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Leaked LCBO memo tells staff it is ramping up ‘theft protection tactics’

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The LCBO is scrambling to reassure staff it is ramping up deterrence efforts after a weekend expose showing the scale of theft at the Ontario liquor retailer, the Star has learned.

In an internal memo distributed to staff on Saturday following the Star’s revelation that Toronto LCBO outlets have been targeted more than 9,000 times by thieves since 2014 — often in broad daylight and sometimes using duffel bags, backpacks and suitcases to maximize their loot — a senior company executive acknowledged the problem but maintained LCBO management now is spending more on security to ensure the safety of workers and customers.

“There’s something broken here that needs to be fixed,” said one LCBO insider on the rampant thefts that take place at stores across Ontario.
“There’s something broken here that needs to be fixed,” said one LCBO insider on the rampant thefts that take place at stores across Ontario.  (Andrew Francis Wallace / Toronto Star file photo)

“Shop theft is a reality we have to deal with at all of our stores across the province and much of what is reported in the article is accurate — we have seen increase in shop theft, with the majority happening in urban areas,” Rafik Louli, VP, Retail Operations, told staff.

“What is not included as thoroughly in the (Toronto Star) article is what we are doing about it … While we never encourage you to physically engage with a perpetrator when an active shop theft is taking place, however, we are reacting to shop theft with increased spending and theft protection tactics,” said the memo, which was leaked to the Star by an LCBO insider.

“We have increased our guarding and investigator expenditures, as well as CCTV technology, in-store deterrents, and always collaborate with local police on active investigations.”

Read more:

LCBO thefts surge in Toronto, often as staff stand and watch. ‘They’re literally just walking away’

‘Discouraging. Dumbfounded. A sad reality.’ Star story on LCBO thefts prompts readers to share their eyewitness accounts

Since Saturday’s article was published, the Star has been deluged with eyewitness anecdotes of LCBO theft from customers throughout Ontario, many sharing stories of shocking scenes in which teams of two or more bandits fill multiple bags before breezing out the door, laden with premium liquors.

That response now includes a growing number of LCBO insiders — as of 5 p.m. Sunday, 11 current and six former LCBO workers had reached out, confirming the thrust of the Star’s reporting and offering more stories besides. Each asked for anonymity, fearing reprisal.

One of the active-duty LCBO sources who emailed on Sunday, we now can confirm, is the original whistleblower — the author an of unsigned letter mailed to the Star via Canada Post weeks ago, conveying the morale-crushing desperation of front line workers who fear the surge in theft will spill over into outright violence. In an email exchange, the whistleblower, who asked to be identified as John Doe, expressed gratitude and urged continued vigilance.

“I am grateful for the story and the outpouring of people coming forward and telling their stories,” John Doe wrote. “I was at work yesterday and I saw the generic statement (from VP Louli). They say what they want you to hear and they do nothing. They do this and they think it will go away. Well not this time.”

Several of the LCBO sources who contacted the Star detailed a previously unreported dimension to LCBO theft in which thieves go beyond the display shelves, stepping directly into employee-only areas to help themselves to whole cases of liquor, sometimes in full view of stockroom staff. “This is a call for help by some employees who are afraid that someone might lose their life before anything is done,” wrote one.

Upon receipt of the leaked internal memo, the Star sought official comment from the LCBO, asking that the corporation quantify the increases in spending on security and theft-deterrance measures described in the note. As of Sunday night, the LCBO has not responded.

In other developments, the broader public reaction to the Star’s report — which included several firsthand accounts of LCBO customers intervening physically to halt thefts-in-progress, sparked across-the-board alarm among the front line workers who spoke to us.

Said one insider: “There’s something broken here that needs to be fixed — but it is absolutely not the public’s job to fix it. Any customer who tries to intervene is putting themselves and everyone else at risk. It’s the worst idea. Please don’t.”

Mitch Potter is a reporter and feature writer based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @MPwrites

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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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