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Sherman murder probe obtains seven more search warrants

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Toronto homicide detectives have obtained seven more search warrants as part of their investigation into the targeted double murders of billionaire couple Barry and Honey Sherman, court documents show.

“The investigation is still active and ongoing,” Detective Dennis Yim told a Toronto court last week during a hearing in which the Star was seeking information on the case. “Investigators are methodically reviewing material and pursuing different investigative avenues.”

The seven new warrants bring to 28 the total number filed by police since last December. Some targets of previous warrants — cellular telephone and banking records — were made public, but these new warrants target locations that are too specific to release without compromising the investigation, a crown attorney told the court.

The Star had argued at the hearing that a series of missteps by police — including the pursuit of the murder-suicide theory for six weeks and a similar delay in reviewing CCTV footage — were deserving of public oversight and at least a redacted version of all warrant documents and the police investigation notes that support them should be released.

The strangled bodies of Apotex founder Barry Sherman and his wife Honey were discovered in their homes on Friday, December 15. It is likely they were killed the previous Wednesday evening.

Pringle acknowledged the Star’s goal in seeking the records was “appropriate and important.”

“They want to shed light on some areas where they feel mistakes may have been made, and they want to understand why this investigation is taking so long,” Pringle said. “In this regard, I agree there is a public interest in transparency of the legal process.” She told the Star it could renew its application if charges are laid or if circumstances related to the investigation change.

During the Star’s court challenge, the Star did learn some information related to the probe of the couple, who were well known in Toronto and internationally as major donors to Jewish and other charities.

The new judicial authorizations to search were approved by Pringle between April and last week. Pringle is the go-to judge for all Sherman warrants, court heard. Four new authorizations were obtained April 16, two on June 27, and one was granted Sunday, September 23.

There had been a flurry of authorizations in the first two months of the probe but then a lag until April. Police will not say how many of the authorizations are search warrants (which are for a specific location such as a house) and how many of them are “production orders,” a warrant that is typically served on banks and telecommunication companies that maintain data police believe would be helpful to a probe.

Detective Yim, who was seconded to the homicide squad from one of Toronto’s police divisions said the Sherman case has been his full-time assignment since December 21, 2017. His role is to prepare search warrant applications and review information yielded by the warrants.

He told court last week that 3,700 pages of documents and 1,390 electronic files have been obtained, but would not say what they contain.

Yim said “more than 50 officers have been involved in this investigation to date.” Asked by the Star during cross-examination to name all of the officers, Yim was unable to. The Star provided the names of the lead officer, Detective Sgt. Susan Gomes and the lead investigator Detective Brandon Price, plus the name of an additional officer. Yim agreed those officers were working on the case, but he said they were not working full-time on the Sherman probe. Crown attorney Peter Scrutton told court there was “at least one” officer working full-time on the case (Yim).

The Star’s investigation began in early January when police sources had told numerous Toronto media outlets, including the Star, that police believed it was a murder-suicide. A January 19, 2018 story prompted detectives to interview the pathologist the Sherman family hired to conduct a second set of autopsies, and shortly after police announced it was a double murder.

During the court hearing, the Star raised several issues it has turned up in its own probe and provided them to the court as examples of information the sealed court documents would shed light on. Among them:

  • Why did police not interview the family’s pathologist, Dr. David Chiasson, immediately after he did the second set of autopsies on December 20? Chiasson was not interviewed until January 21.
  • Why did police wait until a month after the Shermans died to view four days of CCTV footage seized from the Apotex head offices in December? The Star has discovered that when police copied the CCTV footage the weekend after the bodies were discovered they did not realize they could not view it due to a software security feature. Police eventually contacted Apotex and asked for a fresh copy of the file, according to a source with knowledge of the incident.
  • Why have police only recently asked for DNA samples from a person who was in the Sherman house on Wednesday, Dec. 13, the last time the couple was seen alive? The Star’s investigation has revealed that police were doing this to exclude the person (a woman who was a friend and regular visitor) from DNA found at the site. The Star wanted to ask the detective why this type of analysis was not done months earlier.

Detective Yim said he was unable to answer any questions regarding specifics of the investigation or what was contained in the sealed documents. Justice Pringle ruled that the Star could not pursue this line of questioning because it would infringe on the sealing order she had put in place. In her ruling she said Yim’s answers on the witness stand were “vague,” but she said this was out of necessity.

Making public the inner workings of the Sherman investigation “poses a serious risk of compromising the police investigation,” Pringle said.

As the judge who has signed off on all search warrants and production orders she said she is satisfied the probe is “active and ongoing … I can say that the police investigation appears to be extensive, meticulous and careful. Contrary to the Applicant’s concern that it has stalled, the investigation appears to be progressing at this time.”

The Star also argued that there were parts of the 220 pages at issue that could be released to the public because they would not impact the ongoing police investigation. Citing case law, the Star pointed out that if there is an earlier theory in a case (for example, murder-suicide) that portion of the police warrant information can be released without harming the rest of the probe.

During cross-examination, Detective Yim said that the murder-suicide theory was one of three the police pursued in early days and is represented in the search warrant documents.

Justice Pringle ruled that she could not allow access even to “certain theories that may now have been discarded by police.” She said the warrant documents are too intertwined and “not easily severed into discrete parts or issues. Read out of context and in isolation, bits and pieces of information have real potential to be misleading.”

Toronto Police Detective Sgt. Susan Gomes did not respond to a series of questions provided to her a week ago.

Kevin Donovan is the Star’s chief investigative reporter based in Toronto. Reach him by email at kdonovan@thestar.ca or (416) 312-3503. Follow him on Twitter: @_kevindonovan

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‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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