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Canada still short of police officers trained to spot drug-impaired drivers

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The number of police officers trained to recognize drug-impaired drivers is lagging far behind the number that police chiefs said would be needed after cannabis is made legal for recreational use nationwide on Oct. 17.

According to a senior government official, 833 Canadian police officers have been trained as drug recognition experts (DREs). That’s a far cry from the 2,000 the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police said should be trained to fulfil the government’s push to crack down on drug-impaired drivers.

While the number of DRE-trained officers has increased by 50 per cent since last fall, government officials have said more work must be done to push that number higher.

Moreover, while the government has introduced three new criminal offences involving cannabis-impaired driving, they all require a positive blood test from a suspect before a Crown attorney can secure a conviction.

Right now, the vast majority of police forces across the country are not equipped to draw a blood sample at a police station or detachment. In fact, government officials said Friday they weren’t aware of a single police service in the country capable of drawing blood at a station or detachment.

Officials said police forces could tap federal funding to hire nurses or a technician to draw the samples they need.

The three new drug-related offences — now in effect after Bill C-46 passed Parliament in June — are for drivers who have consumed drugs within two hours of driving.

A driver found to have at least two nanograms, and less than five nanograms, of THC per millilitre of blood could face a maximum fine of up to $1,000. (THC is the primary psychoactive found in cannabis.)

A driver caught with a blood THC level of more than five nanograms, or found to have been drinking alcohol and smoking cannabis at the same time, faces a fine and the prospect of jail time. In more serious cases, a drug-impaired driver can face up to 10 years behind bars if convicted.

Police who are certified DRE experts undergo a series of practical training sessions — a program developed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police — to help them identify drivers who are impaired but aren’t under the influence of alcohol. The program is designed to enhance a police officer’s ability to spot the common signs of drug use.

Unlike cannabis impairment, alcohol impairment is relatively easy to detect because there is a closer correlation between the results of drivers’ breathalyzer tests and their blood alcohol levels.

While the government has given a green light to one oral fluid device — which can help road patrol police officers detect the presence of drugs — police services still need DRE-trained officers since not all drugs can be screened for at the roadside, and there isn’t enough evidence to set limits for every substance.

A DRE-trained officer takes a suspected impaired driver through a 12-step process which includes physical tests, the collection of urine or saliva samples, if necessary, and questions to determine the driver’s state of mind.

An assessment from a DRE-trained police officer could be enough on its own to level an impaired-driving charge against a driver under other, potentially less punitive Canadian laws that are meant to discourage people from driving while high.

Drug recognition experts are not the front-line officers trained to conduct Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) — roadside tests to identify drug-impaired drivers. Rather, DREs are trained to test drivers once they’ve already been stopped for a drug-impaired driving offence.

« We wish to, once again, assure all Canadians that failure to reach the target of 2,000 DREs in Canada does not prevent the police from being able to detect and deal with drug-impaired drivers today and once cannabis is legalized on October 17, 2018, » the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police said in a statement.

« Canadian police services are working diligently to increase the number of trained officers while ensuring that there is a strategic deployment of trained police officers across each jurisdiction. »

Government sending mailer to 14 million households

After a fractious debate in Parliament and impassioned arguments between prohibitionists and those demanding a more permissive regime, recreational marijuana possession will be legal nationwide in two weeks’ time.

The government is sending a postcard-size document to 14,000,000 Canadian households over the next two weeks. The document outlines some of the basics of Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, including warnings about driving or working while high and the need to keep cannabis away from children, youth and pets.

It also warns of the potential health effects of ingesting cannabis and the risks involved in travelling with cannabis across the Canada-U.S. border.

Canadians will be receiving pamphlets in the mail as part of the federal government’s public education plan ahead of cannabis legalization on Oct. 17. (CBC)

Starting on Oct. 17, more and more Canadian travellers to the U.S. could be forced to answer an uncomfortable question by wary American customs officers: Have you ever smoked pot?

Those who tell the truth risk being banned from the United States for life and might have to apply for a special waiver in order to visit the U.S. in future.

Thousands of Canadians have been denied entry to the U.S. for cannabis use already, while others have been banned simply for admitting they’ve smoked a joint once in their lives. For American border guards, a confession is just as good as a conviction.

While some U.S. states have dismantled prohibition — including Washington, a border state — possession remains a criminal offence federally. And the U.S. border is governed by federal law.

It also will be illegal for travellers to bring cannabis to Canada from abroad.

New signs will be posted at the border warning travellers. A government official said Friday that all Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) guards will be required to ask each and every traveller about cannabis possession at the border, and a question about cannabis use will be added to the declaration forms travellers fill out when entering Canada by air.

Provinces responsible for retail

While the federal government’s legislation dismantles many of the criminal sanctions against the drug, it’s up to individual provinces to decide on the practical details of cannabis sales, and rules on where and when someone can light up.

As with many aspects of law in the patchwork of Canadian federalism, the rules vary considerably depending on where you live. In general, the legal age has been harmonized with the current drinking ages: 18 or 19.

Ontario will restrict legal sales to an online portal until some point in the spring when private stores will be up and running (April has been tentatively suggested). The Ontario Cannabis Store, a government-owned entity, will be the exclusive wholesale and distributor to those stores.

Other provinces, like Quebec and most of Atlantic Canada, are pursuing a Crown corporation approach with distribution and sales controlled by an arm of the provincial government. In the West, retail sales will be handled largely by the private sector.

Municipalities will have leeway to implement their own bylaws on the location of stores and other local matters. Apartment buildings and condo boards will have their own restrictions, with many already opting for a restrictive stance banning cannabis consumption on their properties, both inside and out.

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Anglais

‘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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Anglais

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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