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Canada played ‘critical’ role in urging Thailand to protect Saudi woman: Human Rights Watch – National

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Canada helped persuade the Thai government to let a young Saudi woman seek asylum rather than deport her to Saudi Arabia, according to Human Rights Watch.

Rahaf Al-Qunun, 18, was granted temporary access to Thailand on Monday under the protection of the UN refugee agency, which will evaluate her asylum claims.

While the Canadian government has publicly commented on Al-Qunun’s case, Human Rights Watch said Canada “should be proud” of its role in protecting her rights, telling Global News that  faced serious abuses to the point of murder if forcibly returned to Saudi Arabia.

READ MORE: Saudi woman seeking asylum leaves airport, granted temporary admission in Thailand

On Sunday, Al-Qunun told Global News that she was being detained in a hotel room at Bangkok’s international airport as she tried to travel to Australia, where she hoped to seek asylum.

She said she was fleeing her family, who abused her physically and psychologically, at one point locking her in her room for six months after she cut her hair and rebelled against wearing the hijab.

Saudi embassy officials seized her passport and told her she would be put on a plane to Kuwait, where her family members were, on Monday morning, Al-Qunun said.

She said she feared being killed by her family for publicizing her abuse and renouncing Islam.

READ MORE: Saudi woman, 18, detained at Thai airport, fears she will be killed if deported home

However, her pleas for help on social media captured international attention, and Thai officials eventually allowed her to enter Thailand under UN protection.

‘Canada should be proud’

Canada’s stance against human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia sparked a diplomatic spat between the two countries last year, but that didn’t stop the Canadian government from engaging with Thai officials in support of Al-Qunun, according to Human Rights Watch.

Phil Robertson, the NGO’s deputy director for the Asia region, said on Twitter that the Canadian embassy in Thailand was “steadfast and superb at every step of the way.”

Robertson told Global News that Canada played a “critical” role in helping secure Al-Qunun access to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

“Ambassador Donica Pottie and her team worked long and hard on both Sunday and Monday to raise their concerns with the Thai government and UN agencies that Rahaf should not be sent back to Saudi Arabia where she would likely face serious abuses and persecution,” he said.

“The advocacy they did, working with other like-minded embassies in Bangkok, was critical in making the case that UNHCR had to be brought in to provide Rahaf with protection. It was a team effort between embassies, human rights and refugee support NGOs, media, and online activists, and Canada should be proud of the central role they played in this victory.”

WATCH: Thailand, UNHCR confer on Saudi teen barricaded in Thai hotel







Global Affairs Canada didn’t disclose any details on the the country’s role in helping Al-Qunun, but said it was following the case closely.

“Canada is very concerned by and watching closely the situation of Ms. Rahaf al-Qunun,” a spokesperson for Global Affairs said in an emailed statement. “We are in close contact with partners about her situation. Canada will always stand up for human rights, very much including women’s rights.”

WATCH: The first 24 hours of the Saudi-Canada tweet feud left Canadians reeling







Al-Qunun’s frantic pleas for help on social media drew sympathy from activists and lawmakers around the world.

In Canada, the Raif Badawi Foundation, run by the wife of jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, said it was urging Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland to take up Al-Qunun’s case.

An Australian senator called on her government to issue Al-Qunun an emergency travel document so she could fly to Australia.

In the U.K., an online petition calling on Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt to grant Al-Qunun asylum secured over 72,000 signatures in less than a day.

Al-Qunun’s asylum claim is currently being investigated by the UNCHR, with the agency’s Thailand representative saying it would take several days to process the case and determine next steps.

READ MORE: Saudis helped man escape U.S. justice in hit-and-run killing of Oregon teen, feds believe

Her case has drawn renewed attention to Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women, who cannot travel without the permission of a male “guardian.” It’s a rule that rights groups say prevents women from escaping the clutches of abusive families.

The Saudi government has denied Al-Qunun’s claims.

Abdul-Ilah al-Shuaibi, the Saudi ambassador to Thailand, told Saudi state-aligned news outlet Sabq that Al-Qunun has five or six sisters, and that it was difficult to believe that only one of them was abused to the point of fleeing.

He said Saudi officials never confiscated her passport, and denied that Riyadh requested her extradition.

READ MORE: The hurdles Saudi women runaways face when fleeing danger

Al-Qunun’s father is a senior government official in Saudi Arabia, a position that Robertson said would have allowed him near-impunity to treat his family as he pleased.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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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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