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On top of grief and shame, families of victims frustrated with stigma of opioid use

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For a time, Daryl Owen Sen had it all.

The Calgary man had a great job as market manager with Mac’s, the convenience store chain, and was loved by his colleagues. He owned two condos. His passport was inked with stamps from dozens of countries. And he had a big, loving family in the city.

« Daryl was one of the nicest guys in the world, » his brother-in-law and close friend Jeremy Campbell said.

« He was one of the smartest guys I ever met. His heart was open to everybody and everything. That’s why I guess we got along so well. »

But Sen also struggled with substance abuse. For many years, alcohol was his drug of choice.

Daryl Owen Sen was 39 when he died of an overdose last year. (Supplied)

« It started changing him a little bit, not right off the bat, » Sen’s younger sister Becky Campbell recalled.

The addiction became progressively worse, Campbell said, and « when alcohol wasn’t a strong enough high, that’s when drugs got introduced. »

Sen was in a treatment program in Calgary for alcohol addiction when someone introduced him to fentanyl, the synthetic painkiller and illicit drug at the heart of the opioid crisis.

Fentanyl is 100 times stronger than morphine. It can be smoked, injected, snorted or swallowed in pill form.

« Someone offered him some for free, » said his best friend, Marie Hermanson. « He was hooked right away. »

Eventually, she said, Sen was using carfentanil, too — an even more potent analogue of fentanyl that’s used to tranquilize elephants and rhinos.

Becky Campbell remembers how angry she felt when she found out her brother was using fentanyl.

« When he told me, I got mad at him, » she said. « I was like, ‘What are you doing, are you trying to kill yourself? It’s like you’re attempting suicide every time you take it.’ I guess he felt like, with everything else he’d done with his body, he maybe thought he was immune to it. »

Jeremy Campbell remembers talking to his brother-in-law again and again, suggesting he curb the habit.

« As things got worse and worse, we’d have that conversation again and I’d say, ‘Man, you need to stop all of it, because I don’t want to tell my children you’re dead.’ He’d say no, it’ll never happen. And we actually started to believe that as a family, because he’d pulled through some really crazy times. It seemed like he had nine lives. »

In 2017, 569 people in Alberta died of accidental fentanyl poisoning. That’s more than 80 per cent of all the accidental opioid poisonings in the province.

Sen was one of them. Late one Thursday afternoon in early March 2017, he was watching a basketball game at a Calgary rec centre when he collapsed on a bench. Less than 12 hours later, Sen was dead. He was 39 years old.

« He didn’t want to die. I know that. He did not want to die, » Becky Campbell said. « This was not a choice for him. It was bigger than he was. Unfortunately, he couldn’t stop. »

The fallout for Sen’s family isn’t just the fact they’ve lost a man they love dearly in traumatic, sudden circumstances. It’s the fact they now have to contend with all the judgment and misunderstanding surrounding opioid addiction.

Misconceptions, judgment

Becky Campbell doesn’t tell just anyone how her brother died.

« To be honest, I watch the crowd and I watch the audience, » she said. « There’s some times where, I don’t know why, I feel ashamed, I feel embarrassed, but not for myself, for him, and I don’t want to embarrass him. That’s what’s hard. I don’t want people to think bad of him. I don’t want the last outcome of Daryl to be that he was this addict, because there was so much more to him than that. »

Jeremy Campbell said his own perspectives on addiction have dramatically shifted.

« I used to think it was a certain group of people, » he said. « Knowing Daryl, I have a different outlook when I’m driving through the streets of Calgary. I see a guy on the street, on the corner. Maybe I had a different outlook on him before. »

What runs through Campbell’s mind now is, « That’s somebody’s uncle, that’s somebody’s dad, that’s somebody’s brother. He’s probably a good guy and he’s caught up in this addiction world. »

Daryl Sen’s father, Surhit, said his son was a generous, lovable and kind man who called him twice a day to see how he was doing. Surhit Sen doesn’t tell people what happened to Daryl.

« I keep it secret, » said Sen. « I didn’t even mention it to my friends, or anybody. Feeling shame. It’s a bad thing, people taking the drugs, you know? »

« I keep it to myself. I feel good this way. At least I didn’t tell anybody. I was so proud about him. »

Many of those who’ve lost loved ones say the judgment hurts almost as much as the grief.

Katherine Pederson and Matthew Faulds lost their daughter Angelina to fentanyl in 2017. (CBC)

« The stigma is so thick, » said Katherine Pederson, whose teenage daughter Angelina died of accidental fentanyl poisoning at a Calgary Stampede party in 2017. She was only 16 years old.

« The thing about this crisis is, it doesn’t discriminate. It will take out whoever. »

That’s why Pederson and her husband, Matthew Faulds, prefer to say « fentanyl poisoning » instead of « fentanyl overdose, » because the latter implies some sort of intent.

Angelina (Lina) Pederson was 16 when she died after taking fentanyl at a Calgary Stampede party. (Supplied)

Faulds doesn’t shy away from using the « F word » when he tells people how his daughter died.

« They give me this look, and I go, ‘Think a kid’s going to take a pill at a party? You remember ecstasy? It’s not ecstasy anymore. It’s whatever they cooked up — with fentanyl. Guarantee it. »

He doesn’t deny Angelina had a drug problem, but said she didn’t want to overdose.

« Did she mean to get high? Absolutely. But the days of innocent drug use are gone. You don’t get second chance. »

Teresa Wiebe’s son, Nick Leinweber, died of carfentanil poisoning in October 2017. Nick was 25.

For several years, he had struggled with a meth addiction, but Wiebe said he was not known to ever use opioids. She was shocked to find out how he’d died.

« When we got the [toxicology] report and I saw that it was carfentanil, it made it seem almost to me like murder. I know it’s not, I know whoever is concocting this stuff, putting it together, has no experience, is not a chemist, is not a pharmacist, is not a doctor. They don’t know what they’re doing, they’re trying to make money. That’s what they’re trying to do. They don’t know how deadly this is. »

‘Hierarachy of stigma’

It will be a year this month since Leinweber died, and for Wiebe, what makes the grief doubly challenging is what she calls « the hierarchy of stigma » around addiction.

« It’s OK for everyone to smoke weed, » she said, especially once cannabis becomes legal in Canada. Cocaine is seen as a drug for the wealthy, like doctors and lawyers. But once you get to meth, you’re « getting down into the wrong side of the tracks, » Wiebe said, and opioids like heroin or carfentanil are « probably the worst. »

« People didn’t want to know that [Nick] would be using heroin, that would be a step down from meth. It’s like a caste system for addiction. »

Yvonne Clark lost her son Connor to fentanyl poisoning in 2013, before most people had even heard of fentanyl. Connor was 21 years old, earning $100,000 a year as a power engineer with an oil and gas company, and drove a Porsche. He tried to get clean, then took a fentanyl tablet over Thanksgiving weekend, and never woke up.

Yvonne Clark’s son Connor died of fentanyl poisoning in 2013, when he was 21. (CBC)

For the past four years, Clark has been speaking to kids and parents in Calgary schools about the risks of popping pills at parties. She wants people to shed the notion it can’t happen to them. Dealing with the misconceptions was difficult in the early days following her son’s death, but it didn’t take long before she decided she had to act.

« I just woke one day and I realized that such an innocent, beautiful person can vanish. Just vanish in the blink of an eye, » she said. « Over a tiny little pill. I just figured the stigma was doing nothing. If you’re going to stay behind a door and not speak out, nothing’s going to be solved. »

With fentanyl deaths continuing to rise in just a few short years, she said, « Someone has to speak. »

Pederson also refuses to keep quiet. She thumbs her nose at shame.

Matthew Faulds shows tattoos that he got in memory of his daughter Lina, who died of fentanyl poisoning in 2017. (CBC)

« I want to talk about [Lina] all the time. I’m not ashamed of her addiction. Well, the addiction, I could kick its ass, but [Lina], no. There’s so many people and they’re hurting. They’re hurting and they’re in despair. I look at people and want to tell them, hug them: ‘People love you.' »

Wiebe worries about others. It’s the reason she wants people to hear her son’s story.

« I just panic about it, » she said. « I hear about it all the time. Friends who have kids who are starting to dabble and stuff like that. It’s like, ‘Oh man. Here, I want to give you a picture of my dead son to show your kid.’ Like, pictures with him with all the equipment on his face.

« The worst pictures are a week later, when we went to say goodbye, because by that time, his face is all blotchy and he just came out of a freezer, and he’s freezing cold when you put your lips on his forehead. Frozen, frozen, frozen. »

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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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