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Anti-pipeline demonstrators force Trudeau to delay and relocate planned speech at First Nations forum

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OTTAWA—The RCMP’s raid on an anti-pipeline barricade in northwestern British Columbia sparked rallies from Vancouver to the heart of the nation’s capital on Tuesday, where demonstrators voicing solidarity with hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation forced the prime minister to change the location of a scheduled meeting with Indigenous leaders.

Even in some parts of the United States, people organized events to denounce the arrest of 14 people at the Gidimt’en checkpoint near Houston, B.C. on Monday night. The barricade was set up to block the Coastal GasLink project in defiance of a B.C. Supreme Court injunction. Issued in December, the injunction allows for construction of the 670-km natural gas pipeline from the northern Rocky Mountains to the planned $40-billion LNG facility in the coastal town of Kitimat — an export terminal the Liberal government boasts is the “largest” private sector investment in Canadian history.

In Ottawa, demonstrators marched from Parliament Hill to a government building on Sussex Drive, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was slated to address a forum of leaders from First Nations who have signed modern treaties and self-government agreements. But after the demonstrators entered the building and continued to drum and chant slogans inside, Trudeau’s security detail decided to move the location of his speech to another site, an official with the Prime Minister’s Office said.

When Trudeau finally spoke, almost two hours behind schedule, he did not mention the protests or address the situation in B.C. Instead, he highlighted areas where he said progress had been made, such as planned child-welfare reforms, coming legislation on Indigenous languages. He also praised those present for representing how First Nations can move beyond “the colonial relic of the Indian Act” — 19th century legislation that determines “Indian status” and First Nations governance.

“To be perfectly frank, there’s lots of work ahead of us. I don’t want to dwell on the past, but you know, and I know, that previous governments and institutions spent years ignoring your communities and your concerns,” Trudeau said.

Other political leaders expressed solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en blockaders. Green Party Leader Elizabeth May was set to join Tuesday’s demonstration in Vancouver. And Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, condemned the RCMP “use of force” as a violation of human rights and First Nations’ rights.

On Twitter, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he is “very concerned with the ongoing situation at the Wet’suwet’en blockade,” and called on the prime minister to address the issue in light of the government’s support of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“Trudeau cannot remain silent,” Singh said.

According to Coastal GasLink, all elected First Nations bands along the pipeline path — including Wet’suwet’en — have signed benefit agreements to support the project. The deal with the band called Wet’suwet’en First Nation, signed in 2014, means the First Nation will receive about $2.8 million from the B.C. government, including almost $1.2 million when construction of the pipeline begins.

But those opposing the pipeline point out the agreement was signed by the band council defined under the Indian Act, and say that means it only applies to the reserve where that council has jurisdiction. The hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en nation’s five clans say they haven’t given Coastal GasLink permission to enter their traditional territory.

“It becomes kind of an unfortunate conflict: the age-old Indian Act and elected chiefs and council, versus an even older system of traditional governance,” said Stephen O’Neill, a former Ontario Superior Court judge who retired from the bench in 2016 to work in Indigenous law at the firm, Nahwegabow Corbiere.

“These are clans, these are houses, these are ancient systems of governance,” he said.

“Usually you’re not going to get that conflict, but occasionally on something like this, it shows up.”

O’Neill also lamented how the vital question of who has authority over large swathes of northern B.C. is being fought over, 22 years after the landmark Delgamuukw v British Columbia case at the Supreme Court of Canada.

That case marked the first time Canada’s top court described Indigenous land title, when justices spelled out how governments must meaningfully consult — and potentially compensate — First Nations when their title is infringed. Coincidentally, the case also involved hereditary chiefs from the Wet’suwet’en nation, who argued their oral histories and traditions showed age-old jurisdiction over the land.

But as O’Neill pointed out, the Delgamuukw case didn’t settle the issues of ownership and authority; the court recognized Indigenous title exists, but ordered a new trial in the specific matter at hand. A generation later, there is still no court declaration or treaty to delineate between Crown and Wet’suwet’en jurisdiction in the area, he said. That leaves the potential for conflict — as seen this week — between the view that the Crown has underlying authority over the area, versus that of Wet’suwet’en, who see no outside jurisdiction over traditional territory they have never agreed to relinquish.

“We can’t be sure where the parameters of the Wet’suwet’en or the Indigenous title in this case lie,” O’Neill said. “A whole generation of people have come and gone…and now we have a rising-up again.

“To me, that’s a failure of the political system and the judicial system.”

With files from Perrin Grauer and Jesse Winter

Alex Ballingall is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @aballinga

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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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