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Lawyer says 20-year-old ‘innocent’ of killing teen at Michael Wekerle’s estate

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Accused killer Jonathan Weir was a resident of the luxury compound of his uncle, Michael Wekerle, a former Dragons’ Den TV personality, when he was charged with murdering his former high school classmate there last week.

Weir’s address is listed as Wekerle’s sprawling 80-hectare gated estate, just outside the historic community of Cheltenham, according to a court document that outlines the first-degree murder charge against him.

He was arrested after Caledon OPP were called to Wekerle’s estate around 7:25 p.m. on Dec. 27 and found the lifeless body of Tyler Swartz, 18, of Thornhill.

Weir’s lawyer Calvin Barry told the Star he wasn’t sure exactly how long his 20-year-old client had been living with his uncle at the property.

“He was there for some time, at that location,” Barry said.

Police originally charged Weir with second-degree murder but quickly bumped that up to the more serious charge of first-degree murder, which involves premeditation, Barry said.

Read more: Teen killed at home owned by Michael Wekerle remembered as ‘angel of a kid’

Barry said he will be fighting for bail for Weir later this month. His hearing is scheduled for Jan. 21 in Orangeville court.

“We’re going to mount a vigorous defence,” Barry said. “He’s innocent.”

It’s not clear what the relationship of the two young men was. Both attended the Thornhill campus of Blyth Academy, a private Grades 5-12 school, until the spring of 2017, a spokesperson for the school confirmed.

“Given the ongoing police investigation, we will not comment further about this tragic incident,” Alicia Della Maestra wrote in an email.

Barry said his client is “obviously upset” and it’s the first time he’s ever been in custody.

The lawyer added that Weir’s parents, who are divorced, both have suitable homes for him to live in as he awaits his trial.

“It may be that he lives at the mother’s place or the father’s place,” Barry said. “It’s a very close family.”

Police have said that a court-ordered publication ban means they can’t update the media on whether Wekerle was on site at the time of the death, the cause of death or any other details.

Messages on an intercom from the outside gate of the secluded tree filled Caledon property were not returned this week. Neither was an email or requests to Wekerle’s social media accounts.

Wekerle’s website calls him “a rock star in the world of Canadian finance,” known for his shrewd instincts in the fields of tech, biotech and media, and the founder and chairman of the merchant bank Difference Capital Financial Inc.

The Caledon estate, which he purchased in 2010 for $3 million, is known for its yearly charity concert event, Wekfest, which has featured acts such as Snoop Dogg and Sloan.

In 2010, Wekerle went on a “drunken escapade” in a luxury hotel in Little Rock, Arkansas, according to allegations in a lawsuit filed by a doorman who said he attempted to flip him over his shoulder during the incident.

The lawsuit was dismissed by a United States District Judge in 2015. It also contains allegations that the investor blew an airhorn in the lobby before dropping his pants, licking a woman’s foot, and yelling profanity.

In a statement emailed to the Star by his lawyer at the time, Wekerle said the incident occurred during a difficult period of his life.

“I had just lost my wife and I still have difficult moments. While I dispute certain parts of the allegations, I acknowledge that on that night three years ago I behaved in a way that I’m not particularly proud of. For that, I apologize. There is a legal process currently unfolding and I am going to let it run its course,” he wrote.

Wekerle’s website also describes him as “a doting father to six children” who “donates millions of dollars to a wide variety of philanthropic interests,” including CAMH and Sick Kids.

His site says his other properties include the historic Toronto entertainment venue the El Mocambo on Spadina Ave. and that he’s a partner in the Canadian franchise of Wahlburgers — the Boston-based restaurant chain run by the actor/rapper Mark Wahlberg and his family.

Swartz was described as “an angel of a kid” by Esther Grossbaum, co-ordinator of the Friendship Circle, an organization for children with special needs that he volunteered with.

According to his LinkedIn profile, he was going to Sheridan College to become a plumber. Sheridan College confirmed a student with the same name was enrolled with the school in the fall of 2017 but withdrew without completing the semester.

He was honoured in 2017 with the City of Thornhill’s longest standing volunteer award for his community service.

With files from Karen Martin-Robbins, Caledon Enterprise

Peter Edwards is a Toronto-based reporter primarily covering crime. Reach him by email at pedwards@thestar.ca

May Warren is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @maywarren11

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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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