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Why these young men feel ‘guilty until proven innocent’ in Toronto




Whenever blue and red flashing lights appear in Randell Adjei’s rear-view mirror, he said he gets a queasy feeling.

The 27-year-old community leader said he’s been randomly checked near his home in Scarborough, Ont., so frequently that he can’t recall a single positive experience with Toronto police.

Last time he was pulled over, he said he was told the officer wanted to make sure he was carrying insurance, even though he hadn’t done anything wrong. 

« I feel like I’m violated, » Adjei said.

« I can’t travel in my own community without being stopped or without feeling like I’m a suspect. »

Adjei is not alone. 

Similar experiences are expected to be documented in an unprecedented report by the Ontario Human Rights Commission on Monday detailing findings from an extensive inquiry into allegations of racial profiling and discrimination by the Toronto Police Service.

Even though there are restrictions on street checks, Randell Adjei said the practice continues. The 27-year-old community leader from Scarborough, Ont., said he and other people in his neighbourhood are randomly stopped by Toronto police and asked for identification. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

The study will include police statistics from 2010 to 2017 about stop and question practices, use of force and arrests in various offence categories, such as simple drug possession and failure to comply with bail conditions. 

Fitting the description

Toronto police will not comment until the report is published, but they said they welcome the findings and are working to address the issue of implicit bias. 

Like Adjei, Louis Mensah, 28, said he gets what he describes as a « bubbling » feeling in the pit of his stomach at the sight of police cruisers. 

« You’re guilty until proven innocent, which is so weird, » Mensah said.

« You haven’t even talked to me. I haven’t opened my mouth. You don’t know how educated I am. »

Ebenzer Oteng talks on stage during a public speaking event on Dec. 8 in Toronto. The 27-year-old said community members have a role to play in mending relations with police, including saying « Hi » to officers. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

As a student studying at York University, Mensah said he was knocked to the ground by police because he fit the description of a suspect.

« They paint a picture of how the ideal criminal looks, » Mensah said.

« I’m always in a hoodie, sweats and I’m a big guy. If you see me walking down the street in all black, you’re thinking what is this guy up to? It just sucks. »

Solutions involve police and communities

Even though the practice of arbitrary police street checks has been restricted, some young men said they still feel targeted. 

« Personally, I don’t feel like I’ve really been served and protected by the police, » Adjei said.

« There’s this fear that I think has been embedded in my community. »

Instead of feeling innocent until proven guilty, Louis Mensah said he usually feels guilty until proven innocent whenever he is stopped by police. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

Even though they have had many negative experiences, they don’t call the situation hopeless. 

The young men shared possible solutions before taking to the stage on Saturday at a public speaking event. 

« There’s some great cops, » said Ebenezer Oteng, a 27-year-old who grew up in Toronto’s Jane and Finch neighbourhood. 

« I could be driving, bumping my music, look at an officer and I bump my head and they bump back. It’s a respect thing. »

Tolu Atkinson, 26, said he was given a Slurpee coupon by a police officer in Vancouver for wearing safety equipment while he skateboarded as a child. The experience remains a good memory. He hopes police forces across the country can adopt similar positive practices. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

But Oteng admits not everyone feels comfortable even saying « Hi » to officers due to fears of getting pulled over, which is something he would like to see changed from both sides. 

Youth mentoring

Jeffrey Saah, 28, said he has been stopped by police multiple times, and thinks the practice of carding should be flipped on its head. 

« If police are supposed to be public servants, then they should almost be like mentors to people in the community, » Saah said.

« Maybe they should have a case load of five to 10 youth or more, where they actually go to them. They actually speak to them. They actually go to events with them. »

The young men embrace on Dec. 8 to lend each other support at a public speaking event. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

Tolu Atkinson, 26, wants to see more police outreach work. 

When he was a child, he said he was given a Slurpee coupon by a police officer in Vancouver because he rode his skateboard with safety gear.

« That was a positive experience with police that needs to be implemented more often, » Atkinson said.

« That type of experience should be amplified and projected. »

Who gets to serve?

Atkinson said he would like to see more officers of diverse backgrounds so people feel reflected in their police forces. 

Adjei agrees, but thinks communities should get a say in the hiring process. 

« If you’re going to serve somebody, you got to understand the youth in the community, you got to understand the elders in the community, the dynamics, » Adjei said. 

« The best thing to do is to get to know people so that way when they see you in your uniform, it’s not a fear. It’s more I know why you’re coming into my community. »


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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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