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Trudeau sought U.S. help to release two Canadians after Trump hinted he might use Meng’s extradition as a bargaining chip, official says

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OTTAWA—The Trudeau government asked the Trump administration to ensure China releases two detained Canadian men if — as U.S. President Donald Trump suggested last month — the U.S. drops Meng Wanzhou’s extradition request as part of negotiations for a trade deal with China, the Star has learned.

A senior Canadian official speaking on condition of anonymity told the Star that the Trudeau government approached the Americans after Trump said in December he wouldn’t hesitate to intervene in the Meng affair if he could secure a better trade or security deal with China.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who spoke directly with Trump, and other officials in their dealings with the Americans, made it clear that if the U.S. was indeed going to use Meng’s extradition as a bargaining chip, the U.S. needed to make sure that the two Canadians who were taken in retaliation by China are released, according to the senior official who had knowledge of the talks.

The insider said the American side agreed the two detained Canadians should be released, but no one in the administration admitted Meng is a pawn in a larger dispute, and the Canadian government still does not know for sure whether Trump was serious or was just trying to put the Chinese off-guard, the source said.

In fact, “some kind of deal with China” was one of the possible outcomes to the uproar over Meng’s arrest that Canada’s Ambassador to China John McCallum laid bare in an extraordinary news conference on Tuesday.

McCallum did not misspeak when he said “some kind of deal with China” might be an option.

McCallum told Chinese-language media Tuesday there were three “options” or ways in which the Meng affair could end. Meng, a Huawei executive, was arrested in Vancouver on Dec. 1.

He said one, Meng could be extradited as the U.S. has requested to face fraud charges, which he said would “not be a happy outcome; two, the U.S. might offer a resolution in the context of its own negotiations with China, or three, she could be released by a Canadian court.

McCallum said: “The second option would be that the United States made some kind of a deal with China, and part of the deal would be that they would no longer seek her extradition. And we would hope, if the U.S. made such a deal, part of the deal would also be to release the two Canadians. So that is an option, but that is more under the control of the United States than it is under the control of Canada.”

It’s that second option that the Canadian official confirmed to the Star was actively pursued by the Trudeau government.

After his remarks in his former riding were revealed to a broad Canadian audience, a storm of criticism erupted, primarily over McCallum’s opining that Meng had “quite good” and “strong arguments” to win her fight against extradition.

He suggested Trump had politicized her arrest, and listed what he saw “strong arguments” for her lawyers to make.

“One, political involvement by comments from Donald Trump in her case; two, there’s an extraterritorial aspect to her case; and three, there’s the issue of Iran sanctions, which are involved in her case, and Canada does not sign onto these Iran sanctions.”

Late Thursday, McCallum apologized in a clear attempt at damage control.

“I regret that my comments with respect to the legal proceedings of Ms. Meng have created confusion. I misspoke.

“These comments do not accurately represent my position on this issue. As the government has consistently made clear, there has been no political involvement in this process.”

He did not, however, offer to resign his position as ambassador and for the second day, Trudeau stood by his envoy when asked if McCallum would be sanctioned or fired.

“Making a change would not help release those Canadians a day sooner,” Trudeau said in New Brunswick.

Trudeau said that remains his government’s priority.

“We will always stay grounded in defence of the rule of law and the integrity of our justice system, which of course includes the capacity for people to defend themselves enthusiastically which will be fully afforded to Ms. Meng and in her rights within the Canadian justice system.”

“Our focus remains making sure that the Canadians arbitrarily detained in China have their rights respected and, indeed, that they have an opportunity to get home as soon as possible.”

The rest of McCallum’s statement reverted to the same message, an indication that in spite of initial claims by government officials that he hadn’t strayed too far off-message, his remarks had become a problem.

His predecessors in the job said he never should have spoken the way he did.

Former ambassador to China Guy Saint-Jacques said he believed McCallum had stumbled, not shown the restraint a trained diplomat should, and even as a former politician McCallum should have known not to comment on anything before the courts.

“The result of what Mr. McCallum has said, on the one hand, undermines the legal process; it complicates the job of the minster of justice; it could be perceived as an interference in the legal process and it will confirm the Chinese in their thinking that all this is political and they just have to increase the pressure on Canada and Canada will buckle at some point and just put Mrs. Meng on an aircraft and get rid of the problem.”

Yet Saint-Jacques said McCallum should not be fired because “it would be very difficult to replace him at this stage given the poor state of the relationship.”

“We need someone in place, and it would be too risky to start a process to find a replacement. This could take months. And you need someone.”

China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told a daily press briefing that China had taken note of McCallum’s remarks.

“We believe that anyone with normal judgment could see through the nature of this case,” said Hua, in translated remarks posted to the government’s website.

“We hope that the Canadian side will make the right choice instead of risking endangering itself for other’s gains.”

Trump told Reuters on Dec. 11 that “If I think it’s good for the country, if I think it’s good for what will be certainly the largest trade deal ever made — which is a very important thing — what’s good for national security — I would certainly intervene if I thought it was necessary,” Trump

U.S. justice officials testifying at a U.S. senate committee denied the Meng case was being used for any political, diplomatic or other ends.

“We follow the facts and we indicate violations of U.S. law. That’s what we’re doing when we bring those cases, and I think it’s very important for other countries to understand that,” said U.S. Assistant Attorney General John Demers.

“We are not a tool of trade when we bring the cases; that’s what we do when we see them through to their conclusion.”

The U.S. Justice Department stated this week it is proceeding with the request and would meet the Jan. 30 deadline to send supporting documents to the Canadian justice department.

Prosecutors in New York want Meng to face fraud charges for allegedly misleading banks in an effort to skirt U.S. sanctions on doing business in Iran.

Her arrest in Canada infuriated China, and was followed days later by the arrests of diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor, who remain detained on unspecified allegations of endangering China’s national security.

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

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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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