A Toronto businessman and his companies are now facing more than a dozen charges through the Employment Standards Act (ESA) for not complying with orders to pay roughly $1.4 million in employee wages and penalties.
The wages are owed to former employees of two private schools and a media company in Toronto owned by Anchuan Jiang. He also owns a third private school in Vancouver that owes more than $200,000 in wages and penalties, according to the B.C. Ministry of Labour.
The provincial charges come as many of Jiang’s former employees continue to wait for Ontario and B.C. to collect their unpaid wages from up to three years ago. It’s a struggle that highlights just how difficult it can be to get paid when an employer has few viable assets to seize, but is millions of dollars in debt.
CBC News first reported on Jiang and his businesses more than a year ago, in a story that uncovered debts totalling more than $23 million to a handful of companies, a landlord, a mortgage lender and employees.
Since then, a big chunk of that sum has been paid off through power of sale proceedings for a 157,000-square-foot office building that one of Jiang’s companies bought in North York in 2015.
It was supposed to house his private school, Ontario International College, but never did because Jiang’s company couldn’t keep up with the mortgage payments and went into receivership, according to court documents.
Jiang, his companies in $6.4M of debt
The school still owes nearly $2.8 million to a lender in connection with the building, and Jiang and his companies have made little progress in dealing with other mounting debts totalling more than $6.4 million, according to property records and writs.
In a phone call with CBC News, Jiang said he and his companies are “making every effort possible” to pay employees — but he also said he and his businesses haven’t paid all of their debts because they “ran out of business” and “staff are not working hard enough.”
“Some of the staff are idling around,” he told CBC News. “They didn’t work hard enough, to make enough money, to make the business survive.”
Former employee Wei Lu has been waiting nearly three years for wages that the ministry of labour determined she’s owed from Jiang’s company Norstar Media Group, which ran free weekly newspapers in Ontario.
“It’s very tough for me emotionally and financially,” Lu told CBC News. “I think [Jiang] took advantage of this process, he knows the process is going to take so long.”
Lu moved to Canada from China for university, and working for Jiang’s newspapers was her first job after graduating from the Nova Scotia College of Arts & Design. According to the ministry, the graphic designer is owed about $14,500 for several months of work she wasn’t paid for in the year and a half she worked for Norstar Media Group between April 2015 and October 2016.
“I had to struggle a lot to make a way to support myself,” said Lu. “I didn’t want to worry my parents too much because they are far away, they already worry about me living here alone.”
Her unpaid wages are part of a ministry of labour order from 2017 to pay Norstar Media Group employees more than $616,000 in wages. The following January the order was registered as a writ of seizure and sale against the company for more than $739,000.
Lu says she has yet to receive a penny of what she’s owed, but some other employees — like Yuzhang Wang — have been paid some of their outstanding wages.
Wang reached out to CBC News in early 2018 because at the time, he’d been waiting two years for his outstanding pay. Since then he’s received about $3,100, but is still waiting on another $9,900 he’s owed.
“It’s not about the money anymore,” said Wang. “It’s about justice for our rights. People come to this country to find a job … we pay taxes, why can’t we get paid?”
Conviction could mean up to a year in jail
In a situation like this where wages are owed, the ministry of labour send an order to the ministry of ]finance to try and collect from the employer. In this case, it looks like they didn’t have much luck.
Earlier this year, the ministry of labour laid 18 charges against Jiang, Ontario International College, Norstar Media Group and his other Toronto private school Ontario Institute of Technology for failing to comply with orders to pay wages under the ESA.
If convicted, Jiang could face a fine of up to $50,000 or up to a year in jail. If his companies are found guilty, they could be fined up to $100,000 each.
At the end of July, Jiang told CBC News he’s using his “own money to pay off what I owe everybody.”
Jiang also said that all teachers with Ontario International College have now been paid. To support that, Jiang had one of his employees provide CBC News with a copy of a certified cheque for the more than $21,000 owed toward some orders to pay wages.
The ministry had registered three writs in connection with the orders. Two of the three writs were still active in early August, after CBC News received a copy of the cheque. The Ministry of Labour confirmed that no charges have been dropped against Jiang or the private schools.
Jiang’s cell number not in service
After confirming all of the charges against Jiang and his companies were still before the courts, CBC News tried to follow up with the businessman.
But just a week after reaching him on his cell phone, his number was no longer in service.
All further attempts to contact Jiang by email, through his private school and through his family went unanswered.
So besides compliance, how are creditors supposed to collect on judgments?
Most of Jiang’s debts were registered as writs of seizure and sale, which means creditors could have a sheriff seize and sell Jiang’s personal property or his companies’ property in order to pay them off.
But for that process to work, the debtor has to have assets to sell. In Jiang’s case he owns a fully-detached house and four condos in Toronto. But the ministry of labour and other creditors can’t sell them because of a number of loans against the properties and liens from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) registered against them on title.
Between September 2017 and February of this year, the CRA has registered four liens against Jiang’s properties totalling more than half a million dollars in unpaid taxes.
Private schools still operating
Despite his debts, Jiang’s Toronto-area private schools and his school in B.C., Vancouver International College, are still enrolling students.
According to a teacher who worked at Ontario International College until this April, Jiang’s troubles paying employees continue.
“There were months that I didn’t get any money at all,” said Jake Klein. “I leaned heavily on my credit card, friends and family.”
The teacher told CBC News his monthly paycheques have been consistently late since he started working at the school last September. Klein says when he quit in the spring he was still owed two months pay.
“I felt like I should be able to trust and go to the ministry of labour if I have these issues,” Klein told CBC News.
But he says he never filed a complaint because other teachers at the school told him if he did, he might be waiting even longer for his wages. In the end, he got his final paycheque in June.
“I really thought that being in Toronto I would be safe from this,” Klein said. “I felt this would never happen to me, especially in a school.”