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Tens of thousands of Canadians could soon be eligible for a pot pardon, but lawyers warn about limitations




The Liberal government’s announcement that it will expedite the processing of pardons for people with minor cannabis-related criminal records is welcome news to tens of thousands of Canadians who have been convicted of possession offences.

And while the Parole Board of Canada might soon be inundated with record suspension requests — more than 500,000 Canadians have a criminal record for having pot on their person, according to a 2014 study — advocates claim the Liberal plan might not go far enough to reverse decades of « historical injustice » from cannabis prohibition.

The number of Canadians convicted of simple pot possession offences each year has been on the decline since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his plan to legalize and regulate the drug. His 2015 election victory all but assured a legal change — and yet some 55,000 Canadians were arrested for cannabis-related possession offences in 2016 alone, according to Statistics Canada.

Even if one were to assume many of those arrests do not ultimately result in convictions, the number of Canadians with a criminal past for possession of the drug — one that is now legal — is still a staggering figure.

Watch as Trudeau speaks about cannabis legalization: 

The Prime Minister spoke to reporters as he arrived for his weekly caucus meeting on Wednesday morning 2:25

Thus, the government’s pledge to waive the steep fee for a record suspension (pardon) — it normally costs $631 — and do away with the standard waiting period (five years for a summary offence, 10 years for an indictable offence) could be a truly life-changing move for a sizeable minority of Canadians.

« I think today’s a historic day. Canada is doing something monumental, » Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, the director of research at Cannabis Amnesty, a not-for-profit that has fought for a solution for those with criminal records for cannabis possession, said in an interview on Wednesday.

« It’s fantastic to hear the government is recognizing the harms that have been done by criminalizing people, » he said.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said the move will « shed the burden and stigma » and break down barriers to jobs, education, housing or volunteer work.

A record suspension does not erase the fact someone committed a crime. Rather, it keeps the record separate from other criminal records in the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) database.

Lack of a pardon timeline problematic

The government was light on details Wednesday — affirming only that the process would be free, and waiting periods would be eliminated — while promising legislation would soon be introduced in the House of Commons.

Michael Spratt, a prominent criminal defence lawyer in Ottawa, said the pardon pledge is a « step in the right direction » but the lack of a firm timeline is problematic.

« It’s a bit charitable to call it a plan. There’s no legislation before Parliament and there aren’t many details, » Spratt said in an interview with CBC News.

« A lot of things remain to be seen about how it’s actually going to play out and, given the upcoming election, if it’s going to play out at all. »

A big question for Spratt is just how broad the government will « cast the pardon net, » and he questions whether the application process will be open to people convicted of other offences or for people who have breached probation.

With a standard processing time of 6-12 months for a record suspension, people with a history of cannabis convictions are still at least a year away from having some form of record relief.

« A plan to deal with historic marijuana offences is something the government shouldn’t have waited on. It’s widely acknowledged the devastating harm that a criminal record can have and so every day we delay in correcting those injustices is a day too long, » Spratt said.

David-George Oldman smokes marijuana outside the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

When asked why a bill was not already drafted and ready for introduction Wednesday — the legalization date has been known for months — Goodale said the government did not want to pursue such a regime until the 100-year-old prohibition of the drug was officially lifted.

Pardons have limitations

And despite the promise of having a record suppressed, criminal lawyers are warning that a pot pardon has its limitations.

Firstly, it is not an expungement, which is another, far more robust form of record relief for people who have been convicted of a crime.

An expungement goes one step further than a pardon, destroying all known government records of the offence.

When an expungement is ordered, the person convicted of the offence is deemed never to have been convicted of that offence in the first place. With a pardon, a person is still considered a past criminal and they would still have to check the « convicted of a criminal offence » box on an application for housing or employment.

Watch as Prime Minister apologies to LGBTQ people:

The Prime Minister apologizes to LGBT people who lost their careers in the military and security services because of the sexual orientation 1:06

The government recently offered to expunge criminal records for LGBTQ people who were convicted of certain crimes that have now been deemed « historically unjust, » with eligibility limited to three offences: gross indecency, buggery and anal intercourse.

Owusu-Bempah said a similar expungement should be extended to people with a cannabis possession criminal history in large part because those laws were often applied disproportionately to Indigenous people and black Canadians.

« I think historical injustices come in to play [with cannabis] as it was done with crimes of buggery. There were disparities across the country in the application of some of the law. Indigenous populations and black peoples have been saddled with the impact of a criminal record, the burden of a criminal record, when the drug has been widely used, » Owusu-Bempah said.

A spokesperson for Goodale said while there is no doubt « certain communities have been disproportionately affected » by the way cannabis laws have been enforced, « expungement is an extraordinary measure intended to be used when the injustice is inherent in the law itself, as was the case with the prohibition of sexual activity between same-sex partners, rather than a matter of how the law is enforced. »

Application process onerous for marginalized people

Spratt said many of the people who have been hit with possession-related charges in recent years — even as police have slowed such activity — are overwhelmingly marginalized groups like racial minorities, people with prior records or mental health issues, and the poor.

« I’ve definitely seen a decrease in white, middle class university students who are facing these charges, » he said.

Spratt said many disadvantaged people will have trouble fulfilling the « onerous » process required to apply for a pardon, including obtaining court records, procuring digital fingerprints and generally fulfilling all the other requirements of the 10-step process.

A woman smokes marijuana during a 4/20 rally in Toronto. (Mike Cassese/Reuters)

« I don’t think it would be unreasonable to just offer blanket expungements for those offences, » Spratt said. « I’m worried the process … might still have some disproportionate impacts on some of the very people you want to help. »

Spratt also noted the government said Wednesday a person has to complete their criminal sentence before applying for a pardon, which includes paying all fines and victim fine surcharges that might be associated with a conviction.

« A $500 fine might be something that a more affluent person can easily pay but if you’re living in poverty, and your drug record is preventing you from moving ahead in a pro-social way, it might be difficult to pay off those fine orders before the pardon is available, » he said.

Moreover, even if one is successful in securing a pardon, it does not mean it will make it easier to cross the Canada-U.S. border.

No guarantees at U.S. border

The U.S. Custom and Border Protection agency was clear Wednesday: the U.S. recognizes foreign convictions for something that would be a crime in their country, and it does not recognize foreign pardons.

Speaking in Buffalo, Richard Roberts, the CBP assistant director of border security, said Canadian pardons or « amnesty » are simply not considered under U.S. border admissibility law.

Watch as Public Safety Minister warns Canadians who use cannabis about issues at the U.S. border: 

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale warns Canadians who use pot that crossing into the United States isn’t a guarantee just because it’s now legal in Canada. 1:36

« They could still be found inadmissible, » he said. « Yes the law has changed [in Canada] but really, at the border, this is business as usual for us. »

But Goodale’s office noted, in the case of the U.S. border, there might actually be an upside to government offering pardons rather than expungements for cannabis offences.

« If the United States has a record of your expunged conviction and denies you entry, there will be no records to retrieve while seeking a waiver to enter the U.S., » a spokesperson said.


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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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