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Meng Wanzhou is out on bail — but could be in legal limbo for years

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Meng Wanzhou says she hasn’t read a novel in 25 years.

As the lawyer for Huawei’s chief financial officer told B.C. Supreme Court Justice William Ehrcke Tuesday, the 46-year-old has been too busy raising a family and helping her father grow his company into a global telecommunications giant.

Defence lawyer David Martin said his client practically welcomes the constraints Ehrcke considered before granting her $10 million bail under strict supervision: more time to spend with her daughter, to catch up on her love of literature — and who knows, maybe even to consider getting her PhD?

Meng, who was arrested in Vancouver at the request of U.S. officials, is accused of violating international sanctions against Iran through a « hidden » Huawei subsidiary called Skycom.

U.S. prosecutors claim she put American banks in legal jeopardy by lying about the relationship between the companies, inducing them into « carrying out transactions that they otherwise would not have contemplated. »

Meng Wanzhou left B.C. Supreme Court in downtown Vancouver around 8 p.m. local time, nearly five hours after the judge delivered his decision. (CBC)

The U.S. wants to see her extradited.

But if the legal precedents Ehrcke considered in granting Meng her freedom are anything to go by, she may have time to finish War and Peace, Anna Karenina and the complete works of Marcel Proust before her extradition odyssey is done.

« This has been an unusual case, » the judge said as he wrapped up the day, which drew crowds so large the sheriff had to set up televisions in the lobby. 

The proceedings spoke to a number of Vancouver stereotypes: a part-time yoga instructor, a real estate agent, an insurance salesperson and a homemaker all came together as last minute sureties to guarantee the freedom of a woman whose father with an estimated worth of $3.2 billion US.

And all of this on a day with torrential rain.

Left holding the bag

In considering bail, Ehrcke had to balance Meng’s risk of flight against the guarantees of friends who put their own property on the line as sureties.

He considered the examples of Rakesh Saxena and Lai Changxing, two men who fought long battles against extradition.

It took 13 years before Saxena was deported to Thailand, where he was jailed for fraud.

And Lai — once considered one of China’s most wanted men — fought deportation for more than a decade before being sent back to face charges of bribery and theft.

Both men lived under house arrest and were eventually freed pending the resolution of their cases. Saxena was placed under house arrest again after violating the conditions of his release.

Lai Changxing fought deportation from Canada for years. His case was one of the examples the judge considered in granting bail to Meng. (Chuck Stoody/Canadian Press)

Ehrcke also considered the case of Michael Wilson, an accused fraudster, who — like Meng — was wanted for extradition to the U.S. and who — also like Meng — had multiple sureties step forward.

But Wilson fled to Vietnam with two of those guarantors in a bid to escape justice, leaving the other two holding the bag.

Wilson’s actions cost one of them $200,000. The friends who stepped forward for the Huawei CFO could be on the hook for as much as $3 million if she flees.

‘Myriad’ reasons to avoid the U.S.

Meng was arrested just over a week ago on a provisional arrest warrant as she passed through Vancouver International Airport en route to Mexico, Costa Rica, Argentina and France.

Prosecutors claim the fact she hasn’t stepped foot in the United States since 2017 is proof she’s avoiding possible arrest in that country.

But Ehrcke rejected that argument, pointing out that people have « myriad » reasons for avoiding the United States in the past two years.

U.S. President Donald Trump chats with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Tensions between the two countries have been rising. (Andy Wong/Associated Press)

The judge didn’t mention Donald Trump’s name — but the tense relationship between the U.S. president and China’s leadership has simmered in the background from the moment Meng first stepped foot in court.

« There’s a larger macro struggle going on between the United States and China, » Martin told the court during his client’s first appearance — proceedings to which the CBC News has since listened.

Many of the people who packed the courtroom for three days running questioned the timing and motive of the arrest. They applauded Ehrcke’s final decision and some congratulated Meng’s husband as he left the courtroom.

Supporters decried the allegations and one man walked outside the courthouse and shouted, « We love Huawei. »

Patience and time

The arrest of a Canadian in China on the same day that Meng’s release was to be decided increased the air of intrigue.

And Trump’s assertion that he might intervene in the case against Meng if it would help national security interests or close a trade deal with China only helped reinforce the sense that the case may ultimately be decided in Washington and Beijing, not Vancouver.

For now, though, Meng is confined to a strict radius of locations in Vancouver, Richmond and parts of North and West Vancouver.

She’ll pay for round-the-clock shifts of security guards to watch her every movement — sworn to arrest her if she breaches the terms of her parole.

She’ll swap her green prison sweats for an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet.

And she’ll finally get to pick up a book. To paraphrase War and Peace, she may learn that patience and time are the strongest warriors of all.

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‘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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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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