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NDP asking for investigation into RCMP officer’s spying allegations

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The NDP is trying to prod the federal government into launching an investigation into whether the RCMP used invasive — and possibly illegal — techniques to eavesdrop on one of their own during a harassment lawsuit.

The request comes in the wake of a serious allegation made by RCMP Sgt. Peter Merrifield — that he, his lawyer John Phillips and a witness in the harassment case were all put under RCMP surveillance after sensitive information about former prime minister Stephen Harper and his family surfaced during the trial.

In March of 2017, Merrifield was feeling pretty good. After alleging for years that he had been harassed and bullied by his RCMP superiors after running for the Conservative party nomination in Barrie, Ont., in 2005, a judge had ruled in his favour.

Justice Mary Vallee chastised the Mounties over their « outrageous » treatment of Merrifield and awarded him a combined $141,000 in damages, plus fees. The RCMP appealed the decision.

A few months after the decision, Merrifield said, a high-ranking RCMP colleague reached out to him and asked to meet in a discreet location — phones off.

Merrifield, who still works for the force and acts as a bodyguard for visiting dignitaries, said that officer told him a team within the RCMP had been tasked with monitoring him, his associates and an informant in the case who had information about the Harper family. The court sealed those documents and they’ve never been made public.

« I felt sick to my stomach because I know the tools that are used at their disposal, » Merrifield told Radio-Canada.

Lawyer John Phillips and Sgt. Peter Merrifield have been asking for an independent investigation into whether the RCMP spied on them during a harassment lawsuit against the force. (Pierre-Olivier Bernatchez/CBC)

« Having done nothing wrong, I can tell you that the sense of violation that I had being the subject of an investigation, and the absolute sense of betrayal by an organization and a government that I had sworn an oath to, was insurmountable. »

Phillips and Merrifield, whose spying allegations were first detailed by Maclean’s magazine last spring, have been asking for an independent investigation into whether there was a misuse of police resources in his case and if the former prime minister’s office was involved in any capacity. 

‘Canadians deserve to know’: Rankin

« The right thing to do here is undertake an independent review, » said Merrifield, who also co-chairs a group vying to represent regular RCMP members in a union.

So far, their requests have largely gone nowhere. Now, NDP MP Murray Rankin is taking up their cause.

« The conduct that Mr. Merrifield has brought to our attention could give rise to civil or criminal activity and therefore we need to know, Canadians deserve to know, exactly what happened in these circumstances, » the NDP justice critic told Radio-Canada.

Victoria NDP MP Murray Rankin wrote to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale this summer asking for an independent probe into RCMP Sgt. Peter Merrifield’s spying allegations. (Mathieu Thériault/CBC)

Rankin, a lawyer by trade, said he wrote to Goodale in the summer of 2018 and is now going public with his request. 

« I believe that the only way to do that is with an independent investigation by, for example, a retired judge, » he said. « We’ve done that many times in our past. But to leave it to the Department of Justice, to leave it to the RCMP and say, ‘We’ll take care of it,’ is simply not acceptable and will not be taken seriously by the Canadian public. »

Both Goodale’s office and the RCMP say they cannot comment on the case because it’s still in front of the courts — an excuse Rankin said he doesn’t buy.

He said the harassment appeal is before the courts; what he wants is a probe of the surveillance allegation.

« The fact that the RCMP may have been listening to the conversation between an individual and his lawyer — deeply problematic, » Rankin said. « The possibility of interference with witnesses — deeply problematic.

« Those are the things I am not alleging happened. I am simply saying that I need to investigate. «

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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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