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Immigration detainee sues feds for $50 million, alleging he suffered a mental breakdown and was given electric shock treatment

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A former immigration detainee, jailed for almost five years, two of them in solitary, while border officials fought in court to have him deported, is suing Ottawa for failing to heed doctors’ warnings of his mental illness and provide him with proper care.

Prosper Niyonzima, whose family was slaughtered in the Rwandan genocide, became a permanent resident of Canada in 1995 before criminal activity landed him in and out of jail, and resulted in the revocation of his immigrant status.

Prosper Niyonzima came to Canada in 1995 from Burundi at age 13 after his parents were killed in war there. He was adopted by an aunt in Toronto.
Prosper Niyonzima came to Canada in 1995 from Burundi at age 13 after his parents were killed in war there. He was adopted by an aunt in Toronto.  (Carlos Osorio / Toronto Star file photo)

In 2012, he was placed in detention to await deportation.

In a statement of claim filed Friday with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Niyonzima said that period of incarceration, which included more than 760 days in solitary, led him to experience a mental breakdown and rendered him catatonic for more than two years. He claims that when authorities finally transferred him to a secure treatment facility under a court order, he was forced to undergo painful electroconvulsive therapy, which was unsuccessful in addressing his condition.

“The plaintiff suffered pre-existing mental-health issues from childhood trauma following the Rwandan genocide in which his parents and three siblings were massacred. The plaintiff’s mental health issues were known to the defendant,” alleges Niyonzima’s $50-million lawsuit.

“Instead of ensuring enhanced medical treatment was provided, the defendant placed the plaintiff in solitary confinement …. The plaintiff was denied, among other things, proper clothing, proper medical attention, proper food, proper hygiene and given insufficient yard time.

“The plaintiff was given approximately three showers in a full year.”

None of the allegations have been proven in court, and the respondent, the Attorney General of Canada, has 20 days to file an intent to defend.

Niyonzima, 36, an ethnic Tutsi born in Burundi, lost his parents and siblings at age 11 when they were murdered in Rwanda. He fled to Canada in 1995 and was adopted by his aunt who successfully sought asylum here. Both became Canadian permanent residents that same year.

As a young man, Niyonzima was convicted of a series of crimes, including break-and-enter, theft and drug-related offences. After serving jail time, the Canada Border Services Agency ordered his deportation in 2005.

Eventually, he was given a five-year reprieve from deportation out of “humanitarian and compassionate concerns” that he would be returning to a country where he had no relatives and couldn’t even speak the language.

He met a woman and together they had a baby in 2009. However, Niyonzima returned to crime and was convicted of theft. Upon his release from jail in 2010, he sought help and was treated by psychiatrists, who diagnosed him with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from the massacre of his family, he says in his lawsuit.

However, Niyonzima was stripped of his permanent resident status due to the new conviction and once again faced deportation from Canada. On Jan., 13, 2012, Canada Border Services Agency detained him for fear he would vanish as he waited for his deportation to Burundi.

While being held, Niyonzima was scheduled for removal on three occasions but all three attempts were stayed by the federal court, which acknowledged he had made progress subsequent to the treatment of “the mental health problems underlying his criminality.”

In July 2013, while incarcerated at Toronto West Detention Centre, Niyonzima’s daughter was adopted out to another family. Around that time, Niyonzima became catatonic and was placed on suicide watch in segregation, according to the lawsuit. A month later, he was transferred to Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay.

The lawsuit claims officials refused to transfer Niyonzima to a facility in Toronto where it would be easier for him to obtain a designated representative and access mental health professionals for assessment and treatment.

“The continued refusals resulted in an inordinate delay in obtaining proper psychiatric treatment resulting in further deterioration of Prosper’s health in solidarity confinement,” says the lawsuit.

In January 2015, Canada Border Services Agency was ordered by the Federal Court to pay for a psychiatric assessment. Niyonzima was diagnosed with catatonia and transferred to the St. Lawrence Valley secure treatment unit in Brockville, where he claims he was given the electroconvulsive treatment.

He was released on Oct. 27, 2016 under the supervision of the Toronto bail program and monitored by a team of physicians and psychiatrists. Since then, he has been issued a three-year temporary resident permit, after which he can apply to restore his permanent residence if he doesn’t have any more run-ins with the law.

Immigration detainees are entitled to a detention review every 30 days before an immigration tribunal to decide if they should be released. Niyonzima’s lawyer, Subodh Bharati said his client underwent close to 60 reviews but was never released.

“At each detention review, adjudicators of the Immigration division accepted the Canada Border Services Agency’s representations (that he was a flight risk) and continually upheld Prosper’s detention, despite the fact that he had obtained three stays of removals from the Federal Court and despite the fact that he was now catatonic and in dire need of medical treatment,” Bharati noted.

“Both the CBSA and adjudicators of the Immigration Division had a duty of care to the plaintiff to conduct their investigations in a competent manner.”

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

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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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