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Free speech policies now in effect at Ontario’s colleges and universities

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Ontario’s post-secondary institutions have ushered in free-speech policies, meeting a provincially imposed Jan. 1 deadline to tackle an issue that has polarized students in this province and beyond.

“It strikes a balance … It will give people some guidance,” said Linda Franklin, president of Colleges Ontario, of the new standard policy adopted in mid-December by all publicly-funded colleges.

“It gives administrators the right to say ‘We have to think about safety on campus and hate speech’ ” — which remains prohibited — but also doesn’t silence those with opinions that are unpopular, she said.

Those on campus have to know there are “speakers that you may not like or who support your world view,” but open dialogue is essential, Franklin added.

“We’re committed to the open discussion of diverse ideas and respecting everyone’s rights to express their opinions.”

In Ontario, protests — and even arrests — have followed controversial speakers such as University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson and Lindsay Shepherd, a Wilfrid Laurier graduate student and teaching assistant.

Shepherd was disciplined after showing her students a video of Peterson, who has gained notoriety for his public fight against the use of gender-neutral pronouns.

Institutions will be monitored and have been told they could face funding cuts for failing to comply with principles outlined by the province.

These include ensuring that universities and colleges are “places for open discussion and free inquiry,” that they “should not attempt to shield students from ideas or opinions that (those students) disagree with or find offensive;” and that “members of the university/college … may not obstruct or interfere with the freedom of others to express their views.”

Before the holiday break, Fullerton told reporters she was pleased colleges met the deadline, and was expecting universities would as well.

“I think what (the free speech policy) will do is create some certainly around expectations, and we want to make sure that there’s an environment of respect, of open debate, respectful dialogue and that’s really the foundation,” said Fullerton.

“We don’t want to see hate speech — we will not tolerate hate speech — that is not permitted. Anything that is against the law already, there will be repercussions.”

However, Fullerton added, the government was “constantly” hearing that free speech was being stifled on Ontario campuses.

“We heard that from students, we heard that from faculty — it was a message that we heard consistently during the campaign and after. So we know (it was an issue),” she added.

The Ontario colleges’ policy — modelled on a well-regarded one developed by the University of Chicago — aims to strike a balance between promoting free speech while protecting against hate speech.

Colleges Ontario has come under fire from the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which said more input was needed and claimed no faculty members were included.

“This so-called free-speech policy is anything but. In fact, a better name would be ‘gag-order policy,’” OPSEU president Warren “Smokey” Thomas said in a release.

It accuses the Ford government of “trampling the democratic rights of the people of Ontario” because the policies are more aimed at avoiding protests than protecting freedom of speech.

But Franklin said a group of college leaders, as well as a representative from the College Student Alliance and legal experts, all took part in its creation, and that it will be reviewed in a year.

She said campuses around the world have dealt with protests and disruptions over speakers who students have objected to for various reasons.

The Ontario colleges’ policy states, in part, “Freedom of expression, which means the right to speak, write, listen, challenge and learn, must be protected as it is essential to discovery, critical assessment and the effective dissemination of knowledge and ideas and leads to social and economic advancement.”

Colleges, it adds, “must be places that allow for open discussion and free inquiry where diverse voices can be heard and ideas and viewpoints can be explored and discussed freely and debated openly without fear of reprisal, even if these are considered to be controversial or conflict with the views of some members of the college community … it is not the role of colleges to shield members of the college community from ideas and opinions that they may find disagreeable or offensive.”

The University of Toronto has a free-speech policy that has been in place for more than 25 years.

Among those universities approving new policies, Queen’s in Kingston did so Dec. 18, stating that the “failure to explore or confront ideas with which we disagree through disciplined and respectful dialogue, debate, and argument, does society a disservice, weakens our intellectual integrity, and threatens the very core of the university.”

Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy

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Anglais

‘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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Anglais

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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