BlackBerry, Facebook resolve patent fight in private deal

BlackBerry, Facebook settle

BlackBerry says it has resolved its disputes with Facebook, after both companies had taken aim at each other's patents.

In 2018, BlackBerry alleged in California court that Facebook and its WhatsApp and Instagram platforms were infringing on seven of its inventions.

BlackBerry accused Facebook and its subsidiaries of using BlackBerry's technology in messaging apps, methods for photo-tagging, and a tool that enables use of a device's contact list while a game is being played, in order to exchange messages and game data.

Later that year, Facebook filed a suit of its own over six patents, claiming BlackBerry was infringing on Facebook's patented voice instant messaging and use of global positioning systems.

Now, a BlackBerry spokeswoman says that BlackBerry and Facebook reached a confidential agreement.

BlackBerry's spokeswoman declined to comment further on the agreement. A spokesman for Facebook Canada also declined to comment.


Traffic down more than 60% at Prince George Airport in 2020

PG airport takes big hit

With travel concerns increasing due to COVID-19, it's no surprise the Prince George Airport Authority saw a major drop in 2020 passenger numbers.

The authority says passenger numbers dropped by 64 per cent last year compared to 2019, with April, May and June being the hardest hit months.

All three months saw declines of at least 91 per cent compared to those same months in 2019.

“It was an unprecedented year for all as COVID-19 turned our world upside down," PGAA President and CEO Gordon Duke said in a release.

“The aviation industry has been hit incredibly hard as travel restrictions and limitations were in place for the majority of the year.

"The number of flights cancelled and airlines who temporarily suspended operations out of YXS forced our management team to pivot and look at other revenue opportunities."

Duke says there was an estimated 42 per cent drop in operating revenues in 2020 compared to the previous year. There was also a 65 per cent decline in Airport Improvement Fees, a primary source of capital funding.

“We started off the year with so much hope as we prepared to welcome the world for the Women’s World Curling Championships, as teams were landing at YXS, they were learning the tournament had been cancelled due to COVID," spokesperson Lindsay Cotter added.

"Locally, that was one of the first indications at how serious this new virus was.

“By the end of March travel restrictions were in place and we were installing plexi-glass barriers and physical distancing decals throughout the terminal in an effort to keep those travelling for essential reasons, safe.”

As a result of the pandemic, the authority applied for the Federal Government Wage Subsidy Program and was approved, which helped keep employees working and mitigate operational losses in 2020.

Harvest Meats recalls sausages over undercooking

Harvest recalls sausages

Harvest Meats is recalling a brand of Polish sausages due to undercooking that may make them unsafe to eat.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says the recall affects customers in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Northwest Territories, Ontario and Saskatchewan.

It covers Harvest brand Polish sausages in 675-gram packages with a March 15 best before date.

Customers are advised to throw away or return the product.

The agency says no illnesses have been reported.

A food safety investigation is ongoing.

International students frustrated by federal work limits during pandemic

Frustrated by work limits

Pooria Behrouzy was honoured to be offered a full-time job as a COVID-19 vaccine support worker at Trillium Health Partners last month.

The international student in health informatics at George Brown College was already on staff at the Mississauga, Ont., hospital network after working on an IT project, and he was eager to contribute to the rollout of the vaccine that’s brought hope during the pandemic’s increasingly grim second wave.

But a roadblock stopped Behrouzy from accepting the full-time shifts offered: as an international student, he can only work a maximum of 20 hours per week while classes are in session or he risks losing his study permit and legal status in Canada.

Behrouzy, who is now working part time at the hospital, said it’s disappointing that he can’t contribute fully.

“I can work and I can help against this COVID ... why (am I) not able to do that?” said the 42-year-old, who is from Iran. “It's very sad that I'm not fully available.”

His colleague Passang Yugyel Tenzin had a similar experience.

Tenzin, a 26-year-old graduate of health informatics currently studying in another IT program, was working on the same project at the hospital as Behrouzy before he received an offer to work on the vaccine support team as well.

The non-medical role involves providing scheduling support to ensure all available doses are administered and other administrative tasks that keep the process running smoothly.

Tenzin, who is from Bhutan, signed on for the job in a part-time capacity but noted that the 20-hour limit would make scheduling 12-hour shifts a challenge.

Working full time would be beneficial for his own education and for the health-care system that's struggling to keep up with skyrocketing COVID-19 infections, vaccinations and other important services, he said.

“We can learn more and on top of that, we can contribute more to this situation currently, because they actually need a lot of people,” Tenzin said in a phone interview.

“We can contribute a lot if we were given the opportunity to work full time.”

Ottawa temporarily lifted the restriction on international students’ work hours last April, saying the change was aimed at easing the staffing crunch in health care and other essential workplaces.

The measure expired on Aug. 31, 2020, and has not been reinstated.

The press secretary for the office of the federal immigration minister said the government is grateful for the role newcomers have played in Canada's pandemic response.

"As more students returned to regular studies in the fall of 2020, the work hour restriction was reinstated at the request of provinces, territories and educational institutions, due to concerns about students working full time while also completing a full course load," Alexander Cohen said in a statement.

Behrouzy said he doesn't understand why the limit on work hours was reinstated while the pandemic is still ongoing and hospitals need more support than ever.

“I'm available to work and all the schools, the universities and colleges are remote now, so why not extend this exception again?” he said. “It’s really disappointing.”

Xi asks Starbucks' Schultz to help repair US-China ties

Asked to help US-China ties

President Xi Jinping is asking former CEO Howard Schultz of Starbucks to help repair U.S.-Chinese relations that have plunged to their lowest level in decades amid a tariff war and tension over technology and security.

A letter from Xi to Schultz reported Friday by the official Xinhua News Agency was a rare direct communication from China's paramount leader to a foreign business figure. Schultz opened Starbucks' first China outlet in 1999 and is a frequent visitor.

Xi wrote to Schultz “to encourage him and Starbucks to continue to play an active role in promoting Chinese-U.S. economic and trade co-operation and the development of bilateral relations,” Xinhua reported. No text of the letter was released.

Xinhua gave no indication whether the letter reflected an initiative to ask American corporate leaders to help change policy after President-elect Joe Biden takes office next week.

Economists and political analysts say Biden is likely to try to revive co-operation with Beijing over North Korea and other political issues. But few changes on trade are expected due to widespread frustration in Washington over China's human rights record and accusations of technology theft.

The Cabinet press office didn’t immediately respond to questions about what Xi wanted Schultz to do and whether he contacted other American business leaders.

Schultz, who was Starbucks CEO until 2017 and chairman until 2018, led an aggressive expansion that made China its biggest market outside the United States. Starbucks says it has more than 4,700 stores and 58,000 employees in almost 190 Chinese cities.

Schultz said in 2019 that he was considering running for president as an independent but later dropped that.

Xinhua said Xi was responding to a letter from Schultz that congratulated the Chinese leader on “the completion of a well-off society” under his leadership, Xinhua said.

Home sales hit record in 2020, Canadian Real Estate Association reports

Home sales hit record

The Canadian Real Estate Association says home sales in December hit an all-time record for the month to end what was also a record year.

It says December sales were up 47.2 per cent compared with December 2019, the largest year-over-year gain in monthly sales in 11 years.

Sales for the month were also up 7.2 per cent compared with November.

For 2020 as a whole, CREA says some 551,392 homes were sold, up 12.6 per cent from 2019, and a new annual record.

The actual national average home price was a record $607,280 in December, up 17.1 per cent from the final month of 2019.

CREA says excluding Greater Vancouver and the Greater Toronto Area, two of the most active and expensive markets, lowers the national average price by almost $130,000.

New UV-lit office fan can kill COVID-19 virus

This fan kills COVID-19

A new fan that uses ultraviolet (UV) light can kill 99.9 per cent of the SARS-CoV-2, the pathogen that causes COVID-19, according to the Canadian distributor and independent test results.

The Haiku-UV-C fan, manufactured by Big Ass Fans of Kentucky and distributed in Canada by Big Ass Fans of Oakville, Ontario, are being eyed as a potential cost-saving and effective method to help make workplaces safer for those returning to the office after nearly a year of working from home.

The near-silent ceiling-mounted fans use disinfecting ultraviolet (UV) lights built into the base and aimed up at the ceiling. As the fan circulates air throughout the room, the UV lights kill airborne pathogens that cross their path, Big Ass spokesman Nick Georgescu told Western Investor.

UV light can be dangerous to eyes if viewed directly, which explains why the fans direct light to the ceiling.

Compared to conventional fans, the Big Ass versions are expensive, starting at around $2,000 for a units large enough to clean a 1,000-square-foot space, but the cost is much less than retrofitting advanced ventilation into the HVAC systems for older Class A or Class B or C buildings, Georgescu explained.

Big Ass released results of a study from Innovative Bioanalysis, a California lab that tested the fan against the coronavirus this April.

A cover letter to the testing report ,written by Kevin Noble, COO of Innovative Bioanalysis, states, “It can be concluded that between 10 and 20 minutes there was an overall [pathogen] reduction of 99.99 per cent or greater.”

Intertek, an international testing lab with offices in Western Canada, tested Big Ass’ Haiku-UV-C last April in a 1,000-cubic-foot test chamber, which was exposed to a bacteriophage commonly used as a stand-in for deadlier pathogens. Results showed a 99.9 per cent kill rate on the pathogen within 10 minutes.

Georgescu said that ability to independently remove the COVID-19 pathogens from a single space could negate the cost of new or retrofitted ventilation into an entire office building.

Big Ass has also developed a Clean Air System that uses “bipolar ionization” and much bigger fans – up to 24 feet wide – that Georgescu said could clean pathogens from large 30-foot-high industrial warehouses or other big workspaces. Test results have shown this system is also effective as a COVID-19 killer.

Susan Bazak, president of Bazak Consulting of Vancouver, who helped develop the BOMA Canada Pathway Back to Work Guide, Commercial Real Estate, Coronavirus and Re-Entry, with the Building Owners and Managers Association of BC., did not endorse the Big Ass fans, but referred instead to industry ventilation standards.

In the BOMA Pathway Back to Work Guide, for example, office owners are encouraged to add high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, which can theoretically remove at least 99.97 per cent of dust, pollen, mold, bacteria, and any airborne particles from ventilation systems. The HEPA filters must be replaced regularly and disposed of safely to avoid virus contamination.

BOMA notes, however, that some ventilation systems, such as those in older buildings not constructed to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, may not be designed for the higher rated filters.

Ask about COVID-19 return policies as you shop to avoid disappointment later

Return policies and COVID

Canadians who weren’t happy with some of their holiday gifts or who changed their mind after making purchases might face trouble when trying to get their money back.

Scores of retailers across the country have changed their return policies to quell the spread of COVID-19, making it trickier to get an exchange or refund, depending on the store.

"It is absolutely a patchwork of all kinds of policies that are constantly changing … and you have no control" said Joanne McNeish, a Ryerson University professor specializing in marketing.

"This is truly customer beware territory."

Shoppers who took a close look at fine print and store signage might have discovered that in recent months Walmart Canada temporarily stopped accepting returns of three or more of the same items and won’t process returns for any items purchased after June 1 without a receipt.

The retailer is also not allowing returns for a slew of items including swimwear, earphones, air mattresses, sleeping bags and trading cards, and has adjusted the return period for many electronics.

Costco Canada shoppers have posted photos on social media of store signage revealing the company has stopped accepting toilet paper, paper towels, sanitizing wipes, water, rice and Lysol products for returns in some provinces.

Canadian Tire said in an email to The Canadian Press that during lockdown its Ontario stores are not accepting returns and those in Quebec will only process returns for essential goods.

For purchases where the 90-day returns window expires during the lockdown period, the retailer will offer a 15-day extension to return items when stores reopen.

And if you picked up the wrong bottle of wine at the LCBO, drink up. The Ontario alcohol purveyor has stopped taking returns during COVID-19 shutdowns.

"It's all very difficult to figure out because websites are not necessarily clear and I started looking at the back of paper receipts it's not necessarily printed there," said McNeish.

Stores switched up policies because COVID-19 has been a burden for retailers, she said. They have had to purchase hand sanitizer and Plexiglas shields and are grappling with the demand and high costs associated with delivery.

To avoid being disappointed later, she recommends customers get as much information as they can about returns during the purchase process.

Snap a photo of the policy if it's on a store wall or print a copy of the fine print because sometimes employees can misunderstand their own company's policy and their word won't be worth much later, she said.

If you buy something you later decide you don't want or that you have a problem with, she urges people not to wait to return it because policies could change in that time.

"Returns policies are going to continue to tighten up, especially over the next couple of years, while stores recover from the huge expense they've incurred," she said.

It's also important for customers to know what they're entitled to, she said.

Canada has no laws requiring retailers to accept returns, but provincial and territorial legislation gives consumers some rights.

For example, under the Consumer Protection Act in Ontario, products ordered for delivery must be dropped off within 30 days of the promised date or shoppers can request a refund. However, if the item arrives late and you keep it, you lose your right to a refund.

While companies are not obligated to offer returns and the Alberta government has discouraged it during the pandemic, many businesses offer them anyway as a sign of goodwill and a way to build consumer trust.

To avoid confusion, Ken Whitehurst, the executive director of the Consumers Council of Canada, has simple advice: “always ask about exchange and return policies.”

If customers feel wronged by a return policy they can always take the company to court, although that is less likely to succeed unless the retailer has agreed to liberal return terms., Whitehurst said in an email.

If they're trying to return phone or internet equipment, Whitehurst said they can turn to the Commissioner for Complaints in Telecom-Television Services. Car return troubles may be arbitrated by bodies like the Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council, he added.

If there is no industry association or council to take concerns to, he said, “It never hurts to report the nature of return problems to provincial consumer protection offices.”

North American stock markets up in early trading, loonie climbs higher

Markets, loonie climb

Strength in the technology and metals and mining sectors helped lift Canada's main stock index in early trading, while the health care sector, which includes the big cannabis companies, also climbed higher.

The S&P/TSX composite index was up 44.55 points at 17,979.29.

In New York, the Dow Jones industrial average was up 137.56 points at 31,198.03. The S&P 500 index was up 7.58 points at 3,817.42, while the Nasdaq composite was up 47.74 points at 13,176.69.

The Canadian dollar traded for 78.83 cents US compared with 78.68 cents US on Wednesday.

The February crude oil contract was down 22 cents at US$52.69 per barrel and the February natural gas contract was up a penny at US$2.74 per mmBTU.

The February gold contract was down US$6.90 at US$1,848.00 an ounce and the March copper contract was up four cents at US$3.66 a pound.

Twitter CEO defends Trump ban, warns of dangerous precedent

Twitter defends Trump ban

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey defended his company’s ban of President Donald Trump in a philosophical Twitter thread that is his first public statement on the subject.

When Trump incited his followers to storm the U.S. Capitol last week, then continued to tweet potentially ominous messages, Dorsey said the resulting risk to public safety created an “extraordinary and untenable circumstance” for the company. Having already briefly suspended Trump's account the day of the Capitol riot, Twitter on Friday banned Trump entirely, then smacked down the president's attempts to tweet using other accounts.

“I do not celebrate or feel pride in our having to ban @realDonaldTrump from Twitter,“ Dorsey wrote. But he added: ”I believe this was the right decision for Twitter.”

Dorsey acknowledged that shows of strength like the Trump ban could set dangerous precedents, even calling them a sign of “failure.” Although not in so many words, Dorsey suggested that Twitter needs to find ways to avoid having to make such decisions in the first place. Exactly how that would work isn't clear, although it could range from earlier and more effective moderation to a fundamental restructuring of social networks.

In Dorsey-speak, that means Twitter needs to work harder to “promote healthy conversation.”

Extreme measures such as banning Trump also highlight the extraordinary power that Twitter and other Big Tech companies can wield without accountability or recourse, Dorsey wrote.

While Twitter was grappling with the problem of Trump, for instance, Apple, Google and Amazon were effectively shutting down the right-wing site Parler by denying it access to app stores and cloud-hosting services. The companies charged that Parler wasn't aggressive enough about removing calls to violence, which Parler has denied.

Dorsey declined to criticize his Big Tech counterparts directly, even noting that “this moment in time might call for this dynamic.” Over the long term, however, he suggested that aggressive and domineering behaviour could threaten the “noble purpose and ideals” of the open internet by entrenching the power of a few organizations over a commons that should be accessible to everyone.

The Twitter co-founder, however, had little specific to say about how his platform or other Big Tech companies could avoid such choices in the future. Instead, he touched on an idea that, taken literally, sounds a bit like the end of Twitter itself — a long-term project to develop a technological “standard” that could liberate social networks from centralized control by the likes of Facebook and Twitter.

But for the moment, Dorsey wrote, Twitter's goal “is to disarm as much as we can, and ensure we are all building towards a greater common understanding, and a more peaceful existence on earth.”

Investors score first settlement in Bridgemark Group case

Settlement in stock scheme

A pair of investors leading a class action lawsuit against a group of stock promoters and purported consultants, known as the Bridgemark Group, has reached a $2.4 million settlement with one of 11 junior companies involved in an alleged fraud scheme.

 B.C.-registered cannabis company Beleave Inc. and two of its former executives, CEO Andrew Wnek and CFO Bojan Krasic, reached the settlement after the company filed for bankruptcy in Ontario late last year. The funds will be placed in a trust account until the lawsuit is complete.

 This is the first bit of money recovered by Bennett Montour LLP lawyer Paul Bennett and Camp Fiorante Matthews Mogerman LLP lawyer Reidar Mogerman, who represent class action litigants and investors Michael Tietz and Duane Loewen.

 While the settlement, reached with the company’s insurer, does not represent all the money that investors lost in Beleave Inc. after the scheme took place, B.C. Supreme Court Madam Justice Sandra Wilkinson ruled on January 8 that it “is fair and reasonable and in the best interests of those affected by it.”

The investors are suing 10 other companies, their executives and dozens of stock promoters and purported consultants — all of whom are respondents to a November 2018 notice of hearing from the B.C. Securities Commission related to an alleged, illegal share distribution scheme 

Beleave is one of two companies that has previously admitted it “participated in conduct that is abusive to B.C.’s capital markets,” for its part in the scheme.

The class action proceedings have yet to be approved against those other defendants so the judge had to approve it, in part, for the purpose of the settlement with Beleave. A hearing to approve the class action lawsuit in full is scheduled in early March. 

Beleave issued $10 million worth of securities in April and June of 2018 to some of the purported consultants belonging to what the commission dubbed the Bridgemark Group. Beleave then issued news releases about such interest in the company — a significant signal to future retail investors, such as Tietz and Loewen.

But the Canadian Securities Exchange-traded company simultaneously returned $7.5 million through pre-paid fees to the purported consultants, even though they did not provide any services, noted a June 2019 BCSC statement.

The consultants then “immediately resold most of their shares at prices below what they had paid,” resulting in significant profits. 

The shady shares — which quickly ended up in the hands of the retail investors —devalued and diluted the company stock.

This process is alleged to have occurred within 11 companies, however several observers of B.C.’s capital markets tell Glacier Media such consulting activity is far more widespread.

Beleave spokesperson Kevin Keagan told Glacier Media in June 2019 that Beleave immediately hired independent lawyers to determine the nature of the allegations — a matter the BCSC said was a mitigating factor in unhooking the leash on their investigation of the company. 

That BCSC investigation is ongoing, since fall of 2018, and no hearing date has been set. The BCSC has named Justin Liu and Anthony Jackson as “primary architects” of the alleged scheme. The BCSC subsequently lifted limited and temporary trade orders against all the respondents save for Liu and Jackson.

The pair has applied to the courts to keep certain BCSC investigation records from the investors. The documents had already been obtained by Glacier Media, prior to the class action lawsuit application in 2019.

The Bridgemark Group respondents claimed release of the records put their commercial interests at risk and the commission erred by releasing them under Freedom of Information laws. Both the B.C. Supreme Court and B.C. Court of Appeal have upheld the commission’s decision, however Jackson and Liu have since filed an application to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, Mogerman told Glacier Media — thus putting a further hold on the files.

The investigation records show some extent to the ubiquitous six-figure consulting contracts the purported consultants signed with these companies, which had little to no revenue and/or had significant debt.

For example, over two years a Vancouver woman named Danilen Villanueva seemingly went from working at McDonald’s to working as Jackson’s BridgeMark Financial Corp. receptionist in 2016.

Villanueva, a hearing respondent, went on to buy and sell at least $5.9 million worth of stock and signing, over a five-month span, lucrative six-figure consulting contracts as sole director and beneficiary of purported consulting firm Detona Capital Corp. with the same mailing address as Jackson’s companies, according to the BCSC.

Detona was part of Beleave’s $10 million sale of 5.4 million shares to numerous hearing respondents.

Trade records show Detona bought $1.5 million worth of Beleave shares. Others involved in the purchase include: Saiya Capital Corp. ($345,000), Cam Paddock Enterprises ($3 million), Kenneth Tollstam ($655,000), BridgeMark Financial Corp. ($2 million), Keir MacPherson ($500,000), Northwest Marketing and Management Inc. ($500,000) and Sway Capital Corp. ($1.5 million) — all respondents.

The investigation files do not show the details of the $7.5 million worth of consulting contracts awarded by Beleave.

Jackson directs BridgeMark Financial and is a resident of West Vancouver along with his sister Tara Haddad of Saiya Capital and his father-in-law Tollstam, who is the former City of North Vancouver chief administrative officer. All three are registered accountants and hearing respondents. 

BCSC documents show Sway is directed by Jackson business associate Von Rowell Torres and beneficially owned by David Schmidt, who is also named in an ongoing Alberta Securities Commission investigation alongside Jackson’s wife – realtor Lisa Jackson – related to Prize Mining consulting contracts. 

The Bridgemark Group remains active in the capital markets. 

Torres and Jackson previously directed a shell company named Navis Resources Inc. that Haddad has turned into Modern Meat Inc., via a reverse takeover and listing, last June. 

Modern Meat recently posted gross profits of $1,037 and a net and comprehensive loss of $5.2 million for the year ending August 31, 2020. 

This week the commission launched a campaign to augment public confidence in investing in B.C.’s capital markets. 

“BCSC research shows that nearly half of British Columbians are anxious about losing money on their investments,” stated the commission. 

Aritzia Q3 net income falls while e-commerce revenues soar during COVID-19

Aritzia Q3 net income falls

\Aritzia Inc. says having to temporarily close its boutiques to stop the spread of COVID-19 caused its net income to shrink in its latest quarter even though its e-commerce revenues surged 78 per cent from a year ago.

The Vancouver-based apparel company says its net income reached $30.5 million or 28 cents per share in its third quarter, compared with $34.8 million or 32 cents per share during the same period the year before.

Aritzia's adjusted net income was $32.2 million or 29 cents per share for the period ended Nov. 29, versus $35.7 million or 32 cents per diluted share last year.

Analysts had expected Aritzia to report earnings per share of 23 cents per share, according to financial data firm Refinitiv.

Aritzia's net revenue increased to $278.3 million in the quarter, up from $267.3 million.

Aritzia has been hit hard by the pandemic because many of its stores in COVID-19 hot spots have been forced to close for prolonged periods and the company has had to refocus on online sales.

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