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Couple forced to cancel wedding celebration, denied refund by Vancouver Island venue

Last Updated Apr 20, 2020 at 10:20 am PDT

The COVID-19 pandemic could cost a Vancouver Island couple $5,000 for a wedding reception they'll never have. (Courtesy Jes Hartt)

Two couples say they were told contracts can still be honoured when COVID-19 crisis is over

Couple advised by lawyer that pandemic qualifies as an Act of God

Venue general manager insisted the deposit is non-refundable

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — The COVID-19 pandemic could cost a Vancouver Island couple $5,000 for a wedding reception they’ll likely never have.

Elizabeth Brewin says the general manager of the Merridale Cidery in Cobble Hill is refusing to return her deposit after she explained the reception she planned is no longer possible.

“I don’t think now is the time to be taking thousands of dollars from people when a lot of people are out of work or suffering financially,” she adds. “What they’re doing is just not right. They’re taking our money for absolutely no reason.”

Brewin says she and her fiancé — who does not want his name shared — have repeatedly demanded the return of their deposit, but have been told that’s not possible and the contract can still be honoured when this crisis is over.

“We just want our money back, and considering they haven’t provided us with any service and they will be unable to complete the service on the date we signed off on, which is June 14, we should be entitled to our money back,” Brewin says. “We’re all preparing to take it to the next level at this point, unfortunately.”

Jes Hartt, who lives in Kamloops, says she and her husband Mike have been married since February, so the reception they booked in June was for family and friends who couldn’t be there.

“Everything’s too up in the air… so I declined their offer to re-schedule.”

She tells NEWS 1130 she understands Merridale is losing money, and is fine with their non-refundable deposit policy. However, she says it’s the thousands of dollars she and her husband paid the company as a “second installment” that she would like back.

“At the end of the day, this is a service that I paid for that is not being rendered and they are either keeping my money or forcing me to postpone at a later date when even that date can not be fully determined. I’m really annoyed.”

Meanwhile, Brewin says a ceremony will still be held with the couple exchanging vows, as planned, but their reception will be much smaller and will likely be held in someone’s backyard.

“It’s very frustrating considering all the other wedding vendors that I’ve dealt with have been incredible. Each one of them has reached out to me to say, ‘What can we do for you. Here’s a refund. Everyone else has been so amazing, so I don’t know if that’s why this seems so much worse to me.”

She adds the contract has been reviewed by a lawyer who agrees they are all entitled to full refunds because the pandemic qualifies as an Act of God.

When reached by phone, the cidery’s general manager insists the deposits are non-refundable.

Jason Child initially declined our request for an interview, but later confirmed he’s consulted his lawyer and no deposits will be returned.

He says several other couples have agreed to postpone their receptions until 2021 and although he sympathizes with those demanding refunds, the contracts are binding.

“We are working very hard with each impacted couple to provide them the options that we do have, including rebooking for future dates, virtual weddings with cases of product being shipped to their guests remotely and credits to use at our farmhouse on products or other events,” reads a statement on Merridale’s website. “We do understand why a couple may prefer to cancel their wedding, instead of rebooking their date in an uncertain future. However, our deposits are not date holders, they are installments.”

It goes on to say the installment money is used to pay for staff and preparations for the venue site, like chairs, tents, and decorations.

“We wish we were in a position to pay out of pocket and give everyone back the money, despite the costs incurred, as we know the situation is devastating for many – both emotionally and financially.”

Editor’s note: this article has been updated to clarify Hartt was hoping to be refunded money paid as a “second installment,” and not the non-refundable deposit.