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Lawyers catch a whiff of trouble for K9 drug units adapting to new pot laws

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As legalization looms, K9 units across the country are facing a problem: their dogs are outdated.

Drug-sniffing dogs undergo training from a very young age to be able to detect a wide variety of drugs, including cannabis, which will be legal in Canada on Oct. 17.

And while some have been forced into early retirement, many will remain in their jobs, raising questions for legal experts concerned that law-abiding citizens might be stopped and searched by police based on an alert for a perfectly legal substance.

Some organizations said they’ll be totally unaffected by legalization. Since crossing the border with cannabis will remain illegal without a permit, the Canadian Border Services Agency said all their drug-sniffing dogs will remain in the same role.

“Through its programs and services, the CBSA will continue to uphold laws governing the illegal cross-border movement of cannabis, while facilitating the free flow of legitimate people and goods,” spokesperson Jayden Robertson said in a statement.

Even in forces that are adapting to legalization, change will come slowly.

In January, the Winnipeg Police Service’s (WPS) K9 unit added Ivy, a 20-month-old Belgian Malinois, to its roster. Ivy got all the regular training except cannabis odour detection. But all 14 WPS canines, all of whom except Ivy are trained to detect cannabis, will continue working until the end of their careers, the WPS said — instead, change will be grandfathered in as new dogs won’t undergo cannabis training.

Since the Calgary Police Service (CPS) said “nearly all” of their searches initiated by drug-sniffing dogs involve a previously obtained warrant, they’ll be keeping theirs too. Drug-sniffing dogs are also used at traffic stops, the CPS said, albeit rarely.

Sometime this fall, the CPS Canine Unit will employ dogs both with and without cannabis training.

“This will allow flexibility in a variety of investigative needs,” the CPS said.

The RCMP said it has prepared for legalization by training a new crop of drug-sniffing dogs over the summer who only detect illegal drugs, to be used for traffic stops and interdiction work.

The current crop of 14 dogs in those roles, spread out across British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador, will all enjoy early retirements.

But those dogs only make up 12 per cent of the RCMP’s total canine force. The vast majority of “general duty” dogs will remain in place with their current training.

“There will still be offences related to cannabis, such as the unlawful sale or distribution of cannabis, including its sale or distribution to young persons, and the unlawful possession, production, importation and exportation of cannabis,” the RCMP said in a statement.

This is where the law could get fuzzy, experts say.

Toronto cannabis lawyer Paul Lewin said it was “ridiculous” that police forces plan to keep their cannabis-trained dogs.

“It’s absolutely pointless. It’d be like a tomato-detecting dog,” he said. “[The dogs] aren’t going to tell us if it’s illicit cannabis. The dogs aren’t trained that well. The dog won’t know how much cannabis is there. I’m baffled.”

When cannabis was illegal, police had reasonable grounds to search a person if a dog smelled cannabis on them. Now, Lewin said, though cannabis-related offences will still exist, the waters are muddied.

Since dogs don’t distinguish their alerts based on specific drugs, police won’t know whether a dog is alerting them to the presence of fentanyl or a joint.

Toronto cannabis lawyer Harrison Jordan said he expects to see court challenges where dogs alert their handler for the presence of a drug that turns out to be legal cannabis, and the cop finds a different illegal item, like a handgun — will that charge hold up in court, since the initial search was for a legal substance?

“It really depends on the reasonable grounds that they have,” Jordan said.

For instance, most provinces will allow police to search a vehicle if they believe the driver is carrying cannabis in an open container — similar to open container laws with alcohol — but police generally can’t just search every car at a RIDE stop checking for impaired driving, Jordan said.

In any case, Lewin said he expects to see many cases where “false positives” are tested in court.

“The Charter frowns on searches for no good reason,” he said. “There’s really some serious rights at stake here.”

To make sure you stay on the right side of the law as much as possible, make sure your cannabis stays fair away from airports and border crossings, Jordan said.

“Don’t try to take your stuff out of the country, or into the country, because that’s where you’re most likely to encounter a sniffer dog,” he said.

-With files from The Canadian Press

Jack Hauen is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @jackhauen

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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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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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