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‘It’s an epidemic:’ Inexpensive crystal meth eclipsing opioids on the Prairies

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Police are dealing with a prairie fire of methamphetamine use which is rapidly overtaking fentanyl as the drug of choice for many.

Opioid use continues to be a public-health crisis with just under 4,000 deaths across Canada in 2017 and over 3,000 in 2016.

But officers in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta say they’re worried about crystal meth as a narcotic of choice.

« The meth problem is happening across the Prairies. They’re seeing that opioid use is now being replaced with meth, » said Lethbridge police Chief Rob Davis.

« What I’m hearing anecdotally is so many people were dying on the fake fentanyl that there’s a perception out there that meth is safer — still dangerous, but safer. »

Meth, followed by heroin and fentanyl, is the top drug consumed at the supervised consumption site in Lethbridge. Davis recently watched people coming out of the site.

« There were some who looked like the Time-Life commercials for songs of the ’60s, where everybody’s doing their interpretive dancing, and then I’m watching people who just had that walk of rage, just stomping down the street with all that anger. »

Lethbridge police chief Rob Davis says there’s a perception among some people that meth is safer than fentanyl. (Lucie Edwardson/CBC)

The situation in Saskatoon is no better.

« It is an epidemic. I think we’ve reached that point, » said Det.-Sgt. Robin Wintermute from the police drug enforcement team.

« When I talked to my cohorts up in Prince Albert and down in Regina, they have the same things going on in their city as we are. It’s relatively cheap compared to cocaine and so it correlates with our business and residential break-ins, our petty thefts, our mail frauds, stolen autos, all that stuff. »

Wintermute said a tenth of a gram of meth costs $5 to $10 while a single hit of fentanyl can run anywhere from $40 to $60.

Edmonton police have also seen a dramatic rise in meth use. Seizures of the drug surged to 33,112 grams in 2017 from 9,017 grams in 2013. Just under 30,000 grams has been seized so far this year.

« The trend is certainly going upwards, » said Sgt. Guy Pilon, clandestine lab co-ordinator in Edmonton’s organized crime division. « There’s no lack of meth on the street. What we are seeing though is kind of an anomaly in that there is some really inexpensive meth that’s being sold out there, almost half the price of the normal stuff. »

Pilon said there’s also been an increase in the use of speedballs — users take fentanyl until about the time they are going to nod off and then use meth as a stimulant.

Many dealers are offering a wide range of drugs for customers instead of focusing on just one kind of narcotic, he added.

« Now the drug traffickers are selling more of a cornucopia of drugs to serve a greater client base. »

Winnipeg’s police Chief Danny Smyth has said the skyrocketing use of methamphetamine is creating a crisis for police, health-care services and addictions treatment centres.

At a West Broadway drop-in centre in Winnipeg, many of the people who use the sleeping mats are addicted to meth. They stay up all night on the streets, then need a safe place to sleep during the day. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

Numbers from Winnipeg’s health authority show there has been a 1,200 per cent rise in people going to hospitals because of methamphetamine — 218 meth-related visits in April 2018 from 12 in April 2013.

Officer safety is also a concern. Where opioid users tend to be docile, those high on meth are more unpredictable.

« That’s the problem with it, right? Some of them have been up for days. It’s a devastating drug on the body and typically they’re not easy to deal with when they’re on the drug, » said Wintermute.

« They’ll use it all day long or over a period of days just to keep that high … then it’s a crash.

« They’ve got to feed that addiction. »

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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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