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Several witnesses in Norman trial still haven’t searched personal records for evidence, court told

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Several major government figures at the centre of the criminal case against Vice-Admiral Mark Norman have not searched their personal email and phones for correspondence relevant to the case, despite the instructions of court-ordered subpoenas.

Zita Astravas, who serves as the chief of staff to Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, was called to testify Thursday at a pretrial hearing in the breach-of-trust case against Norman.

She said the advice she received from lawyers at National Defence was that she was required only to surrender communications from her work-provided BlackBerry phone.

Norman’s defence team, led by Toronto lawyer Marie Henein, has been fighting in court for the disclosure of thousands of federal government documents — and have accused the federal government of conducting a selective and haphazard search for those documents.

In testimony Wednesday, Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance acknowledged that he had not searched his personal email or his iPhone for anything that might relate to the case. Gen. Vance has insisted he doesn’t conduct any work-related business on his non-government devices.

Earlier this week, lawyers for federal cabinet minister Scott Brison delivered to court personal emails relevant to the case, separate from his government accounts.

Norman, the former commander of the navy, has been charged with one count of breach of trust and is accused of leaking cabinet secrets related to a $668 million contract to lease a supply ship for the navy. He was suspended as the military’s second-in-command in January, 2017.

Astravas was director of issues management in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office between November 2015 and August 2017 — the time period when the criminal investigation involving Norman first became public. She would have been the public servant tasked with briefing the prime minister on important issues and daily crises.

Astravas testified she didn’t know if her former email account had been searched in response to a subpoena issued by Norman’s lawyers.

Robert MacKinnon, the federal lawyer responsible for the record search, told the court the instruction given to all departments was that all devices must be searched. He said that instruction will be repeated.

​The pre-trial hearing has focused largely on the collection and production of communications relevant to the case. The actual trial is scheduled to begin in August, just months before the federal election.

Henein asked Astravas if she is aware of any communications within government about the timing of the case.

« Do you recall having any communications about delaying this trial or about the timing of this trial? » she asked.

« I don’t remember, » Astravas replied.

‘Fishing expedition’

On Tuesday, the defence team produced a list of words used in documentation to refer to Norman that it had obtained through Access to Information. They include Kracken, MN3, C34 and The Boss.

Vance said the military routinely uses jargon, acronyms and pseudonyms and he didn’t see anything on the list that he thought would qualify as a ‘codename’.

The list released to the defence team through the access request did not include any terms used in Sajjan’s office, which claimed a ministerial exemption from the request.

Astravas said after she received a subpoena to appear in court late Wednesday, she asked her staff to make « best efforts » to check if other pseudonyms for Norman had been used. She said they did not come up with additional terms.

Henein asked if Astravas knew of the terms « the certain naval officer, » « a certain naval fellow » or a « a naval colleague » being used, but Astravas said she could not recall.

Norman’s defence team has been engaged in legal wrangling with government lawyers over the the release of documents deemed relevant to the case.

Henein described the situation as « quite extraordinary, » with the government asserting cabinet confidence over certain documents and the defence securing subpoenas to obtain those documents.

Crown lawyer Barbara Mercier suggested the defence is trying to prolong the process to « kingdom come. »

« I have a very strong feeling that this has been a very large fishing expedition, » she said.

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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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