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RCMP’s sexual harassment suit bigger and more expensive than predicted

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The Royal Canadian Mounted Police need more money to help cover a historic class-action lawsuit after more women than expected came forward with stories of harassment and sexual abuse.

The « need to seek additional funds » was flagged in a briefing note from RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, obtained by CBC News through access to information laws.  

In 2016, Bob Paulson — then the RCMP commissioner — delivered a historic apology to female officers and civilian members as part of a settlement in two class-action lawsuits.

The settlement — known as the Merlo-Davidson settlement after plaintiffs Janet Merlo and Linda Davidson — covers all women who were harassed while working for the RCMP during and after September, 1974. Each victim is eligible for a payout of between $10,000 and $220,000.

As the settlement was announced, the government set aside $100 million to cover the claims but left open the option of increasing the sum.

That $100 million fund was established back when the RCMP expected about 1,000 people to submit claims. Instead, the assessor’s office received more than three times that number of claims.

« The RCMP will soon determine the amount of incremental funding required to pay for both the compensation awards to claimants above those originally estimated and the resulting impact on the assessor’s office, » wrote Lucki back in June.

The RCMP won’t say how much extra money they’ll need.

« Every claimant who is determined by the independent assessor to be eligible for compensation will receive the amount she is entitled to under the settlement, however, we are not in a position to speculate on the total amount at this time, » said RCMP spokesperson Staff Sgt. Tania Vaughan in an email to CBC.

« The RCMP is continuing to monitor the claims process and the amount of incremental funding required to pay for the whole of the claims process. »

Scott Bardsley, a spokesperson for Goodale, said the department hasn’t yet received a request for funding from the RCMP but is expecting one. Once it arrives, it will be forwarded to the finance department.

Last fiscal year the force paid out $6.7 million to 144 claimants and more than $12 million in legal fees, according to the annual Public Accounts tabled recently in Parliament. The deadline to file was extended until May of this year.

Goodale has called publicly for a « new culture » within the force, one free of « workplace harassment, bullying and sexual misconduct. »

« Those suffering mental anguish as victims must have access to the help and support they need to heal, » he wrote in a blog post this summer.

#Metoo effect

David Klein, one of the lead lawyers in the RCMP class action lawsuit, said the boom in the number of claims is a good thing.

« We’re encouraged that women have felt sufficiently comfortable to come forward and tell their stories, » he said.

Retired RCMP officers Linda Davidson, left, and Janet Merlo share a laugh outside Federal Court in Toronto on Wednesday, May 24, 2017. Davidson and Merlo were representative plaintiffs in a class-action suit against the RCMP on behalf of sexually harassed female employees. (Colin Perkel/Canadian Press)

« We think the increased numbers sends a message to the RCMP and all employers that this is something that needs to be taken seriously and addressed, that everything that can be done to address sexual harassment in the workplace should be done. »

The briefing note says the forecast of 1,000 claims was based on « the information that was available at that time. »

« During the claims window, greater societal attention became focused on issues of harassment and discrimination, including the rise of the #MeToo movement, which may have contributed to the greater-than-expected number of claims being submitted, » it says.

More help needed

As of Nov. 15, 2018, independent assessor Michel ​Bastarache — a former Supreme Court justice — had waded through about a quarter of the claims, rendering 809 decisions out of 3,131 claims.

Late last month, the Federal Court assigned Lynn Smith, a former judge with the British Columbia Supreme Court, as an additional assessor « to ensure the expeditious processing of claims. »

Successful claimants are awarded compensation on a sliding scale, ranging from level one claims — which cover sexualized comments —  to level six claims involving « forcing [the] complainant to engage in penetrative sex acts. »

Guy Versailles, a spokesperson for the assessor’s office, said the office isn’t ready to provide a breakdown of how many claimants have been assessed at each level so far.

« We do not give numbers beyond those on our website. Complete breakdown by categories will be given in our final report, » he said in an email to CBC.

Versailles said the assessor’s office expects it will take another 18 to 20 months to process all the claims.

The RCMP could be on the hook for even more money if a second class action is approved. Earlier this year, lawyers for two veteran male RCMP officers filed a $1.1 billion class action claim in federal court that seeks compensation for thousands of past and present employees for what they claim is widespread « bullying, harassment and intimidation. »

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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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