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Grassy Narrows leader Steve Fobister dead at 66

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When Steve Fobister came to protest outside the Legislature in 2014, the former fishing guide and chief came with his tent and an ultimatum.

Fobister, who was suffering from a degenerative neurological disorder, wanted a care home for those suffering from mercury poisoning in Grassy Narrows First Nation.

Steve Fobister at home in 2015.
Steve Fobister at home in 2015.  (FreeGrassy.net)

“He said quite calmly: ‘I will stay until I get some action. Or until I die,’ ” recalled former Indigenous affairs minister David Zimmer. “Though he and his community had a lot to be really angry about, he was a gentle person. His goal was to do something about it.”

Fobister’s brief hunger strike got Ontario’s attention and a promise to explore building a home.

He did not live long enough to see the facility built or any of the recent promises by lawmakers come to his community. Fobister died Thursday, not at home close to his relatives and culture, but in a Kenora, Ont., hospital after shuttling between there and a Thunder Bay facility 600 kilometres from Grassy Narrows.

Like a lot of the young men at the time, Fobister was a trapper and fishing guide to wealthy tourists who came to Grassy Narrows and the famous Ball Lake Lodge camp. He frequently ate the fish.

During the 1960s, the Dryden pulp and paper mill, operated by Reed Paper, dumped 10 tonnes of mercury into the Wabigoon River that feeds Grassy Narrows downstream. The potent neurotoxin contaminated the fish and poisoned the people who ate it. They developed tremors, slurred speech and tunnel vision, and lost muscle co-ordination. Scientists strongly suspect that old mercury still contaminates the mill site and continues to pollute the river.

What many residents of Grassy Narrows have, according to Japanese scientists, is Minamata disease — also known as methylmercury poisoning. It was first discovered in 1956 in Japan and takes its name from Minamata city.

Leg cramps, a stutter and loss of balance forced Fobister to stop working as a railroad engineer in the early 1970s. He was examined by Japanese researchers and diagnosed with mercury poisoning, he said.

He then became a band councillor, politically active on the reserve. An old photo, published in the Star in 1978, shows Fobister and Grassy Narrows resident Fred Land leaning on an Ontario government sign posted in their community. It says, “Check Before You Eat,” and provides guidelines on the consumption of contaminated fish.

Photograph of Steve Fobister (left) that ran in the Star in 1978.
Photograph of Steve Fobister (left) that ran in the Star in 1978.  (Toronto Star file photo)

Fobister lived off the land and loved eating game, though in his final days he struggled to keep down duck soup, said his niece Christine Pahpasay.

Around the campfire, telling stories, he made bannock. “Oh, it was nice and thick, and so soft. It was no effort, it came to him naturally,” Pahpasay said.

“I think he was always a leader, even when he didn’t hold a title.”

Fobister was the Grand Chief of Treaty #3, Chief of Grassy Narrows for five terms, a probation officer, environmentalist, hunter, Ball Lake Lodge manager and hockey coach of the “Famous Grassy Narrows Rockies.”

He was fearless but wasn’t loud about it, said Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald, who joined Fobister in 2000 to protest clear-cutting of forests. “He was a very measured, calm, gentle, kind person. He loved his community. He was not afraid of anything. That’s the kind of person you want to go into a battle with.”

Fobister, along with government officials, helped set up the Mercury Disability Board in the mid 1980s to compensate those who can demonstrate symptoms consistent with mercury poisoning. The board has long been criticized by Fobister and others as being inadequate. The criteria for payments are too restrictive and the amounts too low, they have said.

In a statement sent to the provincial and federal governments Wednesday, the family said: “We call on you to admit at long last that Steve Fobister Sr. lived with mercury poisoning and died from mercury poisoning. … (Steve) was forced to fight for four decades for mercury justice in the face of denial, delay, and discrimination.”

When the Star visited him in 2016, Fobister attributed his hand weakness, slurred speech and difficulty swallowing to mercury poisoning. He said he got $250 per month. “A lot of people felt that I should have got the max” of $800.

“(Doctors) tell me that I have ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). I also have mercury poisoning. I’m also a diabetic,” he said. “It’s been hard living.”

In the living room of his small house, Fobister, his body stooped and inert, looked out the window.

“You look at the lake. It looks good, it looks clean, the fish look all right. How to believe that something like that could turn against you?”

He seemed weary of fighting.

“Look at me. I’m a sick old man. … My community is sick. … We’ve done this for 40 years and nothing has changed. My life is gone. It’s been destroyed. I hope the future generation can have a better life than what I had.”

Former Grassy Narrows leader Steve Fobister died on October 11, 2018. Fobister suffered from a degenerative neurological disorder likely caused by mercury poisoning on the First Nation.

Fobister never stopped advocating for a better future for his people, though, telling a friend last fall that a healthcare facility on reserve “could be a beginning. …I think it is time that we should try to look after each other.”

Spurred in part by Fobister’s brief hunger strike, the disability board underwent a sweeping review. This led to the announcement this year that the province will retroactively index payments to inflation.

There have been other developments.

Recent research found eating fish with higher levels of mercury may be linked to a higher risk of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), though the ALS Association notes that the same finding has not been made across all studies.

And after the Star and scientists revealed that fish downstream near Grassy Narrows remain the most contaminated in the province and that there is mercury-contaminated soil and river sediment at or near the site of the old mill, the province committed $85 million to clean up the river. Then the federal government pledged to help build the care home that will help some of the sickest residents.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister David Zimmer with Fobister at Queen's Park in 2014 during his hunger strike.
Aboriginal Affairs Minister David Zimmer with Fobister at Queen’s Park in 2014 during his hunger strike.  (Robert Benzie/Toronto Star file photo)

“Steve leaves behind him a legacy of powerful advocacy and courage. He was a testament not only to his community, Treaty 3 and the Anishinabe people of northern Ontario, but he set a standard for leadership for others to follow,” new Ontario Indigenous affairs minister Greg Rickford said.

And on Wednesday federal Indigenous services minister Jane Philpott reaffirmed her government’s commitment to help build the home. She said money has already been provided for planning and design. The facility could include palliative care, physiotherapy, counselling and traditional healing.

About 150 people gathered for Fobister’s funeral service, the room smelling of sage and cedar. Elders closed the ceremony with an Anishinabe version of the Travelling Song played on a hand drum.

Fobister was wrapped in a white blanket and then a black one, each adorned with Indigenous designs, and then buried. Family members were then told to walk to their vehicles and not look back.

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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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