Greg and Jodi Kucher were struggling with grief after a string of deaths of close family members and friends.
The southern Alberta couple was also trying to get pregnant with their first child — and they felt that if they could just talk to their lost loved ones, maybe they could make sense of everything in their lives.
So, they booked an appointment with a so-called spiritual medium.
But that closure didn't happen. Instead, they've waited three years for an appointment, growing increasingly frustrated and angry as the medium has refused them a refund for the $525 they paid.
I want my money back and I want her to stop doing this to people. People reach out when they're suffering a loss in their life. -Greg Kucher
Greg said he and his wife first learned of Carmel Joy Baird by watching her CMT TV show, Mom's a Medium.
"We suffered quite a few losses in both of our lives, both my wife and myself, and we thought, we were quite impressed with what she did on TV," he said.
So in June 2015, they booked an appointment with the Edmonton-based medium and paid the $525 booking fee.
Baird cancelled the appointment, and it was pushed back again, and again. Each time, a different reason was given.
Medium blames cancellations on 'divine occurrence'
"She always said it takes a lot of energy to reach the spirits on the other side and that's draining on her. There's always excuses," Kucher said. "She cited that quite often when these delays happen it's a divine occurrence, like for some reason the spirits are delaying the appointment because they're not ready to talk, but she would not give a refund."
Baird's office responded to the complaints.
"Carmel is equally frustrated with the move, but she does remind us all to trust the process.… She would much rather you be frustrated with the date of your reading being moved, than for her not be at her best emotionally, mentally and physically in order to give you the best reading possible," reads one of the emails from Baird's office.
The most recent appointment was set for Sept. 21 of this year. The Kuchers, who live in Drumheller, booked time off work for the trip and hired a babysitter for their one-year-old son. And then it was postponed again — this time, it wasn't rescheduled, just a promise of a future appointment date.
'It's angering,' says Kucher
"It's very frustrating. It's angering. I'm very upset with the whole situation because we have invested so much time and money into this. I feel we've been very patient and tolerant. I mean, it's been three years since we paid for the service," he said.
"They haven't responded to my last couple emails. I put a post on Carmel's Facebook page. She's since deleted that comment and she's banned me from being able to make any further comments on her page."
Kucher isn't the only one who claims to have been ripped off by Baird.
In June, CBC Edmonton reported that five complaints had been made to Service Alberta regarding Baird.
Two complaints were eventually withdrawn by the consumers, and those who placed the other three have since received a full refund from Baird's business.
According to Service Alberta, Baird wasn't deemed to be violating consumer protection laws in those five cases. That's because Baird's office maintained contact with the consumer, there was no explicit refusal to provide service, and Baird's terms and conditions posted online outlined the right to reschedule readings.
Since that article was published, the ministry says it's received an additional nine complaints.
"These complaints are taken seriously and are currently being assessed to determine if there have been any violations of the Consumer Protection Act," a spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
Edmonton police said they aren't investigating Baird as it's a civil matter, not criminal.
A representative of Baird's office said the company policy states that all readings are non-refundable, something Kucher said is unacceptable if the service is not actually being provided.
"My understanding of that policy when I read it was if we weren't happy with the reading there was no refund. Not, 'hey, I'm going to make you wait for years, we're not going to give you your reading and you're not going to get your money back.'"
Baird's office said the medium has dealt with a series of surgeries as well as a loss in the family, forcing her to shift client appointments forward.
"Greg is not in any way being denied his reading," read an emailed statement from Baird's office.
"No one is being scammed or not being given what they paid for or asked for, but the reading must be done in the order it was received and fair to those who also are waiting for their readings."
Baird's office has now said they're looking for a way for Kucher to sell his appointment to another client.
Kucher said he plans to pursue legal action.
"I want my money back and I want her to stop doing this to people. People reach out when they're suffering a loss in their life. And I can't help but wonder how many more people has she taken money from and not provided a service," he said.
Clairvoyant fraud hard to prove
Calgary lawyer Michelle Parhar said if someone doesn't receive a refund for services that are not met, that's fraud.
But, it can be tough to actually prove fraud in court.
"It's quite a high bar for the Crown to prove that, with respect to the actual fraud being alleged, that it actually happened and the person had the requisite intent to defraud the person that's paying for their services," Parhar said, noting that fraud is prosecuted through the Criminal Code of Canada.
"So, some of the ways you can demonstrate that is, for example, if the psychic can deliver a service by a certain date and then they did not do that."
An intangible service
Parhar said it's also unclear whether or not someone could claim a psychic or medium had committed fraud if the appointment did occur but the customer felt they had been scammed, as the service they offer is intangible.
"A lot of people believe in psychics and it can be argued that the psychic themselves that's offering the service may or may not believe in the validity of what they're doing. It's more clear-cut when we look at things like financial fraud," she said.
But the nature of the service could come into play during sentencing if charges were brought forward.
"It would be taken into account by the court as an aggravating factor that this person is possibly preying on people that are trying to find some type of closure in the death of a loved one," Parhar said.
There's also another, much more obscure part of the Criminal Code that can be used to prosecute psychics and mediums — a law against witchcraft.
Section 365 of the criminal code states that it's against the law to fraudulently pretend "to exercise or to use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment or conjuration, undertakes, for a consideration, to tell fortunes, or pretends from his skill in or knowledge of an occult or crafty science to discover where or in what manner anything that is supposed to have been stolen or lost may be found."
The law doesn't mention anything specifically about promising to commune with the dead — something the language on Baird's website also carefully dances around, stating that she teaches people to be "more intuitive" and gives them a chance to "ask your loved ones questions on the other side."
Psychic industry a lucrative one
Only a handful of people have been prosecuted for being psychics under the witchcraft law in Canada, which is being considered for repeal by the Senate, as financial fraud is a much easier case to make and is more commonly used.
"In over 30 years of practice as a prosecutor, I can't think of a case where such a charge was laid," said Bob Sigurdson, who retired from the Crown's specialized prosecution service.
"The bottom line is you still have to prove a fraudulent intent … whether or not witchcraft or fortune-telling is legitimate, if you have someone going around taking money on the promise to fulfil this obligation … certainly it's possible one could be charged with Criminal Code fraud."
The psychic and medium industry is an unregulated one in Canada, but it can be big business. A report from market research firm IBISWorld found the U.S. psychic industry was bringing in about $2 billion a year, and was forecasted to continue growing over the next five years.
Service Alberta urges customers to report issues
Parhar said whether it's financial fraud or fraud of the more intangible spiritual kind, people can bring a complaint to Service Alberta if they believe they've been taken advantage of.
"The best thing to do is try making a complaint. Even if it goes nowhere, [they] become aware and it could stem into a larger investigation," she said.
Service Alberta said it urges any customers who have had similar issues to Kucher to report them at 1-877-427-4088.
They also offered the following tips to consumers looking to purchase what they described as "these types of services:"
- Make sure you understand the terms and conditions of a contract.
- Get answers to all of your questions before making a final decision.
- Don't sign a contract you don't understand.
- And don't accept verbal agreements — always insist on a written contract.
With files from Andrea Ross.