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AfterMeToo group creating digital centre for survivors of workplace violence

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A Canadian group that pushed for change in the country’s screen industry amid the #MeToo movement is taking matters into its own hands after seeing a lack of action.

Actors Mia Kirshner and Freya Ravensbergen, two of the co-founders of AfterMeToo, say the group is building a digital online centre featuring resources for survivors of workplace violence. Formed shortly after the #MeToo movement took off on Oct. 15 of last year amid a flood of sexual misconduct allegations, ​AfterMeToo held a symposium and released a report of nine recommendations aimed at stopping workplace sexual violence.

The group, which was also co-founded by filmmaker Aisling Chin-Yee, submitted the report to government leaders and regulatory bodies for guilds and unions. The Canadian Press recently spoke with Kirshner and Ravensbergen about the digital centre, which they’ll launch sometime in 2019 with a team of volunteers, including lawyers and doctors, many of whom are survivors of sexual violence.

The project, which has the working title Rosa, will include a range of services and information including how to report an act of violence to how to save evidence.

CP:What has been the reaction to your report, which was released in March?

Kirshner: It was excellent — and then we didn’t see enough of the change we wanted and we decided to take literally the bull by the horns and make the changes ourselves.

Ravensbergen: We were a bit naive, I suppose, in thinking that this report would initiate change from leadership — from government, from unions, from production companies. We felt the report was like, ‘Here’s a roadmap and now all you need to do is follow it.’ But no one really made any changes that were from the nine recommendations, and so we got frustrated with no change happening and just decided to incorporate and do it ourselves.

​Kirshner: When we talk about the lack of change, there have been cosmetic changes. But the problem with those cosmetic changes is, it’s the same thing dressed up in different clothes, like the code of conduct.

CP:What else can you say about the project?

Kirshner: Think of it as a digital centre that provides a multiple range of inter-professional services, ranging from health and filling out forms, step-by-step, the ability to ask questions, the ability to look up case law, the ability to get geo-located where you live with the user’s consent, free legal and mental-health support.

Then in Phase 2, our goal is to provide time-limited legal consultations across Canada and trauma-informed therapy that’s available online for users, that are free, to help re-stabilize and help them deal with the trauma of workplace violence.

Ravensbergen: Think of it like a one-stop shop for survivors. When they really don’t know what to do with what’s just happened to them, this is a place where they can go. They can get information, they can get guidance on what their options are and guidance as to what option might be better suited to them.

CP: Who will be handling the calls?

Kirshner: This is a very important distinction to make: We will never, ever give you a link or an external number to call. Everything is created in-house for Rosa, by Rosa, and has to go through a regular security check and hiring practices.… We’re partnered with the Canadian Women’s Foundation, as well, on implementation. So they’ve been working with us hand-in-hand on getting us ready and preparing everything we’ve needed to prepare up until now.

We’re also working with Western University for the study of prevention against violence against women and children, who will be doing our research. Our other partner is [legal clinic] Juripop, who will be handling the legal program. They are based out of Quebec and they are piloting their first project called L’Aparté​, dealing with workplace sexual violence in the entertainment industry.

CP: This seems like a much bigger undertaking than you initially thought of when you started AfterMeToo. Explain the logistics involved.

Ravensbergen: Vibika Bianchi is the lead on this right now, as is Mia Kirshner. Because it’s all volunteer, we’re all doing what we can, when we can. That being said, we are hopeful that when funding comes in, then we’ll be able to hire full-time staff.

Kirshner: I started working on this platform about four years ago, and I began to do research with the police and the sex crimes unit because I felt that, based on my own experiences, the way in which you report is really awful. I wanted to do something in the digital space, so this project has been a long, long time in the making. As for the amount of work this is, I basically took a year off. This is a full-time job. In order to get this done, it requires work every single day, which it has to.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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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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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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