For months, Suzanne Bergeron Stonehouse tried in vain to recover tens of thousands of dollars from her contractor for unfinished flood repairs.
So when she learned that the man she had done business with was in Ottawa, handing out thousands of dollars he had raised for truckers in the convoy that crippled part of the city, she told CBC that it immediately caused her heartburn.
“You just want to scream,” said Bergeron Stonehouse, who lives in Deux-Montagnes, Que., west of Montreal.
As originally reported in La Presseits former contractor, Georges Samman, has become a leading figure in the blockade of Ottawa.
His organization, a movement he calls L’Union Fait La Force Qc (Unity is Strength), is described as a community group on Facebook and has over 40,000 followers.
Since late January, Samman, known as “Georges Tiger”, has been posting frequent video updates of the blockade in Ottawa.
On Monday night, he was among a small group of convoy leaders who gave a video update after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the Emergencies Act.
History of fraud
Samman, who is from Quebec, has a history of fraudulent activity, as La Presse originally reported.
According to court records, he pleaded guilty in 2009 to multiple counts of possessing, using or trafficking fake credit cards.
Then in 2013, a Small Claims Court judge ordered him to pay $7,000 in damages to a kitchen renovation client. Samman allegedly used the business name and address of a cabinet-making company without his permission.
CBC has previously reported on the Stonehouses and other flood deals Samman has worked on.
In 2018, a Ile-Bizard owner alleged that his government-licensed appraiser used his position to obtain from Samman, an acquaintance and business partner, the contract to repair his house.
Samman founded a political party, the Party unity is strength, and asked for recognition by Elections Quebec end December. The name is now reserved.
Reached Thursday in Ottawa, Samman said he was not a conspiracy theorist or an anti-vaxxer, but was opposed to people losing their livelihoods due to being forced to get vaccinated. Samman said he had to get involved in the protest because he is concerned about human rights in Canada.
“There is so much collateral damage the government has done with this tyranny,” Samman said. “What we’re going through is not normal. It’s a free country, but it’s not free right now.”
Since arriving in Ottawa, Samman has amassed a large following online who log in for his daily updates. He recently used his platform to answer questions about notices Ottawa police handed out on Wednesday warning truckers to leave or be arrested.
He also asked his followers for wire transfer donations to help support truckers.
On Feb. 10, he said he had raised $112,400 — and still had over $50,000 to give away.
He asked his followers how best to distribute the money and that he wanted to be “as transparent as possible”, citing his past. They determined that it was best to give $500 each to about 100 truckers.
A day later, Samman posted four photos of himself handing out checks.
When asked if he had a clear accounting of the money he was raising, Samman told CBC he had a team “who know exactly how much is coming in and how much is going out.”
Owners on the hook for $90,000
When Bergeron Stonehouse and her husband, John Stonehouse, met Samman in 2019, he was vice president of a renovation company called Renoka Construction.
Their home in Deux-Montagnes was damaged in the 2017 flood, and using money they received from the province’s flood compensation program, they paid Renoka a deposit to make the repairs.
But the work never started. When the Stonehouses asked Samman to repay the bond, he refused. In an interview last October, he told CBC that the contract was binding and that Renoka had already made deposits with several subcontractors.
With no repairs made, the province demanded that the Stonehouses repay nearly $90,000, putting their retirement savings at risk.
Asked about his past convictions for fraud, Samman told CBC he paid for the mistakes he made in his youth and was trying to be a better person.
As for the Stonehouses’ contract, he blamed the province for any delays in work and claimed the contract was never finalized. He also disputes how much the Stonehouses paid Renoka, but does not remember the exact figure.
Samman said he recently appealed to his supporters and about 20 people across Quebec have offered to help find ways to get the job done for the Stonehouses.
The old company files for bankruptcy
Samman says he is no longer involved with Renoka. As of last week, he was no longer registered as vice-president in the Quebec enterprise register, the Business register.
On February 11, Renoka filed for bankruptcy, with nearly $180,000 in liabilities. Samman said he was unaware of the bankruptcy filing and had nothing to do with it.
Samman now runs a company called Sinispro Renovation Inc.
The website is nearly identical to Renoka’s old website and displays Renoka’s old RBQ number, which has been canceled since August 2021.
In Quebec, anyone doing construction work must have a valid license from the Régie du bâtiment du Québec, a government agency that verifies construction, safety and professional qualifications.
RBQ spokesperson Sylvain Lamothe told CBC that the investigation department is aware of the situation.
He confirmed that Sinispro does not have a valid RBQ license and that a license is not transferable from one company to another.
“Obviously, the use of an inoperative license number is prohibited,” Lamothe said, adding that anyone who breaks the rules could face hefty fines – up to $88,000 for an individual and up to $88,000. ‘at $177,000 for a business.
Samman told CBC that Sinispro was not working yet. He says he doesn’t know how Renoka’s RBQ number ended up on the website, but said he’s using the same web designer who may have mistakenly copied and pasted it. He said he called them to find out what was going on.
With the help of a lawyer, Bergeron Stonehouse is negotiating with the province to try to reduce the amount of money she and her husband have to repay.
They want to get their lives back on track and are furious that Samman doesn’t take responsibility for what happened.
“It’s like he turns around and says, ‘I’m an honest guy, I can look anybody in the eye,'” Bergeron Stonehouse said.
“But I would like to be the person who looks you in the eye when you say it.”