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Former ambassadors and academics urge China’s president to release Canadian men

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OTTAWA—More than 100 former ambassadors and prominent academics specializing in China and Asian affairs are appealing directly to Chinese President Xi Jinping for the release of two Canadian men who the Trudeau government says are being “arbitrarily” held by Chinese state security forces.

In an open letter published Monday, a copy of which was sent to the Star, 26 former ambassadors to China and 115 scholars from around the world say they are “deeply concerned” about the detentions and say it sends a chilling message to all who want to build bridges with China.

The letter comes as Beijing moved to soften its tone a week after its ambassador to Canada warned the Trudeau government it would face “repercussions” if it banned Huawei, the Chinese corporate giant that wants to play a key role in developing Canada’s 5G networks, the next generation of high-speed wireless networks.

Hua Chunying, a foreign ministry spokesperson, told reporters Monday that Ambassador Lu Shaye “did not mean that China intends to interfere in the decision-making of the Canadian government.”

She said Huawei “is a leading supplier in the 5G technology, so losses are inevitable if Huawei is not chosen as a co-operation partner,” later adding “We have been reasoning with the Canadian side, not threatening it.”

Nevertheless, the Chinese spokeswoman talked tough and accused Canada of “irresponsible” remarks and “microphone diplomacy” in its efforts to rally international allies to protest the men’s detention.

She disputed Canada’s claims that the leaders of Germany and Singapore have publicly supported Canada’s position, saying neither made public comments.

Canada’s allies have made varied statements of support.

But the letter published Monday by former diplomats, including five past Canadian envoys, and many others shows more than 140 Western experts on China speaking with one voice. Hua dismissed it Monday, according to a transcript posted on the foreign ministry website.

“I wonder who these western scholars and officials are and how much do they know about the real situation regarding the cases of the two Canadian citizens,” she said, adding foreign citizens are welcome in China. “As long as they abide by Chinese laws and regulations, there is nothing to worry about.”

Chinese state security officials arrested the two separately after Canada arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, wanted by the U.S. for allegedly lying to skirt American sanctions on Iran.

The Chinese government is rebuffing Canada’s calls for the men’s release. Beijing says the Canadians are being held on suspicion of “activities endangering China’s national security” but they have not been charged.

“Many of us know Michael Kovrig through his work as a diplomat in Beijing and as the senior expert for northeast Asia at the International Crisis Group, an organization whose mission is to ‘build a more peaceful world’,” the letter reads.

“In both roles, Kovrig regularly and openly met with Chinese officials, researchers, and scholars to better understand China’s positions on a range of important international issues.”

“Michael Spavor has devoted his time to the task of building relationships between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and China, Canada, the U.S., and elsewhere.”

Spavor had co-ordinated sporting and cultural trips into North Korea through his China-based business and made headlines when he worked as a fixer for former NBA superstar Dennis Rodham’s trip to meet North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

Read more:

China’s ambassador accuses Canada of ‘backstabbing’ in arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou

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Trudeau enlists Trump to seek release of Canadians detained by China

The one-page appeal, in English and Chinese, says that kind of on-the-ground engagement is the foundation of serious research and diplomacy.

It says their detentions “send a message that this kind of constructive work is unwelcome and even risky in China.”

It cautions that people who share “Kovrig and Spavor’s enthusiasm for building genuine, productive, and lasting relationships must now be more cautious about traveling and working in China and engaging our Chinese counterparts.” That leads to less dialogue and greater distrust “and undermine(s) efforts to manage disagreements and identify common ground.”

“Both China and the rest of the world will be worse off as a result,” the signatories wrote.

Among the group are six former ambassadors to China from Canada — Fred Bild, Joseph Caron, David Mulroney, Earl Drake, Guy Saint-Jacques and Rob Wright. It is also signed by former envoys from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, Sweden, and Mexico, two former U.S. deputy assistant secretaries of state, and former foreign ministers from the U.K. and Australia.

The letter “respectfully” asks the Chinese president for the “immediate” release of the two Canadian citizens “so that they may be reunited with their families.”

One Canadian signatory, Joseph Caron, ambassador to China from 2001 to 2005, said he signed the letter “because it was the moral thing to do,” but declined further comment.

David Mulroney, who was Ottawa’s envoy from 2009-2012, said the letter is signed by a list of people “who have spent decades learning about China and trying to understand and interpret it. China has an interest in being better understood.”

He said it should remind people that “this is more than a Canada-China dispute.”

“Many people, from many places, are worried about the extent to which China is closing itself off, and punishing those who have struggled to understand it and explain it to others.

“China typically succeeds by isolating countries and punishing them, while others look on in silence. Sweden has just experienced this, and now we are, too. By broadening the discussion about what’s happening, we make it harder for China to bully smaller states.”

Last week, Beijing’s ambassador in Ottawa Lu Shaye signalled the Chinese government has no intention of intervening in what is now an investigation led by state security forces. He said that as the investigation “deepens and advances” the charges would be made “clear” and “specific.”

Lu insisted China is taking “compulsory measures” under law against the men. He contrasted that with Canada’s detention of Meng which he called “groundless” because she has broken no Canadian law. Meng is out on bail, restricted to remaining in Vancouver where she lives at one of her two mansions pending her extradition hearing. China wants her set free immediately.

On Sunday, newly appointed federal Justice Minister David Lametti said officials in his department, not him, will decide the next step, which is whether to issue the “authority to proceed” to put the U.S. case against Meng before a Canadian judge.

Under a bilateral treaty, the U.S. has until Jan. 30 to produce its documents or “record” of the case to Canada’s justice department’s international assistance group, which then has 30 days to review the package.

If all is in order, the justice department officials would grant the authority to proceed and its lawyers would argue on behalf of the U.S. before a Canadian judge that the U.S. has produced documents that meet the legal threshold to have Meng extradited to face fraud charges. A Canadian court judge will decide if indeed the U.S. has produced enough evidence that would have been sufficient to send Meng to trial if the conduct had occurred here, but doesn’t pronounce on guilt or innocence. Then it’s up to the justice minister to decide whether to surrender Meng to be extradited, taking account of legal and political factors.

“I will only intervene after a court decision to extradite with respect to the execution of that decision,” said Lametti.

“So in terms of the process I will stay away from the process in order to not be tainted if I do have to make a decision one way or the other,” Lametti told reporters Sunday.

The ex-diplomats’ and academics’ letter comes as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continues his efforts to speak to other national leaders about Canada’s concerns in the affair.

Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc

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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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