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Teachers can still use 2015 sex-ed curriculum in Ontario as a resource, province’s lawyer tells court

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Lawyers defending the province’s repeal of the 2015 sex-ed curriculum told a court on Thursday that teachers can still use it as a resource while abiding by the interim curriculum.

“There’s a lot of latitude because of the way the expectations are written,” Zachary Green told a panel of three judges in Divisional Court. “Teachers can use the 2015 document as a resource to meet the expectations in the 2018 document.”

He said they can use their professional judgment in selecting from a variety of resources and background material, including documents such as “How to Become a Super Rad Gender Warrior Classroom teacher.”

The judges pressed him on whether teachers would be sanctioned for using the modernized 2015 curriculum. Green said they would not, “provided it’s a reasonable exercise.”

“It’s not a blank cheque,” he said. “I can’t stand here and say teachers can say whatever they want. That goes too far.”

Judges also asked if teachers are free to talk about issues contained in the 2015 documents, such as consent, transgender and homophobia, to which Green replied, “Yes.”

It was the second of a two-day hearing that’s the result of separate legal challenges made by Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA).

ETFO says the Progressive Conservative government’s directive to scrap the 2015 Health and Physical Education (HPE) curriculum created a chilling effect amongst educators. That violates the rights of educators and students, because it limits their ability to teach material that keeps children safe, says ETFO.

Meanwhile, the CCLA argues the interim curriculum — a 2010 document that contains sex-ed material from 1998 — has erased references to sexual orientation, gender identity and same-sex relations. That, says the CCLA, violates the constitutional right to equality of LGBTQ+ students and parents.

Judges asked Green whether teachers could discuss key issues such as consent with elementary students, which are expectations of the 2015 curriculum, but not the current one.

He said nothing prohibits talking about consent, if that’s something teachers want to draw upon in how they teach the current curriculum. Ultimately, he said, it’s up to the teacher.

“It’s a false dichotomy to say they can either use the 2015 (curriculum), or the 2018 one,” he said.

Green noted that various school boards, including the Toronto District School Board, have publicly stated they are following the current curriculum, but still tackling topics such as consent and are teaching in a manner that is inclusive of all students, including LGBTQ+.

Speaking outside the courtroom, NDP education critic Marit Stiles called the government’s arguments “pretty confusing.”

“It’s pretty clear to me that the government’s statements to date have caused many teachers, students, parents to question whether or not their children are going to be learning how to be kept safe from bullying . . . consent and LGBTQ and identity issues,” Stiles said.

She said the government has sent out “very confusing and conflicting” communications, about what the curriculum is and what the expectations are of teachers.

“Today was just another indication of this ongoing chaos and confusion they have created,” Stiles said.

Part of the confusion — and what ETFO says helped create a chilling effect amongst teachers — stems from comments made by Premier Doug Ford, when he announced the curriculum rollback in August.

“Make no mistake, if we find somebody failing to do their job, we will act,” Ford said at the time.

Green said the premier’s comments were in response to an earlier ETFO press release urging teachers to follow the 2015 curriculum, which he described as “their cry of rebellion.” The province’s position is clear in that the current curriculum must be followed.

Sam Hammond, ETFO president, told reporters outside court that he was “pleasantly pleased” to hear the province say teachers can use the 2015 curriculum, but was also “absolutely surprised.”

“It’s the first time since this whole debate began that the government, or a representative of the government, said ‘Yes, teachers may use the 2015 curriculum as a resource in implementing the current curriculum,’ ” Hammond said.

Hammond said if the premier, and government, had made that clear at the outset, “We wouldn’t be here today.”

The current HPE curriculum is an interim document. The province has said it’s working on drafting a new document for the next school year that is based on feedback from a public consultation process that resulted in 72,000 submissions.

The judges asked Green if he could assure them that the government would release a new HPE curriculum in time for the next school year.

“It’s intended to be released in the fall of 2019,” said Green. “But I can’t make a promise. These are big tasks.”

Isabel Teotonio is a Toronto-based reporter covering education. Follow her on Twitter: @Izzy74

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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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