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Renowned journalist Marie Colvin’s bravery well documented but none hold a candle to the woman she was

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Marie Colvin is the journalist I wish I could have been.

Utterly fearless, stubbornly rebellious, committed to recording the suffering of civilians in conflict zones. And God she had style: Always wore La Perla lingerie underneath her combat fatigues.

Hard-drinking, chain-smoking, swore like a sailor. But wrote beautifully.

Yet here I am, on a Sunday afternoon in Toronto, in front of a keyboard. And Colvin is . . . a dead legend.

Targeted and murdered amidst the ruins of Homs seven years ago by the Bashar Assad regime after crawling through an abandoned storm drain below the city, intent on putting the lie to assertions that Syrian forces weren’t indiscriminately bombarding civilians.

A U.S. federal court judge in Washington recently found the Syrian regime guilty of murdering the London Sunday Times war correspondent, awarding her family $302 million (U.S.). Judge Amy Berman Jackson found President Assad had deliberately targeted Colvin, in an “extrajudicial’’ murder, to silence her reporting from the besieged enclave of Baba Amr in Homs during the frenzied first year of that brutal civil war.

“Officials at the highest level of the Syrian government carefully planned and executed the artillery assault on the Baba Amr media centre for the specific purpose of killing the journalist inside.

“A targeted murder of an American citizen, whose courageous work was not only important, but vital to our understanding of war zones and of wars generally, is outrageous.’’

Investigators assembled their lawsuit from interviews with witnesses who’d fled Homs and defecting Syrian officials who provided a trove of internal government documents. The Centre for Justice and Accountability, which helped to fund the case, noted it was a landmark ruling, first time the Assad regime had been held legally responsible for war crimes.

Read more:

Marie Colvin’s final piece on Syria

Early on the day that she was killed, Feb. 22, 2012, Colvin had emailed her editor: “No other Brits here. Have heard that Spencer and Chulov of the Torygraph’’ — what “Private Eye’’ dubbed The Telegraph — “and Guardian trying to make it here but so far we have leapfrogged ahead of them. Heavy shelling this morning.’’

Relentlessly competitive, you see. Get the story first, eyes-on. Never could resist a front line. Even as she railed against what the profession was becoming during a merciless war left largely to civilian journalists uploading videos because Assad had banned reporters from entering the country.

“How do I keep my craft alive in a world that doesn’t value it?’’ she told a close friend, as recounted by Marie Brenner in a Vanity Fair article three months after Colvin was killed.

“I feel like I am the last reporter in the YouTube world. I am inept with technology.’’

Colvin had snuck over the border with photographer Paul Conroy. She’d heard, while in transit (in Beirut) that the army was under orders to kill journalists. That didn’t dissuade her.

It may be that, by turning on her satellite phone to communicate with the office and send her dispatches, Colvin inadvertently led the regime to pinpoint her location — a two-room makeshift media centre in a building where the top floors had been sheared off by shelling. The bombing was a direct hit, killing Colvin and esteemed French photographer Remi Ochlik instantly, Conroy severely wounded.

Was it worth it, taking such risks? Colvin posed that question rhetorically at a 2010 church service honouring reporters killed in killing zones. “We always have to ask ourselves whether the level of risk is worth the story. What is bravery and what is bravado?”

But Colvin couldn’t abide any other way of doing her job, despite having a “bad feeling” as she left for her final reporting assignment, against the advice of colleagues and humanitarian agencies monitoring the carnage in Syria.

Twice-divorced Colvin also sent an email to her lover at the time.

“My darling, I have come back in to Baba Amr, the besieged neighbourhood of Homs, and am now freezing in my hovel with no windows. I just thought, I cannot cover the modern day Srebrenica from the suburbs. You would have laughed. I had to climb over two stone walls tonight, and had trouble with the second (six feet) so a rebel made a cat’s cradle of his two hands and said, ‘Step here and I will give you a lift up.’ Except he thought I was much heavier than I am, so when he ‘lifted’ my foot, he launched me right over the wall and I landed on my head in the mud! . . . I will do one more week here, and then leave. Every day is a horror. I think of you all the time, and I miss you.’’

Colvin, a Yale graduate who made her bones on Fleet Street, was a highly complex person, driven by a yearning for truth, the thrill of the scoop and the adrenalin rush of danger. She suffered from PTSD — the real thing, not the lazy diagnosis so common today but the psychosis of witnessing more slaughter than most soldiers — and panic attacks and alcoholism.

At age 56, long in the tooth for a combat correspondent, Colvin could have slowed down, mentored younger colleagues — always generous-hearted. Instead, she kept on going, pushing herself even harder. She’d survived aerial bombings in Chechnya and a daring escape over a 12,000-foot mountain range, spent nine weeks sleeping on a medical clinic floor during the siege of Misurata, stayed behind in East Timor to help fleeing civilians, raced across the “Green Line” in West Beirut in the midst of the Lebanon-PLO conflict, under fire, to report from inside a refugee camp, and fended off the advances of Moammar Gadhafi during an exclusive interview.

I crossed paths with Colvin in East Timor in 1999 — she still had two eyes back then, later losing the left one when struck by shrapnel from a rocket-launched grenade in Sri Lanka while embedded with the Tamil Tigers, ever-after wearing a black eye patch that only furthered her rakish repute — and in Afghanistan and in Libya and in Iraq, where she infamously fell asleep with her sat phone still on, racking up a $37,000 bill. That only burnished her bona fides.

It is unlikely the Colvin family will ever see a penny of the awarded multi-millions — which her sister says would be put toward a memorial foundation. But, even symbolically, with Assad now the clear victor in the Syrian war, having crushed the rebels — at least 400,000 killed — the judgment resonates.

The Committee to Protect Journalists identified 54 journalists who died violently last year alone, 34 of them murdered in direct retaliation for their work, from Mexico to Yemen, more than a dozen in Afghanistan, which remains the most dangerous place on earth for correspondents. Reporters Without Borders puts the figure at 80, if citizen journalists and other media employees are included. None died more gruesomely than author and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, assassinated and dismembered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Khashoggi, Colvin and Austin Tice — a former U.S. marine turned freelance reporter who disappeared in Syria after being kidnapped in 2012 — were honoured in a 60-second commercial broadcast during the Super Bowl, paid for by the Washington Post and narrated by Tom Hanks. Afterwards, Donald Trump Jr., tweeted that media could avoid paying millions for a commercial to “gain some undeserved credibility . . . how about report the news and not their leftist BS for a change.’’ Because repugnant behaviour runs in the family.

Colvin’s adventurous life has been told in documentaries and books and in A Private War, a movie released last month, based on Marie Brenner’s article, with Rosamund Pike delivering a ferocious performance as the heroic and deeply traumatized journalist, with all her physical and emotional scars. But none of it can hold a candle to the blood-and-flesh woman she was.

The Star doesn’t cover wars anymore. Too costly and few reporters willing to go anyway. Easier, sadly, to just piggyback on the Washington Post and the New York Times. And maybe the data metrics show no significant audience for it. I hate news judgment in thrall to readership analytics.

Colvin’s own words, spoken when she accepted an award for her work in Sri Lanka, provide the most poignant epitaph for the greatest war correspondent of our era.

“Bravery is not being afraid to be afraid.”

Rosie DiManno is a columnist based in Toronto covering sports and current affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @rdimanno

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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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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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