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Rail blockades spark debate over policing and politics

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Protests that have shut down most of Canada’s rail system have opened a debate about the intersection of politics and policing — with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau insisting government must remain hands-off and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer insisting it’s time for the PM to direct the RCMP to end the blockades.

On Friday, Scheer held a news conference in Ottawa and called on Trudeau to direct the national police force to “enforce the law” and end the “illegal” tactics.

“Democracy and the rule of law are fundamental pillars of our country, and it’s time they are enforced,” he said.

“If they are not, the Trudeau Liberal government will set a dangerous precedent that a small few can have a devastating impact on countless Canadians.”

Trudeau rejected Scheer’s demand. “We are not a kind of country where politicians get to tell the police what to do in operational matters,” he said today following a security conference in Germany.

A statement from the office of Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, who oversees the RCMP, said “police independence is crucial to public trust in our institutions.”

“The minister of public safety does not direct police operations. The minister may not attempt to influence in any way an investigation, or direct the conduct of specific police operations,” says the statement provided to CBC News.

“Our government is committed to protecting the constitutional right to lawful peaceful protest, keeping Canadians safe, and upholding the rule of law.”

‘Weasel words’

But some policing experts say an elected government does have the authority to direct police to act in the public interest.

Rick Parent is a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University who spent nearly 30 years as a municipal police officer. He said there’s a difference between interfering in a criminal investigation and responding to a politically-motivated demonstration. Governments represent the public but sometimes try to “pass the buck” to police in controversial situations like this, he said.

“I think it’s an easy way out to say that the police are independent. I think those are like weasel words in the sense that we’re trying to pass the buck on to the police and hold them accountable for this, when in fact … it is a political thing,” Parent said.

“It’s not a crime against an individual that’s occurring.”

Parent said court orders must clearly state what powers the police are permitted to exercise in a specific situation, and any government direction must be in line with that court order.

According to the RCMP Act, officers are to “enforce all Acts of Parliament and regulations and render assistance to departments of the government of Canada as the Minister directs.”

A ‘political issue’

Christian Leuprecht, a Royal Military College professor who has written about the RCMP’s structure, said that while police must be independent when it comes to criminal investigations, government intervention in this case would not amount to political interference in an investigation.

“The federal government does have options, contrary to what it is claiming,” he said. “But it has chosen not to exercise those, likely for political reasons. Because this is, of course, the government that has staked much of its political fate on reconciliation …

“I think the uniforms, whether it’s federal or provincial, feel it shouldn’t be their responsibility to resolve what is ultimately a political issue.”

Watch: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada is ‘not the kind of country where politicians get to tell the police what to do in operational matters’

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke to reporters in Munich before returning home to Ottawa on Friday 3:15

Memories of Ipperwash

Governments may be reluctant to get involved in such protests, given that memories of 1995’s deadly confrontation in Ontario’s Ipperwash Provincial Park are still fresh. After members of the Stoney Point Ojibway band occupied the park to assert their claim to nearby land, then-premier Mike Harris told the Ontario Provincial Police he wanted the protesters evicted. During the subsequent confrontation, protester Dudley George was killed by a police officer.

Ontario Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney said Friday it’s up to the federal government to show leadership and reach out to the protesters to bring about a swift resolution. But she agreed with Trudeau that the government should not interfere with police operations.

“It would be inappropriate for a government to direct a police force,” she said, pointing out that the court has issued an injunction against the Mohawk protesters behind an illegal blockade near Belleville, Ont. that is snarling rail traffic.

Ontario Transport Minister Caroline Mulroney spoke to reporters in Toronto after a Federal-Provincial meeting 1:09

Police discretion

OPP spokesperson Bill Dickson said police use their discretion as “a valid, appropriate approach to de-escalating situations such as this” — and that should not be confused with a lack of enforcement.

“The OPP calls on those involved to abide by the court injunction and to not put public peace or anyone’s safety in jeopardy. The OPP respects the right of everyone to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, but we also recognize the rights of the general public, local residents and businesses to a safe environment,” he said.

Dickson said the OPP will continue to follow its Framework for Police Preparedness for Indigenous Critical Incidents, which he said provides guidance on a “measured and sensitive response.”

 

People stand near a rail blockade in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, Ont. on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020. (Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press)

 

That document outlines the approach to be taken by various levels of government to resolve critical incidents that may erupt over land claims, self-determination or treaty rights.

“A range of possibilities exists as to how the critical incident may evolve — from a passive demonstration to one where the public is significantly affected, (such as) blockage of transportation route,” the document reads.

“It is imperative for police to ensure all parties to the critical incident have the opportunity to contribute to strategies for resolution. Employees will rely on established relationships for effective communication between themselves and persons involved in the critical incident as well as the other members of the community.”

Mohawk activists who have set up camps on key rail lines in eastern Ontario have said they won’t end their demonstration until the RCMP leaves the traditional territory of the Wet’suwet’en in northern B.C.

Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders had been blocking road access to a construction site for the Coastal GasLink pipeline, a key part of a $40-billion LNG Canada liquefied natural gas export project.

While much of the police action near that road ended Tuesday with multiple arrests, the RCMP still has officers stationed near the pipeline construction site.

Scheer said the blockades are being staged by anti-energy activists who are “ideologically motivated” and that they must not be allowed to “run roughshod over the rule of law.”

“Radical activists, many of whom have no connection to the Wet’suwet’en people, are holding our country’s economy hostage. Meanwhile, the prime minister has been out of the country on a vanity project to win a vote at the UN, neglecting his duties here at home,” he said.

Scheer said it’s time that Trudeau “pick up the phone” and tell Blair to “put an end to the situation.”

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should call on the RCMP to clear protests that are crippling Canada’s rail network. 0:45

While every person has the right to freedom of speech and protest, Scheer said, they don’t have the right to block people from getting to work or to prevent businesses and farmers from getting their goods to market.

“These blockades are illegal. So far, the prime minister has refused to come out and call them that himself,” he said.

Asked if police intervention could escalate an already tense situation, Scheer insisted the risk of escalation is greater if nothing is done.

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Oil prices fall as market weighs coronavirus demand impact – CNBC

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Oil pumpjacks in silhouette at sunset.

Oil prices fell on Tuesday, tracking losses in financial markets on lingering concerns over the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak in China and its effect on oil demand.

Brent crude was at $57.07 a barrel, down 60 cents, or 1%, by 0348 GMT, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude fell 38 cents, or 0.7%, to $51.67 a barrel.

“Oil prices remain heavy as energy traders may have been overly optimistic as to the crude demand impact of the coronavirus, and in fading optimism that OPEC + will come through with deeper production cuts in March,” said Edward Moya, senior market analyst at OANDA.

“Optimism that China would see a return to normalcy in travel and trade next quarter was probably wrong… The rest of world is exercising caution on virus spreading fears and that will do no favors for crude’s demand outlook.”

U.S. stock futures slipped from record levels on Tuesday after Apple Inc, the most valuable company in the United States, said it will not meet its revenue guidance for the March quarter as the coronavirus outbreak slowed production and weakened demand in China. 

The number of new coronavirus infections in mainland China fell below 2,000 on Tuesday for the first time since January, Chinese health officials said, although global experts warn it is too early to say the outbreak is being contained. 

The International Energy Agency (IEA) said last week the virus was set to cause oil demand to fall by 435,000 barrels per day (bpd) year-on-year in the first quarter, in what would be the first quarterly drop since the financial crisis in 2009.

Still, with some Chinese independent refineries snapping up crude supplies after being absent from the market for weeks, traders held out hopes that China’s demand could recover in coming months. 

Investors are also anticipating that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies, including Russia, will approve a proposal to deepen production cuts to tighten global supplies and support prices.

The group, known as OPEC+, has an agreement to cut oil output by 1.7 million bpd until the end of March.

Oil output from Libya has fallen sharply since Jan. 18 because of a blockade of ports and oil fields by groups loyal to eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar.

Libya’s national oil corporation, NOC, said on Monday that oil production was at 135,745 barrels per day as of Monday, compared with 1.2 million bpd before the stoppage.

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Pier 1 Imports closing all Canadian stores as it files for bankruptcy protection – Global News

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Home goods retailer Pier 1 Imports Inc. says it has filed for bankruptcy protection in the United States and plans to close all Canadian stores as part of its restructuring process.

The Texas-based company has been struggling with increased competition from budget-friendly online retailers such as Wayfair.

Pier 1 says it will pursue a sale, with a March 23 deadline to submit bids.

The company last month announced it would close 450 stores, including all its Canadian locations.

A Pier 1 Imports furniture and home furnishings store in Laval, Que. on Feb. 22, 2018.

A Pier 1 Imports furniture and home furnishings store in Laval, Que. on Feb. 22, 2018.


Mario Beauregard / The Canadian Press

Pier 1’s Canadian website now directs customers to a short statement announcing the closures and thanks them for their loyalty.

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The company is also commencing creditor protection proceedings in Canada.

Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP are serving as Canadian legal advisers.

In a statement Monday, the company said it will continue to shutter stores as part of its bankruptcy proceedings. The company, which was founded in 1962, is also closing two distribution centres.


READ MORE:
Wayfair employees plan walkout after company sells beds to migrant detention centres: reports

A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. In the meantime, Pier 1 said lenders have committed approximately $256 million in debtor-in-possession financing so it can continue its operations during the Chapter 11 proceedings.

“Today’s actions are intended to provide Pier 1 with additional time and financial flexibility as we now work to unlock additional value for our stakeholders through a sale of the company,” Pier 1 CEO and Chief Financial Officer Robert Riesbeck said in a statement. Riesbeck, an executive with previous corporate turnarounds, joined Pier 1 last summer.

Pier 1’s sales fell 13 per cent to $358 million in its most recent quarter, which ended Nov. 30. It reported a net loss of $59 million for the quarter as it struggled to draw customers to its stores. Pier 1 has been trying to declutter its stores, improve online sales and draw in younger customers.

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Pier 1’s shares have fallen 45 per cent since the start of the year. They closed at $3.58 per share on Friday.

— With files from The Associated Press. 

© 2020 The Canadian Press

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Bombardier to sell train unit to France’s Alstom, shedding biggest division – Toronto Star

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MONTREAL— Bombardier, the supplier of Toronto’s signature streetcars and subways, has reached a US$8.2-billion deal to sell its rail business to French train giant Alstom SA. Both the TTC and Metrolinx say the sale won’t immediately impact their operations.

The company is narrowing its focus to commit itself solely to business jets while casting off its largest division, in part to help pay down US$9.3 billion in debt.

“Going forward, we will focus all our capital, energy and resources on accelerating growth and driving margin expansion in our market-leading US$7 billion business aircraft franchise,” CEO Alain Bellemare said in a statement Monday.

The news comes only weeks after the TTC took delivery of the last of 204 new Bombardier streetcars. All the maintenance of those vehicles is done in-house at the TTC, said transit spokesperson Stuart Green.

The $1.25 billion streetcar order was believed to be the biggest in the world when it was announced in 2009. But the 11 intervening years were an especially problematic chapter in the city’s long transit history with Bombardier.

The first two cars arrived in Toronto in 2014. But a series of manufacturing defects and missed delivery targets caused tempers to flare at the TTC and city hall. At one point the first 67 streetcars had to be recalled and repaired. Meantime, the TTC was desperately trying to extend the life of its old CLRV streetcars and run buses to supplement service on routes that desperately needed the new, bigger vehicles.

Toronto’s newest subways, the $1 billion Toronto Rockets, were also made by Bombardier. Ordered in 2006, they proved controversial for former Toronto Mayor David Miller, who defended the sole-source contract because it supported jobs at Bombardier’s Thunder Bay plant. The subways arrived late due to the bankruptcy of Bombardier’s New York door manufacturer but entered service in 2011.

Metrolinx said that “initial indications from Bombardier suggest it is business as usual,” with its order for Bombardier light rail vehicles for the Eglinton Crosstown, GO buses and the operation of GO and Union-Pearson Express trains. Most of GO’s locomotives are built by U.S.-based MotivePower.

The Finch West and Hurontario light rail lines are being furnished by Alstom, said spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins.

“We look forward to continuing with all of our rail delivery partners to bring better transit to the region,” she said.

Toronto transit historian Ed Levy said the sale of Bombardier’s train division is the end of an era that was for decades a happy match between the city and the company.

“They really screwed up on the streetcar thing but not on the very large orders of the subway cars over the years. When they started doing off-shore stuff that’s where their problems began,” he said.

The acquisition also signals an effort by Alstom to scale up amid rising competition from China’s state-owned CRRC, the world’s largest train maker.

The transaction will see the Caisse de depot et placement, which owns a 32.5 per cent stake in Bombardier’s train division, become Alstom’s largest shareholder.

The deal converts the Quebec pension giant’s investment in Bombardier Transportation into Alstom shares, handing the Caisse about 18 per cent of the Paris-based company with an investment of up to $4 billion, depending on closing conditions. The transaction includes an additional Caisse investment of $1 billion.

Bombardier said net proceeds from the deal will be between US$4.2 billion and US$4.5 billion after deducting the Caisse’s equity position of roughly US$2.2 billion, as well as adjustments for debts and other liabilities.

The deal is expected to close in the first half of 2021 if it can move through regulatory hurdles.

Alstom’s purchase is expected to come under intense scrutiny from antitrust regulators in the European Union. Last year, EU authorities blocked a proposed merger between Alstom and the train division of German industrial conglomerate Siemens AG, arguing the proposed tie-up would result in higher price tags on signalling systems and bullet trains.

Montreal-based Bombardier has sold several divisions since Bellemare took the helm in 2015, including its turboprop and aerostructure segments as well as its commercial airline unit, once touted as the company’s crown jewel.

Bombardier announced last month it was working to reduce debt and pursuing strategic options, which analysts and other observers suggested could include the sale of the company’s rail or business jet units.

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Bombardier shares have fallen about 70 per cent since July 2018 while Alstom’s have risen by more than 50 per cent over the past two years, including 3.5 per cent Monday.

The announcement was made after the Paris Stock Exchange closed Monday. The Toronto Stock Exchange was closed for Family Day.

The new deal and other recent transactions will leave Bombardier with between US$6.5 and US$7 billion of cash on hand, “putting the company on a brand-new footing” to deal with its sizable debt, Bellemare said.

The company has already ramped up production of high-margin business jets, which it expects will drive double-digit revenue growth with 160 unit sales in 2020 amid a $16.3-billion backlog. But delays and “some volatility” continue to plague several “large, challenging” rail contracts, Bellemare said last Thursday.

While its business jets are now at full production, analysts highlight the cyclical luxury market of private planes in comparison to the relatively stable field of rail car and network construction, which is fuelled by government infrastructure projects.

Nonetheless, hefty production costs and lower margins remain an issue in the rail business, said Jacques Roy, professor of transport management at HEC Montreal business school.

“You can see the fixed costs increasing all the time, because they pretty much have to establish facilities everywhere they sell equipment,” Roy said, pointing to Bombardier’s plant in Plattsburgh, N.Y., which makes trains for U.S. clients.

“If they were a little bit better at this they would be able to compete with the Chinese. They could brag that, ‘Okay, we’re not as cheap as the Chinese, but we produce much better quality, we deliver on time.’ But they don’t. That’s a concern to me,” he said.

The rail and business jet divisions represent Bombardier’s only remaining revenue streams — about 53 per cent and 47 per cent, respectively, of $15.76 billion in revenue last year — after Bombardier sold its waterbomber unit, Q400 turboprop business, CRJ regional jet program and flight-training enterprise over the past four years.

And last week, Bombardier announced the sale of its remaining stake in the A220 commercial jetliner program — formerly known as the C Series — as it reported quarterly results last Thursday, marking the end of its failed bid to take on the commercial aircraft duopoly of Airbus SE and Boeing Co.

Bombardier, founded in Valcourt, Que., in 1942 as a snowmobile manufacturer, now stares down a US$9.32-billion debt load — nearly 60 per cent of it due within five years.

The rail business, Bombardier Transportation, is based in Berlin. In Canada, it employs some 1,000 workers at factories in Quebec’s Bas-St-Laurent region and in St-Bruno-de-Montarville, on Montreal’s South Shore.

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