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How events unfolded after foreign affairs minister sent tweet rebuking Saudi Arabia

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Months before a firestorm erupted over a federal government tweet criticizing a Saudi civil rights crackdown, Canadian diplomats had been trying to delicately address the issue behind closed doors.

Those efforts came crashing down after Global Affairs Canada publicly called out Saudi Arabia on Twitter for arresting activists and demanded their release.

A trove of over a thousand pages of emails and memos from officials in Ottawa and the Canadian Embassy in Riyadh, obtained by CBC News through an Access to Information request, tells the story of how events unfolded.

Earlier tweets elicited no reaction

While it was the tweets in early August that triggered an international diplomatic crisis, tweets posted May 23 similar in tone and message seemingly went unnoticed. That same day, Global Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland made a statement during question period condemning the arrests of activists.

Redacted emails from an unknown sender had two days earlier recommended against issuing any public statements or tweets and instead proposed alternative approaches. The concern was that a show of support for the civil rights activists would feed rumours that they were working on behalf of foreign embassies.

During the summer, the Canadian Embassy requested meetings with Saudi officials to follow up on « the arrest and detention of several civil society activists. » Invited to the meeting were diplomats from Australia, Switzerland and Norway, embassy documents show.

New round of arrests prompted new tweets

On June 27, a confidential summary of new Saudi crackdowns was circulated among Canadian officials. The memo stated that, just days after the Saudi government lifted its long-standing prohibition on female drivers, « this latest move suggests that the government’s campaign to crack down on civil society and make clear its intolerance for political activism is far from over. »

On July 31, news came that two more civil rights activists had been arrested — one of which was Samar Badawi, the sister of jailed activist Raif Badawi, whose wife fled to Canada. The next day, bureaucrats began planning out the wording for tweets.

« I spoke to my management and we agree that a tweet is warranted, » wrote an employee whose name was redacted. After after a series of discussions over which hashtag would yield the most reach on social media, an email was forwarded to the minister’s office recommending the tweets be approved in order to « express concern regarding these arrests. »

Calm before the storm

On August 2, a first tweet from the minister’s account went live, and reaction was being closely monitored. Early on, emails suggest staff were disappointed with how little traction the message received online.

The next day, two more tweets were sent out: one from the departmental account, and a version translated into Arabic from the embassy’s account. Staff pointed out that the minister’s earlier tweet included explicit mention of Samar Badawi and proposed that the new ones do so, as well.

The reaction from Saudi Arabia was swift. Just hours after the second round of tweets was published, the Saudi government retaliated, announcing it was expelling Canada’s ambassador, and it would sell off Canadian assets, cease flights to Canada, stop buying Canadian wheat and barley and suspend student exchange programs.

Damage control, media frenzy

On Aug. 5, staff became aware of reports indicating that the Saudi government intended to expel Canadian diplomats from their country. The documents show that staff were learning many of the developments from media reports and from inquiries being made by reporters to their department. By now, the Privy Council Office and the Prime Minister’s Office were fully engaged in the discussions over how to manage the situation.

Emails from staff were circulating expressing shock and sadness for embassy and consular staff. Someone working within the overseas team sent a long email thanking their colleagues.

« I couldn’t have asked for a better team to close out my career with. Despite the way it ended, I think we were able to do a lot of good things together, » read the message.

« The saddest part in all of this is that [redacted] will not have the chance to say a proper goodbye. »

As officials were trying to come up with a communication strategy to put out fires, they were getting swamped by questions from national and international media. The foreign affairs department carefully monitored media publications and online reaction.

In one email from the minister’s office, a request was made to try and find any evidence of support from « like-minded » groups or countries.

Ninety minutes later, a staffer responded that that there was « very little » to be found in terms of online backing from other countries.

At the same time, the department was receiving emails from Muslim community leaders inquiring about travel advice for Canadians intending to travel to Saudi Arabia for Hajj, an annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca.

Then came calls from industry players like Bombardier. The company’s government affairs contact was trying to set up a meeting to discuss the impact of the situation. Another email discussed the future of the billion-dollar light-armoured vehicle contract Canada held with the Saudi government.

Even a representative for the government of Prince Edward Island reached out to Global Affairs for assurances the issue would be dealt with, as a local company had just struck a deal to provide lobster to a Saudi restaurant group and shipments were to begin two weeks later.

Staff were also preparing lists of stakeholders and attempting to quantify the impact the rift would have on Canadian post-secondary institutions and medical schools, which host about 10,000 students a year. 

« The point is, these are not starving students … they are generally from more affluent families — and come with families who spend money. Something to bear in mind, if the threat to withdraw KSA students is real — and materializes, » a departmental employee wrote.

As the spat began to draw international attention, there was an online backlash from Saudi social media accounts telling Canada to mind its own business. In one notable incident, a Saudi youth group tweeted an image appearing to show an Air Canada plane heading toward the CN Tower in a way that is reminiscent of the 9/11 attacks in the U.S.

Staffers were tasked with keeping tabs on these types of hostile reactions, as well.

Once the dust had begun to settle, records show Freeland held talks with politicians from other countries, including the U.K., Germany and Sweden. On August 7, her office made a formal request to set up a call with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, but it is not clear based on the records if this meeting occurred.

In late September, Freeland expressed a desire to mend fences with Saudi officials by discussing their differences on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

However, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said at the council meeting that if Canada wishes to move on, it must first apologize for demanding the release of Saudi women’s rights activists and stop treating the kingdom as « a banana republic. »

Weeks later, the controversy surrounding the murder of Saudi dissident and writer Jamal Khashoggi captured the international community’s attention, leaving the situation over the initial Twitter rift in limbo.

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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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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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