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‘A unique ability to not remember’: Mystery man fights for freedom

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Mohsin Abdelwahep is believed to be Egyptian. But he has also claimed to be Syrian, Iraqi and Palestinian.

He’s used four different names. And Abdelwahep — who is also known as Ali Hassan Ahmed — is either 55 or 59.

One fact about him is certain: he’s behind bars. Not for any criminal act, but because Canada Border Services agents can’t identify him in order to begin the process of deporting him.

But after more than two-and-a-half years of trying to figure out who the mystery man is, the CBSA may soon be forced to set him free.

‘An unknown entity with a history of lying’

A member of the Immigration and Refugee Board’s Immigration Division ordered Abdelwahep’s release last month.

The Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness has applied in Federal Court for a judicial review of that decision.

The bulky court record — which CBC has reviewed — throws a spotlight on both the contentious issue of immigration detention and the lengths investigators will go to in order to discover credible information about the people in their care.

Abdelwahep has undergone linguistic analysis and had his DNA submitted to an ancestry database. Agents have sent Facebook messages to possible fifth and eighth cousins. They’ve considered going to the media.

He’s drawn the line at hypnosis for fear it might « mess with his mind. »

The Canada Border Services Agency submitted Mohsin Abdelwahep’s DNA to Ancestry DNA in the hopes of finding relatives. They have reached out to possible fifth cousins. (Jason Proctor)

And yet, Abdelwahep’s true identity remains as much a puzzle as it was in July 2016 when one of the many Immigration Division members he has appeared before predicted he could look forward to a « very long time » in detention.

« You’ve demonstrated a unique ability to not remember anything about your own past, to be a person completely and utterly alone in the world, unable to obtain any documents, unable to provide any contacts who can confirm your identity, » Marc Tessler told Abdelwahep.

« You are essentially an unknown entity, with a history of lying. »

All dead ends

Abdelwahep was first detained after making a refugee claim at an inland Citizenship and Immigration Office on April 5, 2016. At that time, he claimed to have arrived in Canada on a ship from Italy.

But his story unravelled when fingerprint analysis showed he had actually been in the United States for many years, including the time he was supposed to have been on the boat.

Further checks found Abdelwahep had — in fact — unsuccessfully applied for asylum in Canada in 2007. He told investigators he spent time in France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands but only Italy has any record of him.

Fingerprint checks suggest that Mohsin Abdelwahep was arrested in Las Vegas under the name Ali Hassan Ahmed. He was also married in the desert city. But his wife is dead. (Sam Morris/Las Vegas Sun via Associated Press)

Over time, pieces of information have emerged — but all dead ends. He was married to a woman in Las Vegas. She died. CBSA has been unable to find her relatives, and questions about former roommates have gone nowhere.

The linguistic analysis suggests he grew up in Cairo.

According to the court records, the CBSA has yet to supply him with an application for an Egyptian birth certificate or travel documents.

In any case, he has allegedly refused to fill them out if they did.

‘Do I deserve to be treated this way’

Abdelwahep claims that he has consistently told investigators what he remembers — but he doesn’t remember much.

And his stay in a B.C. Corrections pretrial centre doesn’t appear to be helping. The court records include pages of details about in-custody arguments and fights.

He has spent much of his time in segregation and, at one point, suffered a « brain bleed » after an attack by other inmates.

Mohsin Abdelwahep is currently an inmate at the North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Port Coquitlam, B.C. He has spent much of his time in segregation. (Shutterstock)

Abdelwahep expressed his frustration — and his view of the Canadian legal system — in December of last year, when he made a personal plea for his release to yet another Immigration Division member.

« According to the law in Canada, if I kill a person, if I am drunk, they will indict me for three years. What is the reason they put me in prison for two years without committing any crime? » he asked.

« Do I deserve to be treated this way? I’m not a criminal and I’m not a terrorist. That’s why I’m asking you to release me today and I will comply with any conditions that you impose on me. »

No ‘single, simple answer’

The issue of immigration detention has arisen repeatedly in the courts in recent years.

According to evidence given at a 2017 Federal Court case, nearly 5,900 people were detained for immigration purposes in 2016. People can be held if they are deemed to be a flight risk, a danger to the public or unwilling to prove or reveal their genuine identities. But the Immigration Division holds regular hearings for the CBSA to justify continued detention.

One South African man, Victor Vinnetou, was detained for 11 years before he was released. He arrived on a false passport and — like Abdelwahep — was accused of refusing to co-operate with efforts to establish his identity.

South African man Victor Vinnetou was detained for 11 years before he was released. He was accused of refusing to co-operate with efforts to establish his identity. (CBC )

Detainees who signed affidavits as part of the earlier court case have been incarcerated in provincial jails for anywhere from eight months to three years. They included women and men. Several said they had been severely beaten by other inmates.

The judge in the case found that extended immigration detention doesn’t automatically amount to a violation of a prisoner’s rights.

« The reasonableness of an individual’s detention will vary with the circumstances, » wrote Justice Simon Fothergill.

« The question of when detention for immigration purposes is no longer reasonable does not have a single, simple answer. »

‘Detention is an extreme measure’

Toronto immigration consultant Macdonald Scott is part of the End Immigration Detention Network, an intervenor in a number of similar cases.

« Detention is an extreme measure within our society, » he says.

« And to hold someone just because you can’t identify them, you’d never be able to do that in any other context. And what I wonder about is why the Department of Justice is spending Canadian resources to fight what’s obviously a very reasonable decision. »

Immigration advocates argue that the Canada Border Services Agency should not detain immigrants indefinitely over issues of identity. (CBC)

Advocates point out that a release from jail isn’t a release from responsibility. Detainees still have to abide by whatever terms and conditions they undertake in exchange for release.

And Scott says taxpayers wouldn’t have to pay the cost to house and feed them.

‘They’re trying to catch the wind’

Karina Henrique, the Immigration Division member whose release order sparked the Federal Court battle, noted that Abdelwahep is not considered a flight risk or a danger to the pubic.

She put the blame for the delay in identification on both Abdelwahep and the government.

« It does not, however, appear that his identity will be established in the near future and there is potential therefore of his future detention becoming unduly lengthy, » she wrote.

« His detention has been significant, and his future time in detention is unknown. These factors weigh in favour of his release. »

He’ll remain behind bars pending the outcome of the judicial review. The next court date is in November.

The government argues that releasing Abdelwahep would undermine « the very purpose, objectives and explicit legislative intent » of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

Which leaves the mystery man and the CBSA locked in a kind of needle-in-a-haystack stalemate.

At one of his last Immigration Division hearings, the agency explained efforts to reach out to some of the hundreds of people identified as possible cousins through Ancestry DNA.

Abdelwahep’s counsel, Christopher Ghirardi, said one officer described it as « a long shot to establish identity. »

« Mr Abdelwahep used a different phrase with me earlier, » Ghirardi said.

« It seems like they’re trying to catch the wind. »

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Anglais

Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme

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Get a taste of adventure with Starburst XXXtreme based on the legendary NetEnt Game. The nostalgic themes are sure to capture fans of the classic version as they get treated to higher intensity, better visuals, and features. The most significant element of the game is its volatility. Patience will not be an essential virtue considering the insane gameplay, and there is a lot of win potential involved. It retains the original makeup of the previous game while adding a healthy dose of adrenaline. 

Starburst Visuals and Symbols

The game is definitely more conspicuous than before. The setting happens over a 5-reel, 3-row game grid with nine fixed win lines, which function if a succession from the left to the right reel is present. Only those players that that attain the highest win per bet line are paid. From a visual standpoint, the Starburst XXXtreme slots illustrates lightning effects behind the reels, which is not surprising as it is inherited from the original version. Available themes include Classic, Jewels, and Space. The game is also available in both desktop and mobile versions, which is advantageous for players considering the global pandemic. According to Techguide, American gamers are increasingly having more engaging gaming experiences to socialize to fill the gap of in-person interaction. Starburst XXXtreme allows them to fill the social void at a time when there is so much time to be had indoors. 

Starburst XXXTreme Features

Players get to alternate on three features which are Starburst Wilds, XXXtreme Spins, and Random Wilds. The first appears on reels 2,3, or 4. When these land, they expand to cover all positions while also calculating the wins. They are also locked for a respin. If a new one hits, it also becomes locked while awarding another respin. Starburst XXXtreme offers a choice between two scenarios for a higher stake. In one scenario with a ten times stake, the Starburst Wild is set on random on reels 2,3, or 4, and a multiplier starts the respin. The second scenario, which has a 95 times stake, starts with two guaranteed starburst wilds on reels 2,3, or 4. it also plays out using respin game sequence and features. The game also increases the potential with the Random Wilds feature to add Starburst Wilds to a vacant reel at the end of a spin. Every Starburst Wild gives a random multiplier with potential wins of x2, x3, x5, x10, x25, x50, x100, or even x150.

The new feature is sure to be a big hit with the gaming market as online gambling has shown significant growth during the lockdown. AdAge indicates the current casino customer base is an estimated one in five Americans, so Starburst XXXtreme’s additional features will achieve considerable popularity. 

What We Think About The Game

The gambling market has continued to diversify post-pandemic, so it is one of the most opportune times to release an online casino-based game. Thankfully Starburst XXXtreme features eye-catching visuals, including the jewels and space themes. These attract audience participation and make the gameplay inviting. The game also has a nostalgic edge. The previous NetEnt iteration featured similar visuals and gameplay, so the audience has some familiarity with it. The producers have revamped this version by tweaking the features to improve the volatility and engagement. 

That is characterized by the potential win cap of 200,000 times the bet. Starburst XXXtreme does not just give betting alternatives for players that want to go big. The increase of multipliers also provides a great experience. If the respins in the previous version were great, knowing that multipliers can go hundreds of times overtakes the game to a new level. 

Players should get excited about this offering. All of the features can be triggered within a single spin. Whether one plays the standard game or takes the XXXtreme spin route, it is possible to activate all of the features. Of course, the potential 200,000 times potential is a huge carrot. However, the bet size is probably going to be restricted and vary depending on the casino. It is also worth pointing out that a malfunction during the gameplay will void all of the payouts and progress. Overall, the game itself has been designed to provide a capped win of 200,000 times the original bet. 

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Anglais

‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year

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In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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Anglais

MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal

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MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.

STUDIO SHORTAGE

The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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