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Law permitting destruction of LGBT criminal records has seen low uptake so far

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Despite efforts to promote the program, only a handful of people have applied to have criminal records for homosexual acts expunged after Parliament passed legislation to formally erase those unjust convictions four months ago.

As of Oct 1, the Parole Board of Canada (PBC) had received just seven applications for an expungement order since the program was launched on June 21, 2018. So far, only two expungements have been ordered; the other applications are still under review.

« While initial uptake on the program has been light, due to the historical nature of many of the convictions likely eligible for expungement, PBC anticipated that it could take some time for potential applicants to gather the documentation needed in order to apply, » said PBC spokesperson Iulia Pescarus Popa.

There are an estimated 9,000 historical records of convictions for gross indecency, buggery and anal intercourse in RCMP databases.

The Expungement of Historically Unjust Convictions Act, brought in as part of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s apology to LGBT Canadians for past acts of discrimination by the authorities, allows people who were criminalized for same-sex activity between consenting adults to apply for the « the destruction or permanent removal » of those records, according to a government media release.

Many of those people are now elderly or have died with their records intact. The law allows their spouses, parents, siblings, children or legal representatives to apply for record expungement on their behalf.

Gary Kinsman, a sociology professor at Laurentian University who lobbied for the legislation and a formal government apology to LGBT Canadians, blamed the low uptake on a lack of promotion and an onerous application process.

He said he has heard from people who are having « major difficulties » accessing the police or court records they need in order to file the application. Many of those records are decades old.

‘Arduous task’

« You already have people who may not even know about this, but if they do learn about it, if it actually becomes an arduous task to try to collect the documentation they need, that may not be something they are willing to pursue, » he said.

« It also opens up for many people quite traumatic events in their lives in terms of these convictions, which may have outed them, might have severely hurt their employment. »

The PBC has launched a new web page devoted to expungement, with an application guide, a form and other information to assist applicants, including a 1-800 line and a dedicated email address.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wipes his eye while he is applauded as he delivers a historic apology to LGBT people in Canada in the House of Commons on Nov.28, 2017. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

It also has worked with other government departments to distribute information to the public, stakeholders and seniors’ advocacy groups, prisoners’ rights organizations, police services, courts and law societies to raise program awareness. The PBC is also preparing a « how to » video that will be posted on its website and YouTube.

Kinsman said the government should increase awareness with ads in mainstream media and specialized LGBT publications, and assign employees to help individuals navigate the application process and obtain the necessary documentation.

« If there’s not specific people assigned to help these individuals, they’re basically going to be lost. They’re lost in a bureaucratic world, » he said.

Expungement vs. pardon

Expungement is different from a pardon or record suspension — because it leads to the individual being deemed to have never been convicted of the offence in the first place.

All judicial records are destroyed through an expungement order, while a record suspension keeps those records separate and apart without permanently removing them.

Ron Rosenes was charged, found guilty and fined for being found in a bawdy house in 1981. He does not have a criminal record but wants all of the police and court records related to his trial expunged. His request for trial records has so far proven unsuccessful, and he has heard no response from the parole board after submitting an application in July.

Ron Rosenes says the list of offences eligible for expungement should be expanded to include ‘bawdy house’ offences and others. (Ron Rosenes)

Rosenes said the number of offences eligible for expungement is too limited, and that it should be expanded to include bawdy house and other offences.

« If you’re going to have a law that expunges the records of people except those who were arrested using a given provision, then that’s not fair, » said Rosenes, who received the Order of Canada for his advocacy work on HIV.

Testifying at a Senate committee in April, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale defended the decision to limit the number of offences at first. He said the government’s initial focus is on the « defunct » offences, to avoid any delay that could be caused by including other offences that could prove more challenging to deal with.

« We have quite deliberately drafted the bill in such a way as to leave the door open for other offences, after due consideration, to be added in the future, » Goodale said at the time.

His office referred queries to the office of Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould. Her spokeswoman could not provide any information on next steps, saying only that there is no update at this time.

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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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