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Ottawa ready to help as Inuit health officials grapple with spate of suicides

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The federal government says it will respond to pleas for help from northern Quebec, where a spate of suicides in Inuit communities this year has created what officials are calling a crisis.

« As a government, it’s truly a priority of ours that we put in place the support that people need, » Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor said Monday. She added that any loss of life by suicide « is just tragic. »

Heath authorities in Nunavik, the Quebec region that is home to the province’s Inuit communities, have already sent extra mental-health resources to one hard hit village, Puvirnituq.

« This is considered a crisis situation, » Fabien Pernet, assistant to the executive director of the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services, said in a recent interview.

The head of the school board serving the region said last week that two students have died by suicide since the beginning of the school year in mid-August, and three other young adults have taken their lives in the past month.

Support « desperately needed »

In an Oct. 12 letter, the head of the region’s council of school commissioners called for « urgent collective action » and noted that one of the suicide victims was just 11 years old.

According to media reports, Puvirnituq on Hudson Bay has had at least 10 suicides since the beginning of 2018. A coroner’s investigation is ongoing.

The deaths prompted a public lament from Mary Simon, a longtime Inuit advocate and former Canadian diplomat, who posted a widely shared message on Facebook about the recent suicide of her 22-year-old niece.

« The reason I’m telling this story is to show we desperately need ongoing mental health support and services in every Inuit community, » Simon wrote. « We have a crisis on our hands, and if we can’t provide the medical and other mental health support in the communities, it is not going to get better. It will get worse. »

Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott said in a statement last Friday she is deeply concerned by the loss of young lives in Nunavik and has offered additional support. She said the government continues to work with communities to support Inuit-led approaches to suicide prevention.

Challenges remain

« Inuit want to be able to receive services that are culturally appropriate, in their own language, » Petitpas Taylor said Monday after speaking at the Canadian Mental Health Association conference in Montreal. « So we’re looking at ways to get more people trained — in nursing, in psychology or social work — that would be a step in the right direction. »

Pernet said it remains a challenge to provide Inuit-to-Inuit mental health care — as well as health and social services on a broader level — because of such obstacles as labour agreements and professional licensing issues.

He said that in 2010, suicide prevention was made a regional health priority. Recent measures have included resources and support through a Facebook page, new crisis-intervention plans and social programs aimed at improving communication among families.

Statistics from the Quebec coroner’s office show little change in the number of deaths by suicide in the region between 2000 and 2013.

But given the current crisis, there is reason to believe those figures will be higher this year.

« There’s no actual improvement from 2000 to 2013, but there’s a lot that has been implemented from 2013 until today, » Pernet said.

« If you compare where we were four years ago and where we are at now, we’ve developed a capacity that we didn’t have. Yet it’s not sufficient, and we see it with these suicide clusters happening in Puvirnituq again. »

Symptom of a social disease

Louis Sorin, a Manitoba-based Indigenous mental-health advocate, said it is important to look at suicide as a symptom of a social disease and not just an individual medical condition.

« We have to move beyond an individualized response to a collective and community response, » Sorin, a member of the national board of directors of the Canadian Mental Health Association, said.

« We have to make space and validate the voices of those involved locally, because they really know something that’s actually very important. »

An annual conference being held next week in Nunavik will focus on the rash of deaths.

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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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