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Decision whether to extradite Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou will take political factors into account, new justice minister says

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OTTAWA—Justice Minister David Lametti says foreign affairs will be a factor if and when it comes time for him to make what he acknowledges is a political decision whether to extradite Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou to the United States over China’s furious objections.

Lametti, named three weeks ago to take over the justice file after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shuffled Jody Wilson-Raybould off to veterans’ affairs for unspecified reasons, now finds himself on the hotseat in both the Meng Wanzhou affair and the SNC-Lavalin prosecution, among other unfinished legislative business.

On Thursday, in his first sit-down interview, Lametti admitted he had no idea why Trudeau picked him to be Wilson-Raybould’s successor, and tried to draw a distinction between his job as the government’s top lawyer and being a cabinet member, Quebec minister and MP, on all those files.

Lametti said he will often prioritize his role as attorney general or chief legal advisor to the government and its departments.

But he said as a cabinet member he has a political role to play in helping to create and direct policy.

Lametti acknowledged that the welfare of three Canadians facing “arbitrary” justice in China may depend on whether Meng is extradited to the U.S. to face fraud charges connected to alleged violations of sanctions against Iran.

But he insisted the plight of the Canadians and Meng’s extradition are “two separate matters” and he will only weigh in at the end when it requires a political decision that takes account of foreign affairs.

He said Canada has, “as a matter of a political decision, created what I think is an excellent process, which is to say a section in the government will treat this (Meng) case neutrally as it runs through the courts, and the minister of justice will not have any say in the matter.

“Nor will any other political actor, and that is what we have done,” he added.

“It is only, if and when there is a committal order to extradite by a judge that the minister of justice will enter into the proceeding and make what is, then, a decision based on all the evidence, but recognizing that, at this point, foreign affairs is a political matter, and … make a decision.”

Extradition law and jurisprudence explicitly state that a minister may take into account political factors such as good international relations or international legal cooperation frameworks. A minister may also refuse to extradite if he or she believes the prosecution is politicized, or being used to try someone for a political crime, such as treason or espionage.

Amid a firestorm of criticism from Beijing, Trudeau’s government has tried to avoid discussing what political factors may come into play in the case. Trudeau fired John McCallum as Chinese ambassador for his public speculations about the case.

Sitting in a sparsely furnished ministerial office he hasn’t yet moved into, Lametti acknowledged that, “sadly,” there are two Canadians detained in China. He was referring to Beijing’s arrests of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in apparent retaliation for Meng’s arrest. He said their detentions are believed to be “politically oriented in nature.” He also mentioned a third case, that of Robert Schellenberg, a Canadian convicted of drug trafficking, and said “we feel that a sentence has been arbitrarily jacked up to a death penalty.”

None of it changes his approach, he said.

“If we link the two, then we’re falling victim to the very same kinds of processes that we’re criticizing in other countries.”

The international assistance group in the Canadian justice department will assess the U.S. case against Meng and decide, by the end of the month, whether to issue what’s called an “authority to proceed.”

Lametti said his officials are “evaluating … whether there is some basis for the laying of the (U.S.) charge. It’s not determination of guilt or innocence by any means, but it’s a way of saying this a legitimate exercise on the part of the foreign (U.S.) government.” It’s a step he said is “important to the rule of law.”

Lametti said the Canadian legal system allows “any person of any stature, whatever standing, in this case of whatever country, the ability to defend themselves in front of a very impartial, highly qualified, Canadian judge, and that’s an important value to protect.”

At the same time, Lametti said the Canadian government, its consular staff and the minister of foreign affairs are “doing their best to make sure that we, on a political level, can intervene with the Chinese government, on behalf of our Canadian citizens.”

Lametti is on leave from McGill University where he taught law.

He is an expert in intellectual property and copyright issues.

Asked if he had any sympathy, given that background knowledge, for U.S. charges that Huawei, the Chinese corporate giant, steals American technology, Lametti refused comment on “any specifics, because I don’t see the evidence in front of me. I haven’t read the evidence. I haven’t read the court documents as regards the trade-secrets part of that case.”

In general, however, he said intellectual property has become a larger concern with trade secrets now being “treated as a criminal matter in certain jurisdictions, and we have agreed to do that in the most recent trade agreement with the United States and Mexico.

“I agree that we needed to have a trade agreement, and there are a number of different provisions in that agreement that reinforce and really illustrate the importance of intellectual property in the current economic order.”

As for how he will square his role as a Quebec minister and MP with his role in the SNC-Lavalin affair that broke Thursday, Lametti said he does not believe he is compromised by being from the province where SNC-Lavalin is of huge economic importance.

“That’s something that every MP has to deal in some way, shape or form, in particular any MP who, then, has an executive role, whether it’s the prime minister, whether it’s another minister, whether it’s a parliamentary secretary,” he said. “It’s part of our political system. You have to be able to wear a couple of different hats.”

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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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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