kirkpatrick claimed she disclosed the relationship to the PCTIA board and Lafontaine chose the firm after receiving two or three quotes.

PCTIA chairman Richard Novek said he was not aware of the arrangement.

Prana filed a conflict of interest complaint on November 20 with the Office of the Ombudsperson. Prana was suspended September 10 and faces a maximum fine of $100,000 after it sought to de-register from PCTIA when it reorganized courses to fall below the agency's 40-hour instruction and $1,000 tuition threshold. •

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