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Canadians at forefront of global study seeking solutions to refugee crisis

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As world leaders debate the fine print of a global deal on refugees at the United Nations, a group of Canadian researchers is already laying the groundwork for one of the most ambitious initiatives to explore local solutions to the escalating crisis.

The team, led by Carleton University professor James Milner, has worked quietly behind the scenes since 2015 to build a network of partners in Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon and Tanzania — home to many of the world’s displaced people — seeking ways to help these host communities cope with the influx of migrants.

Somali refugee boys recite the Qur’an at a Madrassa, or Islamic religious school, at Dadaab refugee camp, which hosts more than 230,000 refugees in northern Kenya in December 2017. Researchers from Carleton, York, Ottawa and McGill universities are laying the groundwork for one of the most ambitious research initiatives to explore local solutions for the world’s escalating refugee crisis.
Somali refugee boys recite the Qur’an at a Madrassa, or Islamic religious school, at Dadaab refugee camp, which hosts more than 230,000 refugees in northern Kenya in December 2017. Researchers from Carleton, York, Ottawa and McGill universities are laying the groundwork for one of the most ambitious research initiatives to explore local solutions for the world’s escalating refugee crisis.  (Ben Curtis / Associated Press File Photo)

“Responding to the needs of refugees is a global challenge,” said Milner, who is overseeing the seven-year research project to study global refugee policies. “Eighty-six per cent of the world’s refugees settle in the global south, sometimes for years. These countries are not tooled to respond to the challenge. How can civil society better respond to the needs of refugees?”

There has been much political bickering between developing countries, who host the majority of refugees, and their developed counterparts, who are trying to guard their borders against the influx. Much of it focuses on the language of the Global Compact on Refugees, which will be finalized at the UN in New York on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, before all 193 member states vote on it by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, the $3.7 million global refugee study — a collaboration between Carleton, York, Ottawa and McGill universities — has brought together international aid organizations, academics from the four refugee-hosting countries as well as their colleagues from the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States to seek practical, sustainable, grassroots solutions to the crisis on the ground.

Some $2.5 million of the project funding is coming from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the rest will come from the Canadian universities and aid groups in services and grants.

While only political will can address the source of war and violence, Milner said researchers will focus on initiatives that support refugees in diverse places and finding ways to improve their lives.

Milner said the project aims to identify priorities for aid groups and refugees in each of the four countries by next May before 96 Canadian graduate students are trained to work with local academics, students, NGOs and refugees to launch individual research studies locally next summer.

So far, preliminary consultations have identified unique concerns faced by refugees in each country: the humanitarian and development approaches in Kenya and Tanzania; access to education and gender equality in Lebanon; and access to public services and water in Jordan.

“We need to examine what policy works, what doesn’t work, and answer the question why we keep facing the same challenges over and over again despite spending millions and millions of dollars in programming,” said Milner.

Professor Maha Shuayb of the Lebanese American University said research dollars on refugees are limited even though her country is overwhelmed by the one million Syrians and 270,000 Iraqis who have sought refuge there and are awaiting resettlement to another country.

Dulo Nyaoro, a professor with Moi University in Nairobi, said Kenya has been the host of some 500,000 Somali and South Sudanese refugees for decades and solutions must come locally to settle and integrate these migrants, though the world must address the universal issue of discrimination and xenophobia.

“The reality is the global north and global south both face the same problems, but we see (them) from different perspectives and each country has its own interests,” said Nyaoro. “This affects all of us and we really need to synergize and synchronize to find solutions.”

Nicholas Keung is a Toronto-based reporter covering immigration. Follow him on Twitter: @nkeung

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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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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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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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