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‘What’s our new normal?’: Ontario student escapes California wildfire after mass shooting kills classmate

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As a cloud of devastation hung over the heads of students at Pepperdine University following a mass shooting which killed one of their own, a literal « orange glow » made its way toward the school.

Marlee Hewitt, a Windsor, Ont. native currently studying at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., landed in Detroit, Mich. Monday evening following a harrowing few days, after severe fires sparked near Paradise, which sits on the north-end of California. A second blaze emerged in and around Malibu.

She said the whirlwind of events started Friday, when she was informed by her residence advisor that she and everyone at the school would have to leave the campus immediately.

A friend of Hewitt’s sent her this photo of the wildfire overlooking California’s Pepperdine University. (Marlee Hewitt)

« They brought us down to the fieldhouse where I met up with another friend. We were looking at this plume of smoke coming towards campus, » said Hewitt, adding she had to quickly decide whether to escape or seek shelter on campus overnight.

She said she decided to leave, while many of her friends elected to stay.

« It was a very, very emotional time, very hard. It’s been quite a whirlwind. »

A member of the Sacramento County Coroner’s office looks for human remains in the rubble of a house burned at the Camp Fire, Monday, Nov. 12, 2018, in Paradise, Calif. (John Locher/Associated Press)

From campus, Hewitt was able to get to a friend’s house, where the two monitored news and looked at photos of the fire which were sent to them by other friends from the university.

« At first, they couldn’t see flames but they could see the orange glow of the fire coming toward them and I think that’s when people started to get very freaked out, » said Hewitt.

« It was obviously very hard for me watching the news and getting these pictures, worrying about my friends who were there. I was very worried for them. »

‘What’s our new normal?’

Reports of the wildfire emerged one day after a gunman entered a Southern California bar Wednesday night and shot and killed 12 people, including a sheriff’s sergeant, before turning the gun on himself.

Hewitt said the community at Pepperdine University is « very, very tiny » and everyone was left with a feeling of « melancholy. »

« It hung over everybody. Everyone, kind of, knows each other, So we had a prayer service and that’s when we heard of the news that a fellow classmate, Alaina, had passed away. »

People attend the procession for the Ventura County Sheriff Sgt. Ron Helus, who was shot and killed in a mass shooting at a bar in Thousand Oaks, California, U.S., November 8, 2018. (Ringo Chiu/Reuters)

« And then to have this fire, it’s just been quite tolling on everyone’s emotions. »

She said it’s going to take a while for students at Pepperdine University to heal, adding the question of « what’s our new normal? » has been discussed among the school community.

« We’ll have to see what that’s like when we head back to campus. »

Father grateful for his daughter’s safety

Jeff Hewitt, Marlee’s father who lives in Windsor, had spent the entirety of Friday exchanging text messages with her daughter to ensure she was safe.

He said panic started setting in when cell phone service went down in California.

« She couldn’t text us. We couldn’t call her. And it was like, ‘Okay, what is happening?' » said Hewitt, adding it wasn’t until her daughter fled the Malibu area entirely that they were able to exchange messages again.

Jeff Hewitt, who picked up his daughter from the Detroit airport Monday night, says it was to see how the fire’s progression while being so far away from her. (Arms Bumanlag/CBC)

He added being so far away from his daughter during two « disasters » was a trying time for him, but is optimistic knowing his daughter’s safe. »

« Being 3,200 kilometeres away doesn’t make it any ea​sier, but everything’s going to turn out just fine. »

Marlee hopes to return to California after the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday. For now, she’ll be continuing her studies online.

The wildfire has left 42 confirmed deaths in its wake and hundreds of people unaccounted for.

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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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