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Ontario’s child protection association names first Black CEO

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Ontario’s child protection system — a sector struggling to address anti-Black racism and the overrepresentation of African Canadian children in foster care and group homes — has appointed its first Black chief executive officer.

Nicole Bonnie, director of diversity and anti-oppression at the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto, will take the helm of the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS) in January.

Her appointment to the association that represents the province’s 47 children’s aid societies comes in the wake of an ongoing Star investigation into kids in care and last summer’s uproar over the Toronto society’s decision to hire a CEO with seemingly no experience in child protection or previous work in the area of diversity.

Bonnie, who previously worked at the Peel Children’s Aid Society, is replacing Mary Ballantyne who is retiring.

Her appointment “is very welcome and exciting news for us,” said Caroline Newton of the OACAS.

Bonnie, who is out of the country, said in a statement to the Star she is “honoured” to lead the association.

“Child Welfare in Ontario is changing in fundamental ways,” she said. “We are listening to the families and communities we serve, and reimagining child welfare in a way that supports them to thrive.”

She said she wants “to help build a child welfare system based on the pillars of respect and empowerment, reconciliation, equity and belonging, and consistent and excellent services across the province.”

The appointment also comes as more than 300 Black children’s aid workers from across the province gather in Toronto this week to discuss the sector’s efforts to fight anti-Black racism and the challenges faced by front-line staff.

“Black people who work in child welfare are often seen by the community as traitors or as not standing up for Black people,” said Kike Ojo, manager of One Vision One Voice (OVOV), a provincially funded program of the OACAS.

“But it’s just not true. People who work on the inside are often fighting like hell to make things better for Black people,” said Ojo, whose initiative is sponsoring the two-day symposium.

Of the province’s 11,000 child welfare workers, about 1,000 — or 10 per cent — are Black, Ojo said.

She said she hopes the symposium, the first of its kind, will be the beginning of a formal network of Black child protection workers in Ontario who can support one another as they push for change from the inside.

“I want to shine a light on why there is so little progress and what it’s like for people on the inside who are change agents,” she said. “I am trying to create protections for them.”

Black workers who advocate for Black families are often criticized by their superiors as being “biased” or “unprofessional,” Ojo said.

“The pushback is incredible. It has cost many workers promotions because they are seen as disruptive,” she said.

“In 13 years of senior leadership in the sector, I have never heard that said of a white worker — that they are being biased or unprofessional in their dealings with a white family,” she said. “This is just one of the forms that anti-Black racism takes.”

Jean Samuel, the OACAS’s first director of diversity, equity and inclusion said Bonnie’s appointment will “give hope” to Black workers in the system.

“It really is going to help Black staff feel their voices can be accepted and embraced to help reimagine the work that we need to do,” said Samuel, who was at the symposium Wednesday.

“Nicole is the first Black CEO in our sector. She’s also a Black female,” Samuel said. “It shows there’s a future for child welfare that is going to look and feel a lot different than it has historically.”

This week’s meeting of Black staff follows a similar gathering of Black youth in care who met in Toronto last summer to share their experiences.

If provincial funding ends, Ojo said she hopes the sector will continue to support annual gatherings for both youth and staff.

The OVOV initiative was launched in January 2015 to address the overrepresentation of Black children in the care of children’s aid societies, a problem highlighted in a 2014 Star investigation and most recently by Ontario’s Human Rights Commission.

According to the latest statistics released by the Toronto society, 32 per cent of children admitted into care in 2017-18 were Black while they represent just 8 per cent of city residents under age 18.

A report by Ontario’s Human Rights Commission last spring found Black children were overrepresented in 30 per cent of CASs, an admission rate 2.2 times higher than their proportion in the child population.

The commission called on societies to improve data collection and increase efforts to address anti-Black racism within their internal policies and structures.

Laurie Monsebraaten is a Toronto-based reporter covering social justice. Follow her on Twitter: @lmonseb

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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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‘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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