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Inuk woman’s tell-tale botulism symptoms would have been taken seriously if she’d been white, says her widower

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A man from Inukjuak said the failure of a nurse stationed in the northern Quebec community to recognize the signs of botulism cost his wife her life, and it was only after she died that clinic staff took his adult daughter’s symptoms seriously.

Jobie Kasudluak and his daughter Janice travelled to Kuujjuarapik this week to share their family’s story with Commissioner Jacques Viens, who is leading an inquiry looking into how Indigenous people are treated by Quebec government services.

It was the first time the retired judge and his entourage travelled to Quebec’s Inuit territory of Nunavik since the inquiry began two years ago.

Kasudluak testified that his wife, 54-year-old Eva Kullulak-Ookpik, had been telling the nurse for three days that there was something seriously wrong with her.

He said when he brought her to the clinic on Friday, July 7, 2017, she was struggling to breathe, she was dizzy and vomiting, and she could hardly keep her eyes open.

« The nurse on call was a young, new nurse, » he said. « She didn’t seem to know what she was doing. »

He said the nurse had to be persuaded to do blood tests, and once they were done, she sent the couple home.

« She told us there was nothing they could do, » he said. « We’d have to wait for the results until Monday. »

Begged to stay at clinic

Kasudluak said his wife begged to stay at the clinic overnight, where she’d have access to oxygen to ease her laboured breathing.

« The nurse said, ‘Emergency room is for emergencies only. If somebody comes in, you’d be in the way, » Kasudluak told the commission. He pointed out there were two other rooms at the clinic, with two beds in each of them, but still, « they refused her. »

By then it was well after midnight on Saturday, July 8. The couple returned home.

Kasudluak thought his wife was asleep when he tried to nudge her awake the next morning.

« Hi dear, are you OK? » he asked her.

But Eva Kullulak-Ookpik had died overnight, of botulism poisoning, from having eaten an Inuit delicacy of dried beluga a few days before.

[Had she been white,] she would have been on a medevac in an hour.– Jobie Kasudluak, on the medical care his wife Eva Kullulak-Ookpik received

Health Canada describes botulism as a rare but serious illness that should be treated as a medical emergency. It says anyone with the signs, symptoms or history of botulism should be hospitalized immediately.

Outbreaks of foodborne botulism from traditional foods have occurred often enough in the past that posters describing the symptoms are on public display throughout Nunavik.

Retired Superior Court Justice Jacques Viens and his entourage travelled to Kuujjuarapik in Nunavik to hear about Inuit experiences’ with Quebec government services. (Catou MacKinnon/CBC)

Daughter showing same symptoms

Kasudluak’s daughter, Janice, didn’t know her mother was sick when she and her two-year-old daughter ate some of the same dried beluga.

Janice, too, had been calling the Inukjuak health clinic and describing her symptoms: her vomit was yellow, she was having trouble breathing, and her vision was blurred — all signs of botulism.

She said she called three times before she was eventually counselled on Friday to come to the clinic the next day.

On Saturday, she woke up to a phone call from the health clinic telling her that her mother had died and asking her to come in.

Speaking in Inuktitut, Janie Kasudluak told the inquiry that by the time she got that phone call, she was so sick, the caller’s news didn’t even register.

‘I lost my best friend’

Janice Kasudluak was flown to Montreal, and her father went with her.

« I lost my best friend, and I was about to lose my daughter, » the father of nine and grandfather of 21 told the commission, through tears.

Jobie Kasudluak was at his daughter’s side in hospital when she regained consciousness, two days later. By then, Janice’s two-year-old daughter was also sick. (The latency period for botulism can be longer in children.)

She was flown to the nearest hospital, in the Nunavik community of Puvirnituq (often referred to as POV), about 180 kilometres away, but then she was sent home before she had fully recovered.

« Janice’s doctor from Montreal General [Hospital] actually had to request that this little girl has to be medevaced [back] to POV and kept there until she’s better, » Jobie Kasudluak testified.

Coroner never contacted family

The coroner’s office, whose mandate is to find the cause of death and determine if it could have been prevented, issued a report on Eva Kullulak-Ookpik’s death in April 2018.

Coroner Steeve Poisson wrote that when she consulted the health clinic the two days before she died, food poisoning had been suspected. Her lab results, as well as her daughter and granddaughters’ results, confirmed the presence of Clostridium Botulinum. Poisson confirmed the dried beluga had been the source of the bacterial contamination.

He concluded Kullulak-Ookpik had died « a natural death, » and he made no recommendations.

The coroner’s office never contacted anyone in the Kasudluak family to share its findings.

Asked by the Viens commission’s lawyer, Edith-Farah Elassal, whether he believes he and his wife would have been treated differently had they been white, Kasudluak didn’t hesitate.

« She would have been on a medevac in an hour, » he said, matter of factly. « I’ve seen it with teachers and other white people in town — getting medevaced and coming back on a scheduled flight the next day. »

Kasudluak said before his wife’s sudden illness, he’d seen very ill Inuit people turned away from the clinic, only to die a day or two later, and he’s seen it happen since.

« There’s people still being sent home when they should have been sent to a hospital for observation, » he said.

« I just hope that nobody ever goes through what we went through. »

The Viens commission into the treatment of Indigenous people in Quebec held five days of hearings in Kuujjuarapik this month. (Catou MacKinnon/CBC)

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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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