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New Manitoba court for people with FASD could be game changer: experts

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Lawyers and judges say a new court set to open in Manitoba specifically for people with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder could be a game changer.

« If you have somebody who can’t read, can’t write, physically cannot connect cause and effect, there has to be a way to address a sentence that they will understand, » said Winnipeg defence lawyer Lori Van Dongen.

« That is just common sense. »

Van Dongen said people with the disorder are often set up by the justice system to fail. The legal world has been slow to adapt to their challenges — whether it’s bail conditions they can’t adhere to or a list they are unable to read, she said.

When a fetus is exposed to alcohol it can cause brain injury and the impacts range from mild to severe. Only some people show physical signs, but most people with the disorder see and understand the world differently.

They struggle to understand the consequences of their behaviour and many are impulsive. They follow others easily and have drug or alcohol problems. Without the proper support they often end up in front of a judge and behind bars.

It’s not known how many people in Canada have the disorder, because it can go undetected and is difficult to diagnose. But Health Canada says it’s the leading known cause of preventable developmental disability in the country.

Research suggests that up to one-quarter of inmates in federal corrections facilities could have the disorder. A 2011 study out of Stony Mountain Institution in Manitoba found the rate was 10 times greater in the federal prison than in the general population.

Mary Kate Harvie, a Manitoba provincial court judge, said it was clear a long time ago that changes had to be made so people with the condition could be treated fairly in the legal world.

In 2004, she was involved in creating a program that helps young people get a diagnosis and connects them to community supports. It also gives lawyers and judges more information about issues an accused offender might have because of the disorder.

Challenges linked to criminal behaviour

The program has had more than 1,200 referrals, has done more than 400 assessments and helped get almost 300 kids diagnosed.

Harvie said the Manitoba Court of Appeal has made it clear that a sentencing judge should consider how challenges faced by someone with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder can be linked to their criminal behaviour.

« If people are not showing up to court because they have short-term memory loss, that’s a big difference from someone who is just blowing court off. »

Administrative charges have filled courts, remand centres and prisons with offenders who break curfew or miss a meeting with their parole officer because they struggle with the concept of time, Harvie said.

« We are hoping this project will start to address a number of aspects of that. »

Smaller, quieter courtroom

The court, which is expected to open at the end of February and sit one day a week, is an extension of the original youth program. It will have judges with an understanding about the complexities of the disorder as well as support workers to advise and connect sufferers with community programs.

It will also help obtain a medical diagnosis for anyone who shows signs of having the brain injury — although the wait continues to be long.

This is a really good move for our courts, for our province, for our clients.’– Defence lawyer Wendy Martin White

There will be a smaller, quieter courtroom with fewer distractions and visual images will be used to make sure offenders understand what’s going on.

Defence lawyer Wendy Martin White said she is optimistic that the new court will help her clients and hopes it will divert people from jails and toward community supports.

« This is a really good move for our courts, for our province, for our clients, » she said. « I’m looking forward to seeing where it’s going to be in a year’s time and then in five years’ time. »

Audrey McFarlane, executive director of Canada FASD Research Network, suggests it’s time for a national strategy.

« Right now all the provinces and territories do what they think is best and … they are trying really hard, but Canada needs to also provide additional support, guidance and leadership, » she said.

« Canada, as a whole, has put in very few resources to address FASD. »

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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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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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