04/30/2012 12:19 EDT | Updated 06/30/2012 05:12 EDT

Natural gas supplier accused of forging B.C. contracts

A natural gas supplier is facing allegations it forged the signatures of up to 24 customers to sign them up on contacts they never agreed to.

Ontario-based Active Energy buys bulk gas then resells it to customers in four provinces: B.C., Quebec, Saskatchewan and Ontario.

But the owners of two dozen B.C. businesses, including pharmacies, pubs, even funeral homes from Richmond to Prince George are now accusing Active Energy of misrepresentation and forgery.

Kathy Simon, who runs a Cranbrook health food store, alleges someone with Active Energy fraudulently signed her up for a three-year contract.

"I never even saw an agent in my store. If I was signed up to a contract that I never signed, how many other people are involved in this kind of forgery and fraudulent activity? There's got to be more than me."

Simon became concerned with her gas bill when it shot through the roof last fall.

"In October we had a cold snap set in and my bill went from approximately $50 to $400, and that caught my attention," she told CBC News.

When Simon checked the fine print on her gas bill she noticed she was paying a third party gas provider — Active Energy based in Burlington, Ontario.

RCMP and BCUC investigate complaints

She told CBC News she had never heard of Active Energy, but soon discovered they claimed to have a contract she signed with them.

"To my surprise it was initialled and signed. But it wasn't my signature, it wasn't my initials. I looked at that contract and said this is a forgery," she alleged.

Simon complained to the BC Utilities Commission, which said they and the RCMP are already investigating many similar complaints lodged over the past six months.

BCUC director Mark Thomas points out they are just allegations at this point and have not been proven, but noted Active Energy has had previous violations with regulators

"These allegations are quite shocking. Between November and February of this year we received 24 complaints or allegations of forgery."

Simon said company officials told her the employee involved in the disputed contracts had since been dismissed, but officials with Active Energy said they would not comment while the investigations are underway.

In 2007 the B.C. government deregulated the natural gas to allow several independent companies to sell natural gas contracts to consumers.

The customers still use the existing Fortis Gas infrastructure, but are billed at rates set by the independent contractors.

Thousands of B.C. residents who switched to the new natural gas providers after deregulation ended paying significantly more than market rates after signing the multi-year contracts.

In recent years, a huge supply of the fuel from the United States has flooded the North American market.