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‘No one is going to stick their neck out:’ Memos suggest Saudi threats chilled support for Canadian tweets – National




Divide and conquer.

That seems to have been the strategy Saudi Arabia used to muzzle allies from speaking out in support of Canada in a diplomatic crisis that broke out in August over a tweet calling for the release of detained civil and women’s rights activists.

READ MORE: The exclusive report on how Canada spent months on Saudi diplomacy before embassy suggested tweet behind firestorm

As Global News was the first to report on Friday, the unprecedented backlash to the tweet posted in Arabic by the Canadian Embassy in Riyadh caught officials in both Ottawa and the embassy unprepared and left them reeling as they tried to figure out what was happening.

Further evaluation of the hundreds of pages of emails, briefing notes and memos released to Global News under access to information laws shows that Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland began reaching out to “like-minded” countries as the crisis unfolded.

WATCH BELOW: The first 24 hours of the Saudi-Canada tweet feud left Canadians reeling

Emails and documents prepared for the minister show meetings arranged in Ottawa with officials from the British High Commission on Aug. 7 as well as phone calls with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan, foreign minister for the United Arab Emirates.

“We would indeed welcome public support from friends,” read emails from officials.

But that was not to be.

READ MORE: ‘I’m in shock:’ The first 24 hours of the Saudi-Canada tweet feud left Canadians reeling

On Aug. 7,  notes sent from the embassy in Riyadh show officials beginning to grapple with the need for “contingency plans.”

That came after Saudi Arabia’s Cultural Bureau issued a tweet recalling its thousands of students and doctors studying in Canada, which Canadian officials described in emails as “the hardest line envisaged.”

At the same time, Saudi officials were at work gathering support.

WATCH BELOW: Canada calls for German backing amid Saudi human rights spat

“Saudi MOFA [Minister of Foreign Affairs] is in the process of holding briefings all day today for all HOMs [heads of mission], except EU and Canada, but separated by each geographic region,” the notes state.

A later email describes the meetings organized by the Saudis as “calling in regional groupings to make a pitch for support.”

Further documents state that in those meetings, Saudi Arabia Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir “warned representatives that taking a negative position on KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) would force ‘a response.’”

It goes on to note that the meetings, and the exclusion of the EU in addition to Canada, suggest the “Saudis were well aware that there was a movement led by a Dutch MEP, Marietje Schaake — which at the time had 44 signatures — for Mogherini to issue a public statement in support of Canada.”

Federica Mogherini is the EU’s High Representative for Security Affairs and Policy.

A response sent from a Global Affairs official minutes later says “needs to be corroborated but another level up.”

WATCH BELOW: Spat? Dispute? What’s going on between Saudi Arabia and Canada?

That same day, Canadian officials from the embassy in Riyadh said they had plans to meet with representatives from General Dynamics Land Systems about the matter. That’s the company contracted to provide $15-billion worth of armoured vehicles to the Saudis under a controversial, secret deal inked by the former Conservative government but protected by the Liberals since 2015.

“GDLS guys based in Riyadh already planning to meet me either today or tomorrow – will report on it, in case any significant/new points raised by them,” the official reports back to Ottawa.

READ MORE: As Saudi-Canada feud escalates, here’s how axing armoured vehicle deal could hurt Trudeau in 2019

Representatives for Governor General Julie Payette had also requested a briefing on the crisis on Aug. 7.

Global Affairs officials had also quietly begun drafting a statement that might walk back the language of the tweets that prompted the crisis.

“Canada remains concerned about the fate of civil society activists in Saudi Arabia,” one excerpt of the proposed statement reads. “However, it was never Canada’s intention to interfere in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or challenge its sovereign rights as has been suggested.”

The next day, on Aug. 8, officials were looking for ways to reframe the conversation and potentially repair ties.

Proposals put forward included casting the crisis as a “personal dispute” between Saudi Arabia and Dennis Horak, the exiled Canadian ambassador.

“Is there a possibility of looking at this for our current situation? This would allow us to move forward and open a new chapter with a new HOM,” one note reads.

WATCH BELOW: Diplomatic dispute forces Saudi students out of Canada

Another warns that the situation at the embassy was becoming a challenge.

“Morale at the mission is declining as more measures are put in place and rumours are circulating,” another email reads and adds that many staff were asking “if the mission is closing or if they will lose their jobs.”

But by 5:33 PM on Aug. 9, it was clear: no one was going to come to Canada’s aid.

“Minister has been calling around to review with friends,” one email reads. “No one is going to stick their neck out.”

In the days that followed, Canada refused to back down.

READ MORE: Is Canada a ‘whipping boy’ for Saudi Arabia? Why the kingdom picked a fight over a tweet

A readout from a phone call between Freeland and Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, describes a discussion on Aug. 13, in which she said exactly that to her counterpart.

“MINA said we cannot back down on the tweets as this would suggest an element of self-censorship and backing down which would not be well received by the Cdn public,” the readout states. “Past is past and we need to move forward.

“MINA said that we can make a clear affirmation on the importance of the relationship and our belief in the importance of Vision 2030 and Canada’s desire to support these reform efforts.”

MINA is the shorthand way government departments refer to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, based from when the position was originally known as the Minister of International Affairs.

Documents obtained by Global News in November showed there has been little resolution to the tension between Canada and Saudi Arabia.

Federal officials deem the relationship “fractured.”

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal




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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Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow




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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Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise




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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