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Elections watchdog could use new powers to tackle old cases — but not ‘robocalls’




Sweeping new powers to fight electoral wrongdoing could also be used to get to the bottom of existing cases that have frustrated investigators up to now, says Canada’s elections watchdog.

In an exclusive interview with CBC News, Commissioner of Elections Yves Côté said his office could use the new powers it will get when Bill C-76 is adopted — such as being able to request a judge’s order to force someone to talk — to resolve cases that predate the legislation.

« In terms of whether the new tool could be used for past investigations, that’s a very interesting issue, » Côté said.

« The bill, as I recall, does not specifically say yea or nay. It says the commissioner now has that power to apply, so we will have to look at it. »

However, there may be limits to how far back his office could go.

« When you go before a judge, before she issues the order she will have to be satisfied that it is in the public interest to issue that, » he said. « Because it is a pretty extraordinary thing to do.

« So, if you tried to open up something that happened 10, 12 years ago, the judge might very well say, ‘I’m not sure that you’ve convinced me.' »

The robocalls case is ‘closed now’

According to Côté’s 2017-18 annual report, his office had 587 « active files. » His office won’t say how many of those are investigations.

However, Côté said he has no plans to use his office’s powers to dig further into one of the best-known cases his office has been called upon to handle.

« Robocalls, I think we can consider as closed now. »

Michael Sona was convicted in connection with the robocalls scandal – but Commissioner of Elections Yves Côté says he wasn’t the only one involved. (Dave Chidley/Canadian Press)

Conservative Michael Sona was convicted in 2014 of trying to prevent voters in Guelph, Ontario from casting their ballots during the 2011 federal election by sending out recorded phone messages, known as « robocalls, » directing them to the wrong polling station. He was sentenced to nine months in jail.

Sona has maintained his innocence. Many have said they believe others were involved in the robocalls operation. Côté is among those who think Sona didn’t act alone.

« When we were dealing with robocalls, the judge said that in their reasons that there was at least one other person involved and we knew that there was at least one other person, » he said.

« We knocked on every person’s door and nobody would talk to us. So that was very frustrating, because [if] any issue in the last 10 years or so created such a huge amount of uncertainty on the part of Canadians in terms of the health of our democratic process, that was robocalls. We were simply not able [to get] to the bottom of it because of that.

« Now, with that power we will have, if C-76 is passed, we will be able to get somebody and sit them there and say, ‘Okay, under oath now, who gave you that information, who was with you when you were keying on your keyboard?’ That was very frustrating. »

Bill C-76, which updates and overhauls Canada’s elections laws, is currently before Parliament’s Procedure and House Affairs Committee, which is soon to start clause-by-clause study of the 352-page bill. MPs on the committee have proposed 340 amendments to the legislation and are planning an intensive series of meetings for when Parliament returns from its weeklong Thanksgiving break.

Côte said Parliament needs to adopt C-76 by December if he is to have the powers he needs to fight threats like foreign interference or social media abuse in the next federal election, scheduled for October 2019.

« We have reached a critical moment now and, to me, I would say if this bill is not passed by December we’re going to be in a very, very difficult situation. »

One of the changes included in Bill C-76 introduces a pre-writ period, which starts on June 30 and imposes limits on advertising.

« Getting ready for something June 30 is going to be quite the challenge for us, » said Côte. « So from our perspective we need it, and we need it very soon. »

New law, new threats

Chief Electoral Officer Stéphane Perrault also has called for C-76 to be adopted soon to give him time to implement it during the next election.

When Côté was named to the job in 2012, the challenges his office faced were quite different. Back then, electoral wrongdoing tended to mean things like campaign finance infractions or illegal voting. Now, election watchdogs around the world have to contend with new threats like foreign interference, social media abuse and disinformation.

« In the very recent Swedish election … 33 per cent of the articles shared came from websites that are known to propagate false information having to do with racism and religion, » Côté said.

Côté said his office is already taking steps to detect and thwart people trying to disrupt the next federal election with fake news or disinformation.

« That is certainly going to be something that we’re going to be watching and watching very, very closely. »

Côté said his office has started working with other government departments, including Canada’s top spy agencies.

« I can tell you at this time, we have already engaged with Elections Canada, obviously, with CSIS, with CSEC, with Public Safety and together, as a group of people very interested in this, we’re working very hard to identify the threats as much as we can and then decide how we would react if this or that happened. »

He also has reached out to major social media platforms.

Commissioner of Elections Yves Côté says Facebook is among the companies already working with his office to thwart attempts to disrupt Canadian elections. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

« I am confident that we will get a high degree of cooperation from Facebook, in particular, and Twitter and Google … [are] up next, » he said. « But that doesn’t mean that we will get everything we want the moment we want it, because they are themselves subject to their own legislation and privacy regulations and so on. »

Côté also has hired social media analysts who can work out who is behind specific online posts and capture that information so that it can be used in court.

That work gets a lot harder, however, if the suspect online material is coming from outside Canada — from Russia or China, for example.

« When you’re talking about people operating from these countries and at the behest of their government, you can imagine that having an investigation, trying to find who really is behind it … technologically, you can reach a certain point, » said Côté. « But … how do you bring these people in the face of the Canadian justice system? »

Governments could establish an international body that could cross borders to investigate attempts to disrupt elections — but that would be difficult to achieve.

« It would be great to have this kind of superstructure but we’re not there and we won’t be there for quite some time, I’m afraid, » said Côté.

What’s missing from the law

After the last election, Côté received several complaints about the role played by third party interest groups. While the elections law included restrictions on advertising, many third parties found loopholes in the law to help candidates or parties — by paying for polling, for instance, or organizing rallies.

Côté said Bill C-76 will tighten the rules and ban groups from using foreign money to try to influence an election. However, he said the law still needs to go further.

« What’s missing is there is no anti-avoidance rule, » he said — meaning a clause in the law to specifically prevent people from attempting to get around the rules.

While Côté said he doesn’t plan to often use the new powers he’s getting with C-76, having them in his toolkit will make it easier to investigate electoral wrongdoing.

« The mere fact that you’ve got it, people realize that the rules of the game are different now and they will be much more inclined to participate and talk. »

Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at


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Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme




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




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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MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal




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.


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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