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‘I will literally bite my tongue off’: Vernon pickleball feud spills over into B.C. court

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As an idea, pickleball sounds like a pretty easygoing sport. It’s basically a low-impact version of tennis, played mainly by retirees looking for a way to stay active.

But the reality — at least in Vernon, B.C. — is sometimes very different. As a recent court case lays out, the sport’s exploding popularity in this Okanagan town has come with some major growing pains.

A dispute between the Vernon Pickleball Association and one « unsportsmanlike » player became so tense, in fact, that the RCMP had to be called in, according to court documents.

This week, a B.C. Supreme Court justice upheld the VPA’s decision to permanently revoke that player’s membership, despite his insistence that he would « literally ‘bite my tongue off' » to be allowed to play.

At the centre of the conflict is a man named Lane Roberts, who joined the Vernon Pickleball League in 2015.

Over the next two years, the league says it received numerous complaints from other players about Roberts’ conduct, his insistence on bringing his barking dog to games, and, especially, his habit of trying to coach players who weren’t interested in his advice.

And so, after several warnings and one temporary suspension, the league decided to cancel Roberts’ membership.

He turned around and sued the club and 10 of its members and directors, saying each one should be fined $3,000, suspended from playing for at least nine months « for their foolishness, » and ordered to pay all of his pickleball-related costs for the rest of his life.

‘Ridiculous rule’ against unsolicited coaching

In his statement of claim, filed in B.C. Supreme Court in May, he asks for the club to « recognize their folly in imposing such a punitive, irrational, unreasonable punishment! »

Roberts writes that he was banned from the league because of a « ridiculous rule » against unsolicited coaching, which he describes as « giving helpful tips. »

The VPA, on the other hand, argues in court filings that Roberts was barred from playing for « unsportsmanlike, bothersome and threatening behaviour. »

Vernon has dedicated pickleball courts, which are smaller than regulation tennis courts. (Vernon Pickleball Association)

The feud came to a head in May 2017, when Roberts refused the club’s request to leave his toy poodle Suzie at home during games.

The tiny dog, according to a legal response filed by the VPA, « disturbed and distracted players by excessively barking during matches. The plaintiff would also tend to his dog during play, delaying the timed games and leaving playing partners standing idle. »

The league suspended Roberts from play for a month.

Two weeks into that suspension, Roberts appeared at a club pickleball session in a local park. He says he brought protest signs with him; the league says he stormed the courts and interrupted games by throwing balls over the fence.

Club officials called the RCMP, and Roberts left after police officers arrived and spoke with him, according to the VPA. The league extended his suspension for another month.

‘I will do whatever is necessary’

When Roberts was finally allowed to play again, the club says he continued his unsolicited coaching of other players, prompting more complaints. The president of the VPA sent Roberts a letter that October telling him his behaviour was making people feel uncomfortable and embarrassed, according to the VPA.

Roberts countered that he was just giving « suggestions. » In an Oct. 5, 2017, email to the board, he wrote that he had recently suffered a personal tragedy.

« If there is any time I ever needed pickleball it is NOW and I will do whatever is necessary to be allowed to play. I will literally ‘bite my tongue off’! » Roberts said.

The only equipment needed for pickleball is a plastic paddle and a whiffle ball.

Six days later, the club informed him that his membership would be permanently revoked.

Roberts, who represented himself in court, first tried suing the VPA in small claims court, but that claim was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. He filed again in B.C. Supreme Court, writing that he’d been forced to take an « arduous, gut wrenching, lengthy route to get this INJUSTICE overturned. »

Roberts ‘created a hostile environment’

On Tuesday, Justice Sheri Ann Donegan dismissed Roberts’ lawsuit, saying he’d failed to prove his implied claims of abuse of public office, conspiracy, intentional infliction of mental distress and intimidation.

She said the club had a duty to provide a safe and fun environment for other players.

« Despite their best efforts over the last years to accommodate Mr. Roberts, the evidence proves that his continued disregard for the bylaws and code of conduct, episodes of aggression and continued unsolicited coaching created a hostile environment within the VPA, » Donegan wrote.

She pointed out that Roberts can always play pickleball in one of the many nearby towns that offer the sport — in fact, he could play with friends in Vernon when the VPA isn’t using the courts.

The justice said Roberts will have to pay the league’s legal costs.

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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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