EDMONTON — Alberta has charged a Calgary-based supply company with COVID-19 price gouging, but the company's owner says he himself is paying massively inflated prices just to bring in supplies like masks and sanitizer.
"I'm trying to compete globally — globally. The price is going to be higher," Yan Gong, owner of CCA Logistics Ltd., said Friday.
"Either we make some small profit or we actually donate (the material) to local communities."
Earlier Friday, Premier Jason Kenney announced that CCA is the first company to be charged with price gouging during the pandemic in Alberta.
He said his government will bring the hammer down on those who seek to profit extortionately off the health crisis.
"If you think you are going to gouge your fellow Albertans with ridiculous price increases, exploiting the pandemic, you've got another thing coming," said Kenney. "We're going to go after you and throw the book at you."
Kenney said investigators found last month that CCA Logistics was charging $120 for a mask (a 400 per cent markup) and $39 for hand sanitizer (a 200 per cent markup). The company was charged after it allegedly ignored a warning to stop.
Gong questioned the government comparisons.
On the $39 hand sanitizer, Gong said it was for an oversized bottle of specialized anti-bacterial soap.
"It's 1,000 millilitres," said Gong. "You can use it the whole summer."
Gong added that his company is not just trying to bring in supplies. It's part of a group also donating supplies to grocery chains and to the community.
He is to appear in Calgary provincial court on Aug. 19. He said he won't bring a lawyer.
"I will stand on the stage and tell the judge what happened."
Companies found guilty of price gouging face fines of up to $300,000.
To date, the province said it has received 458 complaints about price gouging related to COVID-19. Of those, 351 are to be investigated.
The complaints include markups on items including masks, hand sanitizer, gloves, soup, flour, toilet paper, baby formula, ground beef and shredded cheese.
It has been nine weeks since Alberta reported its first case of COVID-19.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health, reported 81 new cases Friday, bringing the total to 5,983. Of those cases, two-thirds have recovered. There was also one more death, bringing that total to 115.
The province has been dealing with outbreaks mainly at beef processing plants and long-term care facilities.
Hinshaw said Alberta now has its first case in lockup: an inmate at the Calgary Remand Centre.
She said the person didn't show signs of COVID-19 but was put in the quarantine unit on arrival. The inmates was put in a cell with a roommate who also didn't show symptoms, but the next night was ill. Both inmates are now in isolation.
Hinshaw said six people at Canada Post's main sorting facility in north Calgary have also been infected.
Alberta's hospitalization rates — a key indicator to gauge the outbreak — are remaining steady or falling. There are currently 80 people in hospital, 17 of whom are in intensive care.
Kenney announced last week that the government will slowly begin allowing businesses and services to reopen.
Golf courses and gun ranges can now open on a limited basis, and dentists, physiotherapists, social workers and other similar health professionals can also resume business, subject to health rules from their professional bodies.
The main economic relaunch is set for May 14, with retailers, museums, and barbers and hair stylists allowed to open their doors. Public gatherings are to remain restricted to no more than 15 people.
This report by the Canadian Press was first published May 8, 2020.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press