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Crowdfunding gets Toronto man home from Caribbean — but was he stuck or in ‘self-imposed exile?’

Corbin Smith spent several weeks seemingly stuck in the Dominican Republic — sleeping in a car, a hostel and a half-finished hotel, all while a COVID-19 flight shutdown erected hurdles to getting back home to Toronto.

But whether he needed a crowdfunding campaign to get home depends on who you ask.

According to Smith, his employer Enviroshake — an eco-friendly roofing material company — fired him in January for no apparent reason while he was on a work trip, right after Canada’s major airlines suspended service to the Caribbean. He says that left him effectively stranded.

But Enviroshake said Smith was fired for violating corporate policies and was instead in a “self-imposed exile” after refusing the company’s offer to fly him home. Smith said he received no such offer.

Complicating the issue is the fact that Smith’s father, Patrick Smith, is the president and co-owner of the company that fired his son. Neither those ties nor the alleged offer of a flight home were disclosed to the man who started a crowdfunding page for Smith that generated $13,543 — some of which Smith used to get home.

That GoFundMe campaign, which was widely shared, was later paused by its organizer, who said he was genuinely worried for his friend but is now frustrated by the lack of information he was given. With the organizer in the dark, none of these issues were disclosed to people who donated.

Smith is now back in Canada, but many questions remain about the situation.

Smith said he was in the right, and credited the generosity of others with allowing him to get back to Canada.

Smith says he arrived back in Canada early Monday and is now staying at a federally mandated quarantine hotel. (Corbin Smith/GoFundMe)

“I’m so fortunate,” he told CBC News in a WhatsApp message. “So many people came out of the woodwork.”

In an interview, Smith said he arrived in the Dominican Republic for work on Jan. 17, and was fired a couple of weeks later via email. He said he was only told it was “due to a number of reasons” with no other explanation given.

But in an email to CBC News, Enviroshake’s vice-president of marketing and sales, Ashley Smith, who is not related to Corbin, presented a different version of events.

Company alleges Smith violated policies

She said at the end of a two-week business trip, Smith requested a week’s vacation, which was approved by his father, the company’s president.

“During his vacation, Mr. Smith engaged in multiple activities that violated Enviroshake’s policies, including the confidentiality and non-disparagement policies,” she said. Corbin Smith disputes those allegations.

The company alleged it attempted to contact Smith via phone, text message and email to tell him to stop allegedly breaching its policies.

“Despite Enviroshake’s repeated efforts to communicate with Mr. Smith, he was not responsive,” Ashley Smith said. “As a result, Enviroshake terminated Mr. Smith’s employment on a without-cause basis.” 

Canada’s main airlines agreed to cancel service to the Caribbean and Mexico back in January. Smith says this made it difficult for him to get home because of price, and because he was worried about getting stuck in the U.S., which had higher COVID-19 rates and would be more expensive. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Ashley Smith said the company decided against terminating Smith for just cause, as that would have resulted in no termination pay and prevented him from applying for EI.

Despite firing him, Enviroshake offered to pay for Smith’s flight and cover all of his quarantine expenses, she said. Smith’s father also offered to personally pay for his flight and quarantine, she added.

“Mr. Smith rejected both offers and chose to remain in the Dominican Republic,” she said. Smith, for his part, said he didn’t receive any wide-ranging offer to cover all his expenses.

CBC News has asked both sides to provide documentation to back up their claims: including a request for Smith to share the email that would show he was fired for no apparent reason, and for Enviroshake to share proof of the company’s offers to Smith to pay for his trip home. 

Enviroshake would not, saying the offer “was made in the context of [an] ongoing settlement discussion.”

Smith only sent sections of his correspondence with the company and not complete documents. One screenshot he shared says Enviroshake would offer a $1,500 stipend for quarantine accommodations upon returning to Canada, but Smith says that offer was contingent on him agreeing to overly restrictive non-disclosure and non-compete clauses.

He alleged those agreements amounted to his never speaking about being fired and agreeing not to work in the industry or the territory where he had developed business contacts.

‘I just wanted to help my friend’

All of this turmoil was news to Dave Murray, a Toronto-based illustrator who launched the GoFundMe campaign in an effort to get Smith home. He told CBC News in a series of emails that he knew nothing about Enviroshake’s claims, nor did he know that Smith’s father was the president of the company.

“I just wanted to help my friend,” he said.

Though he wasn’t initially asked about any family ties with Enviroshake, Smith also did not tell a reporter that his father was the company’s president during his initial interview with CBC News. When pressed on that omission in subsequent messages, Smith said it “didn’t come to [his] mind as being relevant,” as his father wasn’t involved in his employment.

Enviroshake, meanwhile, maintained that Patrick Smith was involved in his son’s hiring and aware of the company’s decision to fire him. The company also said Smith received instructions from his father during Ashley Smith’s maternity leave.

Smith said he hasn’t spoken to his father since he was fired.

Before he was fired, Smith worked for Enviroshake, which is a Chatham, Ont.-based company that makes roofing tiles from recycled materials. His father is the president and co-owner of the company. (Corbin Smith/GoFundMe)

CBC News requested an interview with Smith’s father. He instead sent an emailed statement.

“As with any Enviroshake employee who travels Internationally for work, Corbin’s flight and quarantine expenses will be covered by Enviroshake upon his presentation of valid receipts,” Patrick Smith said.

Corbin Smith said no one from the company has communicated that offer to him.

Murray said he started the GoFundMe of his own accord, and was not asked by Smith to do so. He suspended donations after being presented with the company’s side of the story by CBC News.

He said the money that has already been raised can be used for Smith’s current stay at a federally mandated quarantine hotel in Toronto, help pay down his debt incurred while in the Caribbean, and for things like replacing clothes Smith lost to a bedbug infestation in the hostel where he had been staying.

But it’s clear that Murray feels he wasn’t presented with the entire story.

“I started the GoFundMe campaign to help Corbin, my friend, get home safely. Having communicated with him during his time in the Dominican, I only grew more concerned for his physical and mental health, and at times, truly feared Corbin would not make it home alive,” he said.

“At no point was I aware that Corbin’s dad was the president of Enviroshake. Finding that out was shocking, and I was — and still am — upset with Corbin for not sharing that information with me when I was setting up the fundraiser.

“Despite this, I am happy my friend is back in Toronto, safely, where he can get the medication and help he needs.”

GoFundMe says donors are protected

Smith said that medication is for a debilitating health issue. He told CBC News that he spent much of his time in the Dominican Republic unsuccessfully trying to access his medicine, which is considered a controlled substance in that country.

“My biggest hurdle has been my health,” he said in his initial interview.

When contacted about the crowdfunding campaign and asked in a general sense what happens when there are issues surrounding one, GoFundMe spokesperson Amy Williams said that the company takes all complaints seriously.

“If a misuse of funds takes place on GoFundMe, donors are protected and their donations are refunded,” she said.

The company’s website also states that donors are able to submit a claim for a refund.


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bourbiza

Bourbiza Mohamed. Writer and Political Discourse Analysis.

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