Contest winners outraged at government agents constant wins

March 5, 2007 10:04pm CST
Like thousands of others with the same hobby, Kathy Lawrence-Phillips calls herself a "contester." The Burnaby, B.C. resident is part of a club, of sorts -- Canadians who admit they are obsessed with entering contests. She estimates she spends at least three hours a day at it. She said she wins at least twice a month -- products, tickets and even vacations -- and hasn't paid for a trip in years. "I won eight DVDs this week," Lawrence-Phillips told CTV News. "It's legal and it's addictive." Lately, though, she and her Internet group of like-minded contesters have been obsessing over something else. They can't get over how a certain inspector with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency keeps winning prizes from contests put on by food companies. The inspector, Katia Montminy, is from a town north of Quebec City called Peribonka -- with a population of less than 600. Montminy has won at least four contests put on by food companies in the last two years. "It really irritates, not just me, but all the people in our group," said Lawrence-Phillips. "It's a conflict of interest for a food inspector to enter contests that are related to food, one would think." Montminy's job is to inspect seed potatoes from the Peribonka area. Those seeds are sold to farmers, who then grow the potatoes and sell some of them to companies to make processed foods, like potato chips. Montminy recently entered a contest put on by Frito Lay, and won a "dream trip" for two to the 2006 Junos in Halifax. Frito Lay is one of the companies that buys potatoes grown from the seed she inspects. The conflict of interest rules governing Canada's food inspectors state, "CFIA employees are called upon to use their best judgment to avoid situations of real or perceived conflict. As a regulatory Agency, we face an even greater responsibility to avoid conflict of interest situations." The policy also spells out that: "At no time should employees solicit gifts, hospitality, other benefits or transfers to economic value from a person, group or organization in the private sector who has dealings with the government." Lawrence-Phillips believes, "Whether it's just an appearance of a conflict of interest, that's enough." Montminy's boss disagrees. "We see no conflict here," he told CTV News, in Montreal. Jean Lamoureux is executive director for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, in the Quebec region. "The purchase of the (potato) seed is open to a broad area of buyers," he said. "It could be a number of companies, and it could also go to chips or table potatoes." "It's up to management to make sure that our employees respect the code of conduct," he said. "Although the public may see a conflict we absolutely do not see that at all." Lamoureau added, "On her own equipment in her house we cannot control what kind of contest she will enter." There's more to this story, too -- involving the inspector's family and the region they live in. It turns out that the Montminys and others in their town win lots of contests -- many of them put on by food companies. For example, in the last two years, several members of the family won free groceries or electronics, some more than once, from Maple Leaf Foods. Montminy's mother, brother, sister, father -- and Katia Montminy herself -- were among the lucky winners. More than 5,000 people entered the most recent Maple Leaf Foods contest, from across Canada. The contest involved, in part, playing a computer game, using a program called "Flash", where the contestant would try to "catch" grocery items in a virtual "cart." Households were not allowed to play more than once a day. Maple Leaf Foods told CTV News the 5,500 contestants nationwide played approximately 100,000 times, over a 12-week period. Amazingly, 11 of the 12 winners of that contest are from Peribonka, or the surrounding area. Half are members of the Montminy family. In addition, four of the eight winners from the 2005 Maple Leaf contest are also from that same family. The 2005 contest was only open to Quebec residents. "It just doesn't happen," said Lawrence-Phillips. "I have been doing this for 25 years. You go through phases where you win frequently, but I've never heard of anything like this." CTV News asked Katia Montminy repeatedly for an on-camera interview about all of this. She declined. However, she insisted her family wins contests simply because they enter very frequently and have worked to become very good at it. She also told us that she makes sure her participation is absolutely not a conflict of interest, by only entering from home and not during work hours. Maple Leaf Foods also declined to speak to us on camera, but sent this statement: "We want to ensure our customers are well served by our contest promotions and have a broad appeal. While we are confident recent contests were played appropriately, we received a lot of valuable consumer feedback and suggestions and are doing an independent review to ensure we have best practices in place for the future." The "contesters" like Kathy Lawrence-Phillips still want more answers. Katia Montminy told us she and her family enjoy playing contests too, and will continue to enter as much and as often as the rules allow
1 response
• India
6 Mar 07
good one//////