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#MeToo won’t last if it isn’t fair

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What is the future of #MeToo?

As we mothball 2018, the social movement remains a cultural force, one that has reshaped attitudes, fortified HR policies and placed bullhorns in the hands of sexual-abuse victims. Many men who once traipsed the corridors of power are now living ghosts, stripped of their careers and reputations, banished to purgatory.

In the last three months of 2017, as allegations of sexual misconduct gripped the news cycle almost daily, #MeToo was hailed as a seismic event, a watershed, a reckoning, a point from which there was no return.

Those last three months of 2017 felt like a mass exorcism.

We were purging demons.

By contrast, the movement is now a hot-air balloon in a pewter sky: it is moving slower and basked in grey. This is not necessarily bad. It might even be good. The speed of #MeToo in 2017 was unsustainable. But if the ultimate goal is to stop harassment and abuse, this year’s loss in momentum is a blessing in disguise: we can now exhale and poke holes into #MeToo to make it stronger.

The first problem, which emerged with allegations against comedian Aziz Ansari in January, is that we probably need to have a conversation about what constitutes mistreatment and what is just a bad date.

In the marketplace of human sexuality, what is a toxic hard sell and what is buyer’s remorse? What is transactional and what is stolen? Where do we draw the line between criminality and clumsy attempts at courtship?

Published on babe.net, the effort to put Ansari in the #MeToo rogue’s gallery came from a feature that recounted in graphic detail a pseudonymous 22-year-old’s date with the celebrity that “turned into the worst night of my life.”

But if you read the piece, waiting for the gotcha sins, you’re still waiting.

There was something about this story — the Atlantic would later dismiss it as “3,000 words of revenge porn” — that did not dovetail with the spirit and exhaustive reportage of so many 2017 investigations.

This seemed less like abuse and more like character assassination.

The same might be said of bizarre allegations against TVO’s Steve Paikin the following month. Former Toronto mayoral candidate Sarah Thomson claimed Paikin propositioned her during a lunch meeting. TVO launched a probe. The charge was “not substantiated.” In the words of Paikin, it was “complete fiction.”

Instead of lifting the #MeToo tide, the Ansari blip muddied the waters. But with Paikin we had tumbled into a treacherous riptide: the possibility an accuser was lying. And as the year rumbled on, this became a refrain from many who denied misconduct allegations while notably still championing #MeToo: David Copperfield, Michael Douglas, Ryan Seacrest, Jamie Foxx and others.

As James Franco told Stephen Colbert in response to allegations against him in January: “The things that I heard that were on Twitter are not accurate, but I completely support people coming out and being able to have a voice because they didn’t have a voice for so long.”

Around the same time, 100 female writers, academics, producers and actors in France — including Catherine Deneuve — signed an open letter arguing that the movement was going too far and now posed a danger to society: “In fact, #MeToo has led to a campaign, in the press and on social media, of public accusations and indictments against individuals who, without being given a chance to respond or defend themselves, are put in the exact same category as sex offenders.”

The “pendulum effect,” discovered by Galileo more than 400 years ago, was underway in Europe. And the #MeToo backlash would build throughout the year, steamrolling to other corners of the world where, as the Washington Post recently noted, the movement “either fizzled or never took flight.”

But while the French letter was condemned in woke parts of North America, the cautionary subtext — the need for due process — became obvious in 2018. An internal investigation cleared Seacrest. An internal investigation doomed Les Moonves. An internal investigation is now underway over Neil deGrasse Tyson.

In all three cases — exoneration, guilt and to be determined — the lesson is clear: if #MeToo is to remain a powerful force it must navigate a bedrock of the West: innocent until proven guilty. To allow that principle to be inverted in the court of public opinion is to do grave injustice to actual victims of abuse.

Any lessening in the burden of proof will also worsen gender relations and create a chilling effect in workplaces if people begin to believe, as actor Liam Neeson told a late-night TV show in Ireland this year, #MeToo is “a bit of a witch hunt.”

Throughout 2018, there were stories of male managers confiding they no longer felt comfortable mentoring young females or even getting into elevators with them. This anxiety over being alone with a woman — something Chris Rock jokes about and Mike Pence lives by — is not an antidote to sexual misconduct.

It is an affront to true equality.

But this fear of being wrongly accused — which in part triggered the #HimToo movement this fall and unleashed a polarized debate around Brett Kavanaugh — became an inextricable part of #MeToo in 2018.

There can be no doubt the movement has changed the way we think. It has achieved more in 15 months than was accomplished this century. It is an undertaking that is long overdue. Sexual harassment and abuse is repugnant.

But if #MeToo is to charge full speed ahead next year it must also accept that not everything is black-and-white. Some points of no return are actually forks in the road. And, ultimately, there can be no justice without due process.

Vinay Menon is the Star’s pop culture columnist based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @vinaymenon

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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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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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