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Montrealers argue for right to assisted dying in pivotal court challenge

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During a break in her court proceedings, Nicole Gladu wheeled down a corridor of the Montreal courthouse in the electric wheelchair she was forced to start using last month — a sign, she says, of how quickly her muscles are degenerating.

« I consider myself like a house, where the brick and the mortar are just giving up, » she said.

Gladu, who had polio as a child and later developed post-polio syndrome, says her suffering has intensified, particularly in the past two years, and her body can no longer support her.

« I don’t want to die. I want to stop the suffering, » Gladu told reporters. « The death is not the object, it is the means. »

« For me, living like I am actually, it’s an existence, much more than a life. »

Gladu is one of two Quebecers challenging Quebec’s and Canada’s medical aid in dying laws. They want the right to access a doctor’s help to die, even if they are not yet close to the end of their natural lives.

Closing arguments in the constitutional challenge began Monday before Quebec Superior Court Justice Christine Baudouin.

Gladu, 73, and co-plaintiff Jean Truchon, 51, argue both the provincial and federal laws are too restrictive. 

Canada’s law requires that a person seeking the right to medical aid in dying must be at the point where their death is foreseeable; Quebec’s law is even more restrictive, requiring that a person seeking the right to a medically assisted death be at the « end of life. »

Nicole Gladu, left, and Jean Truchon are challenging the laws restricting access to medically assisted dying. (Charles Contant/CBC)

Gladu believes the concept of « foreseeable death » leaves too much to the interpretation of doctors evaluating each case.

« All my life, it was my … nature to control life as much as I could, » Gladu, a former journalist, told reporters outside the courtroom. « I guess I want to get old the same way. »

Protecting the vulnerable

Lawyers for the federal government have argued that the « foreseeable death » criterion is necessary to protect « vulnerable » people who are suffering from a serious ailment but are not fatally ill from using the law as a way to die by suicide.

But lawyer Jean-Pierre Ménard said during closing arguments Monday the laws don’t define who is a vulnerable person and argued there is a difference between suicide and medical aid in death.

« The action they want to take has nothing to do with suicide, » he said.

It’s « not at all impulsive. »

Ménard said psychological evaluations of his clients have shown that they are able to consent and are not suffering from depression or any other psychological condition that could impair their judgment.

He argues that other provisions in the law already protect those who are vulnerable, as doctors must assess their mental state and determine that they are making an informed choice before granting their approval.

As well, those approved for medical aid in dying must demonstrate their capacity to consent right up until the final moment.

Truchon and Gladu suffer from serious health problems that cause persistent and intolerable suffering, and their conditions have deteriorated significantly, he said.

Truchon, who was not at court today, has cerebral palsy and lost the use of his only functioning limb in 2012. 

Ménard argued that the laws, as written, do not accurately reflect the Supreme Court’s unanimous Carter decision in 2015, which did not include any stipulation that a person must be close to a natural death in order to access a doctor’s help to end their life.

The Supreme Court’s decision said those with a « grievous and irremediable medical condition » should have the right to access medical aid in dying.

The Quebec and federal governments will make their closing arguments in support of the existing laws, once Ménard wraps up his arguments.

That’s expected to take until Feb. 28.

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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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