Employees call Scarborough Chapters closure union busting, Indigo says it’s a business decision

Employees of a Chapters bookstore in Scarborough are accusing Indigo of union busting after the company told employees it’d be closing the store in January, which was one of three unionized locations in Toronto. 

Victoria Popov, a part-time employee and union steward at the store, says about 30-40 people will lose their jobs due to the closure on Jan. 27. The store has been open at Kennedy Commons mall for 24 years. In a statement, Indigo told CBC Toronto the store was closed after a standard business review that factored in profitability and says the company is working to support employees.

But Popov says staff feel unsupported by the Canada-wide chain. She says employees have been transferred to other locations after previous store closures, but a transfer was denied for everyone at the Scarborough store.

“We think we’re being made an example of for being unionized and for demanding better wages,” she said. “I think they want to show other stores: ‘This is what will happen to you if you dare step out of line.'”

Victoria Popov, a part-time employee and union steward at the store, says about 30-40 people will lose their jobs due to the closure on Jan. 27. (Jason Trout/CBC)

Indigo’s operations have been in the headlines over the past year, last fall there was a shakeup in the executive ranks that saw president Peter Ruis promoted to CEO, while founder Heather Reisman was bumped up to executive chair. Then the company was hit by a cyberattack in February and Reisman retired completely in the aftermath. In September, Ruis resigned after less than a year as CEO and Reisman returned as chief executive.

Prior to the cyberattack, the store said it was on track for a profitable 2022-2023 — but it ended up losing $50 million on the fiscal year as a result.

Evidence needed to prove union busting: lawyer

Michael Lynk, professor emeritus of law at the University of Western Ontario, says he’d need to see more evidence to definitively call the store’s closure an act of union busting. He says employers can close a unionized store if it is a pure economic decision.

He says the union could file a complaint with the Ontario Labour Relations Board to accuse Indigo of committing an unfair labour practice. 

“When a union accuses an employer of committing an unfair labour practice, the onus actually reverses, the onus is

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People, housing, land: N.W.T. business leaders call for cascade of change from next gov’t

The outlook was rather grim.

“The recovery from the pandemic returns the economy to its pre-pandemic path of slow decline,” read this year’s budget documents for the Northwest Territories.

The budget goes on to list a raft of challenges: inflation, high interest rates, a shortage of workers, insufficient economic diversification, and the fast-approaching closure of the territory’s three diamond mines.

This summer’s devastating wildfires and evacuations haven’t helped the situation.

Now, candidates in the N.W.T. general election are out canvassing, and business leaders are expressing their concerns and offering ideas for how to invigorate the territory’s wilting economy.

Land development difficulties

Right now, getting land from the territorial government in Yellowknife ‘is like pulling teeth out of your face,’ said Rob Warburton, a Yellowknife developer and city councillor. (Submitted by Rob Warburton)

“Fundamentally, if you want to grow the economy, you need to grow your population,” said Rob Warburton, a Yellowknife developer and city councillor. 

Specifically, the territory needs more skilled workers, he said, but a lack of housing across the N.W.T. is a big barrier to bringing them in.

“All the focus of government is consistently about social housing and the housing corporation, which needs a lot of attention, but there’s no conversation around the private sector, which actually provides most of your housing in Yellowknife, Hay River,” he said. 

“I’d love to hear some candidates talk about how do we support economic growth in partnership with industry, because that’s who actually builds your housing, that’s who employs a lot of people.”

One thing the territorial government could do to spur housing development is make more land available to communities, he said. Right now, he said, the process for getting that land in Yellowknife is akin to “pulling teeth out of your face.”

Adrian Bell, a realtor and president of the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce, agrees that growing the population and addressing the labour shortage are key to economic growth — and that more housing is necessary to achieve those things. 

“I hear this all the time of people who’ve accepted jobs and they come to town to try to find housing and they can’t, and they have to turn the job down and they leave,” he said. 

A headshot of Yellowknife realtor Adrian Bell.
‘I hear this all the time of people who’ve accepted jobs and they come to town to try to find housing and they can’t, and they have to turn the job
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Groups call on Ottawa for permanent funding for Black business programs

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Andrea Pierce, executive director of ImmigrantsCan, says legislative changes are needed to address the systemic barriers many Black Canadians face.Spencer Colby/The Globe and Mail

Black business and community groups are calling on Ottawa to permanently fund many programs that are set to expire.

The federal government began to introduce programs to support Black communities in 2018 after it endorsed the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent, which runs until 2024. Ottawa introduced more new initiatives such as the Black Entrepreneurship Program after George Floyd’s killing and Black Lives Matter demonstrations in 2020.

But the programs have all had a set shelf life. For example, the Supporting Black Canadian Communities Initiative, or SBCCI, was created in the 2019 budget and given $25-million over five years to build capacity in grassroots Black-serving organizations across the country. That funding was set to run out in the 2023-24 fiscal year, but in the 2023 budget, the program was given one additional year of funding at $25-million with no clear guidance on what happens after that.

Hundreds of Black entrepreneurs and organizations began writing to federal ministers Karina Gould and Ahmed Hussen this month asking what legislative change will ultimately come from these initiatives.

“We really need a permanent policy to come out of it, because if these programs end … that’s it,” said Jackee Kasandy, co-founder of the Black Entrepreneurs and Businesses of Canada Society.

Employment and Social Development Canada said SBCCI has supported 939 projects with its total $50-million budget, and spent another $82-million on capital projects – such as renovations – for 1,300 Black-serving groups across the country.

The department said Ms. Gould, the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, will explore options after engaging with Black communities and leaders this fall.

While many organizations and entrepreneurs are hoping the funding for these programs continues, their hope for change goes behind budget items.

“It’s not the cheque-writing that’s required,” said Deress Asghedom, founder of Vaster, a cannabis technology startup in Vancouver. “It’s also the commitment to be an ally and recognizing there are challenges. Recognizing there isn’t an even playing field. And then making that commitment to say that we’re here for the long term.”

Black Entrepreneurship Program a ‘beacon of hope,’ though barriers persist

Black-owned businesses tend to be smaller, less profitable than others, Statscan says

A Statistics Canada study released

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