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‘He was crying, sweating’: A boxer’s daughter stares down his killer

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Jessica Melo didn’t wear any makeup and wore her hair pulled back tightly from her face.

She wanted Charles Gagne, the underworld hitman who murdered her father, to see the family resemblance — the rounded cheeks, buttonish nose, and sharp, often sad, eyes.

“I never stared at somebody so long and so hard as I did that day,” she said, recalling she made a point to not look away that August day in Muskoka, at Beaver Creek minimum-security prison.

Gagne, 45, murdered Eddie “Hurricane” Melo, a middleweight boxing champ and feared underworld figure, on April 6, 2001.

Jessica was 19.

Gagne was on a day pass for an armed robbery conviction when he killed Eddie and Pavao. He drove down to the GTA from a halfway house near Ottawa, shot them dead outside the café, then drove back in time for curfew.

The Crown first charged him with two counts of first-degree murder, but he cut a deal and pleaded guilty to second.

The first-degree charge would have given him a life sentence.

Instead, he was eligible for parole after 12 years.

Melo said she needed to talk to Gagne to help her understand how that was possible.

No one was ever convicted for ordering the hit on her father, who was linked by police to the late Santos (Frank) Cotroni, a Montreal mob boss.

Melo said she also needed Gagne to explain his plea deal. She said she has unsuccessfully tried for answers from the retired prosecutor who tried his case, court records officers and several others she thought might help her.

She said she has even recently written Premier Doug Ford in an effort to get answers about why the killing of her father wasn’t considered first-degree, premeditated murder.

She noted that Gagne had a long criminal record before he was hired to kill her dad, with 11 criminal convictions between 1991 and 2003, including multiple armed robberies.

“Charles should have been designated as a dangerous offender,” she said, noting that may have kept him off the streets for life.

Her curiosity about Gagne’s plea deal meant she sat for six hours at minimum security Beaver Creek prison in Muskoka with the man whom she says has put her family through hell since 2001.

Melo is 36 and a mother of two now. Her two-year-old and five-year-old children never met their grandfather, and yet the murder still haunts them all.

“There are nights that my babies cry for a man that they never met,” she said. “My aunts and uncles have never been the same since their big brother’s murder.”

“My grandmother can never feel the warmth of her first born, or smell his cologne, or watch him smile as he speaks with her, or hear his voice as he calls for her when opening her door for a visit.”

She said it disgusted her to ask her father’s killer for answers, but she wasn’t going to back down either.

She said she wanted the hitman to see up close that Eddie Melo’s daughter has grown up unafraid of him; that she’s angry, disgusted and deeply sad.

But not afraid.

It was just how her father must have felt before a big fight, she said.

Gagne had repeatedly asked her for a meeting over the past decade, she said.

Before she agreed to sit down with him, Melo said she had several conversations with his wife, Melissa, whom he married behind bars after his murder convictions.

She said Melissa said something she found particularly bizarre: “His crime doesn’t define him.”

Melo said she can’t get those words out of her mind.

“I don’t know Charles other than from the horrific crime he committed,” she said.

They sat down together in an office room at Beaver Creek, with only a prison official present. She said his back was towards the window and he looked down a lot.

“He was crying, sweating,” Melo recalled in a series of phone conversations after the meeting. “Couldn’t get his words straight at first.”

Gagne quickly made it clear that he craves forgiveness, she said, adding she wasn’t ready to offer him that.

Instead, she said she gave him blunt advice: “Do your time like a man.”

Between tears, Gagne said he wanted to be a better man. Melo told him he has no right to call himself a man. Her father was a man.

Their meeting lasted six hours. Gagne said he was sorry, over and over, she said.

Between tears, Gagne said he has often thought of killing himself, but changed his mind because he thinks he still has something to offer the world.

Gagne told her that he once was ready to end his own life when a squirrel ran by his cell window, stopped, and began vigorously scratching itself. Somehow, Gagne took this as a message to go on living.

“So he talks to squirrels,” Melo said later, sounding amused.

He cried more when she pulled out her family scrapbooks. They included a photo of her dad at age 18 when he beat Fernand Marcotte to win the Canadian pro middleweight boxing title in Montreal.

There were also plenty of family photos, several of them taken at her birthdays — one of her giving her dad a cake on Father’s Day. “Happy Knock-out FATHER’S DAY,” the icing read.

“He (Gagne) was crying when I went through the photo album of my dad,” she said.

In particular, she remembers the photo of her and her dad at Mont Tremblant outside Montreal when she was 14 and they went on a skiing adventure.

“He was terrible at it,” she recalled, laughing at the memory. “Wiped everyone out …. He felt bad because he did knock a few people down.”

When their meeting finally ended, Melo said Gagne made promises to help her in her quest for information on the plea deal.

So far, she hasn’t received anything, she said.

Meanwhile, she shudders at the thought that Gagne has already been out in the community on day passes, performing community service near his prison. She hasn’t heard yet if he was successful in an application he filed this October for a family visit to see his teenaged daughter in Mississauga, who was born shortly after his arrest in 2003.

Melo said she is generally proud of how she handled the meeting with Gagne, even though she didn’t get the information she sought.

She cried a little too. Even so, she loves the thought that her dad would have been proud of her.

“I wasn’t bawling like (Gagne) was,” she said.

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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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