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CNIB Cane Prices Cut After Protest: Charged $85 for Stick That Cost $36 Elsewhere

Protests by a blind Winnipeg man of price gouging have caused the CNIB to slash prices on its mobility canes across the country.

"We change prices all the time," said Geoff Fitzgibbon, CNIB's national director of business operations. "Prices go up and down all the time."

They went down this time, after Eric MacKinder realized he could get a graphite cane from the Winnipeg company that produces them at half the price the CNIB was charging. MacKinder, who originally wanted to get his graphite cane repaired, was told by the CNIB last week it couldn't be fixed. They said a new cane would cost him $85 plus taxes.

MacKinder called the St. Boniface-based Ambutech and learned they charge $36 for the same cane. He was outraged and called the Free Press to complain.

When the CNIB read MacKinder's story, they re-examined their pricing policy.

"The CNIB dropped the price of the canes to $45 plus tax," MacKinder said this week. "They should be commended for doing the right thing at last."

Ambutech was also able to repair his old cane for $12.

CNIB provides its clients with their first cane free.

Fitzgibbon said the price was set at $85 because the CNIB was initially ordering them from Ambutech "in onesies and twosies." As the graphite canes became more popular, they started buying them in bulk. The organization purchases the canes in Winnipeg, has them shipped to Toronto and then distributes them across the country. Part of the markup goes to cover shipping costs.

"It's ironic that this particular client happens to live in Winnipeg," said Fitzgibbon.

MacKinder says he feels vindicated, because local CNIB employees first claimed he was mistaken as to which type of cane he'd purchased.

Susan Dewalt, Winnipeg CNIB associate director of service, said the cane he bought was not graphite but a standard aluminum model they sell for $32. "They look almost identical," Susan Dewalt, the local CNIB's associate director of service, said last week. "The difference is the graphite (canes) are lighter and more durable."

But MacKinder bought a graphite cane and had an invoice to prove it. "I think it's horrible that they're marking up the canes more than 100 percent," said MacKinder, a former industrial chemist who is now living on disability.

Fitzgibbon said the CNIB would like to sell all their products more inexpensively, but what they make in profit goes directly into services for the visually impaired. The non-profit organization has approximately 120,000 blind clients registered with them.

Reprinted from the Winnipeg Free Press, June 25, 2009.