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Toronto police create 1st-ever missing persons unit in wake of McArthur investigation




Toronto police have created the service’s first-ever dedicated missing persons unit in the wake of the Bruce McArthur investigation and public scrutiny around how the cases of his alleged victims were handled.

Jean-Guy Cloutier experienced that process first-hand eight years ago. He was the best friend of one of McArthur’s alleged victims.

Cloutier and Skandaraj ‘Skanda’ Navaratnam used to text each other every morning, so when he didn’t hear from him for several days, Cloutier reported him missing.

In the years since, Cloutier says he thought about his friend every day, hoping to catch sight of him on the subway and wondering if the man he thought of like a brother was safe somewhere. 

Skandaraj Navaratnam, known to friends as Skanda, went missing in 2010. (CBC)

That is until February, when a detective informed him police had recovered Navaratnam’s remains as part of the McArthur investigation.

The alleged serial killer is charged with eight counts of first-degree murder in the disappearances of Navaratnam and seven other men, many of whom had ties to the city’s Gay Village. 

 I would have felt better knowing there was a unit just dedicated to looking for missing people.– Jean-Guy Cloutier, friend of Skanda Navaratnam

For the most part, Cloutier believes police did what they could to find Navaratnam — but he does hope the new unit can improve communications with people who report their friends missing going forward.

« They weren’t very open to give me information, » said Cloutier. « They’d just say it’s an active investigation, we’ll let you know if we find anything. »

« If it had existed back in 2010, I think I would have felt better knowing there was a unit just dedicated to looking for missing people. »  

Toronto police’s missing persons unit was launched quietly in July. It consists of two lead detectives, four detective constables as investigators, and one analyst.

New unit reviewing cases going back 28 years

The team has spent the last few months bringing together information on every missing persons cases the service has handled since 1990. Annually, Toronto police say they receive an average of 4,200 missing persons’ reports. This means the unit is likely examining more than 100,000 cases.

The plan is to review each one of them — both solved and unsolved — to make sure they were investigated to today’s standard.

Det.-Sgt. Stacy Gallant is the head of Toronto police’s new missing persons unit. (Oliver Walters/CBC)

So far, the unit has managed to resolve 300 of the thousands of cases they’re reviewing. The team will also keep a record of all new missing persons cases going forward — although it won’t automatically investigate them.

« We’re going to be an oversight unit to have a better view of what’s going on in the city with missing person cases, » Det.-Sgt. Stacy Gallant told CBC Toronto.

« If there are any patterns or any trends to missing persons, we can look at all those sort of things and provide investigative assistance to the actual divisions that are investigating the missing persons. »

The unit will also act as a contact point for outside agencies who might have, or need, information about someone missing from Toronto.

« Hopefully we’ll be able to better bridge the gap and say we’ve located the person or we know who that person is, with one phone call as opposed to 17 phone calls all across the city, » said Gallant.

Missing persons’ units common in other big Canadian cities

Toronto police are by no means pioneers when it comes to their missing persons unit.

Other police services in Ontario, like Ottawa and Hamilton, have had them for years. And across the country, other major cities have designated units as well, including Vancouver, Edmonton, and the oldest, Winnipeg, which started in 1974.

These units in western Canada currently all have a legislative leg up on investigators in Ontario.

Manitoba, Alberta and B.C. all have legislation in place that gives investigators the power to obtain production orders for a number of types of records, including cell phone and banking, for missing people.

Before the legislation passed police were only able to get those kinds of records if they had evidence of a crime or foul play.

That’s still the lay of the land in Ontario. In March, the province introduced the Missing Persons Act as part of the Safer Ontario Act, but it’s not in effect yet.

Gallant hopes that will change soon.

« It will be a valuable tool, » he told CBC Toronto. « It will be something that our unit will be managing, overseeing city-wide as well. »

In a statement, the province wouldn’t say when the legislation would come into effect, only that the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services has « instructed staff to begin working on the necessary regulations that are required to bring the Missing Persons Act to life. »

What took so long?

So why has it taken so long for Toronto police to establish a missing persons unit?

The way police investigate missing persons cases has been « an evolving discussion for many, many years, » according to Staff Supt. Myron Demkiw, who oversees the new unit and all detective operations.

Staff Supt. Myron Demkiw says Project Prism and Project Houston ‘lent some urgency to the discussion’ around how Toronto police deal with missing persons cases. (Oliver Walters/CBC)

But he did admit, « Project Prism and Houston investigations lent some urgency to the discussion, » along with the « public sentiment » around the two investigations.  

Haran Vijayanathan was one of the more outspoken voices amid that « public sentiment. » The executive director of the Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention, was part of the push for an independent investigation of Toronto police’s handling of cases for missing persons.

The review won’t look at the investigation into McArthur, but it will examine how missing persons cases connected to the investigation were handled.

Haran Vijayanathan was part of the public push for an independent investigation of Toronto police’s handling of cases for missing persons. (CBC)

« I’m hoping for a comprehensive report of where things were done right, and where things were done wrong, and what are some of those gaps, » said Vijayanathan. « So when the gaps are identified then that would go to inform the missing persons unit. »

The final report isn’t expected until April 2020.

Brother missing for a decade

But for every missing persons case that comes under scrutiny, there are many others that remain unsolved, out of the spotlight and now in the hands of detectives like Mary Vruna.

« We have missing persons who are still missing without a trace, » she told CBC Toronto.

One such case is that of Russell Tucker.

Police are looking for the public’s assistance locating Russell Tucker, seen here in this photo from a wedding about 20 years ago.

A decade ago Tucker’s family lost all contact with him, something his brother says wasn’t unusual at first.

« He’s been a little bit of a loner over the years, » said Tucker’s brother, Randy. « He’s drifted away from the family and kept more to himself. »

After years of hoping Russell would call, Randy reported him missing in January 2017. Since then police haven’t found a trace of his younger brother, who should be celebrating his 54th birthday in December.

Russell Tucker, right, and his father, left, in a photo from a Christmas celebration in the years just before he lost contact with his family. (Randy Tucker)

« I hope that we find him, someone sees him and says: ‘Hey, I know that guy, » Randy told CBC Toronto.

« I mean the worst case could have happened. But really, we want to know that he’s okay. »


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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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