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PCO lawyer asked prosecutor if there was a way to ‘engineer issues’ in Norman case, court hears

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The top lawyer at the Privy Council Office apparently asked federal prosecutors if it was possible to « engineer the issues at stake » in the criminal case against Vice-Admiral Mark Norman.

The remarks — made on Sept. 18, 2018 and attributed to PCO lawyer Paul Shuttle — were contained in prosecution notes entered into evidence at a pretrial hearing involving the former vice-chief of the defence staff, who faces one count of breach of trust.

Justice Heather Perkins-McVey made reference to them on Friday as the Crown attempted to explain why it redacted notes being sought by Norman’s defence team.

The judge acknowledged there is a lot background missing from the reference.

« You wonder what that is about, » said Perkins-McVey. « We don’t know the context, what they were speaking about. »

Defence attorney Christine Mainville agreed and suggested she wasn’t prepared to jump to conclusions either, saying a lot of references in both the censored and uncensored versions of the notes « remain ambiguous. »

But she also noted during Friday’s pretrial hearing that notes of meetings between the Crown and officials at the Privy Council Office, which reports directly to the Prime Minister’s Office and cabinet, will be important to the defence when it moves at the end of March to have the charges against Norman dismissed.

Whether the ‘engineering’ reference will help the defence remains to be seen.

Earlier this week, the lead Crown lawyer, Barbara Mercier, stated in an email to the defence that the notes were redacted for « litigation privilege » because they involve discussions of « trial strategy. » That prompted defence lawyers to allege political interference on Monday.

The director of the prosecution service denied the claim of interference in a written statement this week. That point was reinforced by Crown lawyer John MacFarlane in court Friday.

« There no direction from the Privy Council Office to PPSC on how to direct the case, » he said. « There was no direction or input from the Prime Minister’s Office to our office on how to direct the case. »

Judge asks about comments

As he spoke, Justice Perkins-McVey flipped through the uncensored version of the meeting notes and asked, « What about comments from Paul Shuttle, like, ‘Is there a way to engineer the issues at stake?' »

MacFarlane insisted the meetings were meant to identify a potential witness who could speak to the issue of cabinet confidences. Norman is accused of leaking cabinet secrets related to a $668 million shipbuilding deal to lease a supply ship for the navy in 2015.

The judge seemed skeptical of that explanation.

« There was certainly a discussion of evidence, » said Perkins-McVey, referring to the notes but not quoting further from them. « There was discussion of the evidence-gathering process. Obviously this was done well before. »

Norman does not go to trial until August. His lawyers have been arguing in court for months over access to federal government documents, including secret cabinet memos and notes related to the prosecution.

The Crown has fought most of the requests, claiming they are not relevant to the charge that the former commander of the navy leaked sensitive cabinet information both to executives at both the Davie shipyard in Levis, Que., and to CBC journalist James Cudmore.

The case will be back in court Feb. 22.

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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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