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Canadian couple detained in China know what ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig might be going through

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Former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig’s exact whereabouts remain unknown, but Canadian officials can confirm one thing: he’s being held by Chinese authorities.

Kovrig, who has been working with the International Crisis Group in Beijing, disappeared on Dec. 10. He’s now being accused of endangering Chinese national security, according to a state-run news outlet.

His arrest comes in the midst of a diplomatic rift between Canada and China following the Dec. 1 arrest of high-profile Chinese citizen and Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver.

If there’s anyone who can relate to what Kovrig may be going through, it’s Kevin and Julia Garratt.


READ MORE:
A second Canadian may be facing difficulties in China after questioning by authorities

“I really didn’t expect that they would do it again. I thought, maybe, that out of our situation some good would have come,” Kevin told Global News in a Skype interview on Wednesday.

Originally from Vancouver, the Garratts lived and worked in China for 30 years. It’s where they raised their children, ran a business, owned a coffee shop and did volunteer work with Christian aid groups.

But one Monday night in August 2014, Chinese state security officials surrounded them as they left a restaurant in the city of Dandong where they lived, near the China-North Korea border, and whisked them away without warning. Julia would spend the next six months in detention; Kevin wouldn’t be free until a full two years after his arrest.

Watch below: Kevin Garratt returns to Canada after 2 years





Kevin said the experience was “horrifying.”

“You know, when 18 or so security people grab you and take you back to the Ministry of State Security station, and then there, a bunch of them — probably eight or 10 of them — around you trying to get you to sign this paper saying: ‘I agree to be investigated,’ it’s pretty intimidating,” Kevin explained.


READ MORE:
Chinese state media urges Canada to free Huawei exec to ‘help maintain international order

In an interview with Global News, the Garratts recalled having no understanding as to why state security would single them out.

But it was at the state security station that authorities began to accuse them of being spies.

Watch below: China accuses Canadian Kevin Garratt of carrying out spying missions





“I kept saying: ‘You made a mistake. You have the wrong people,’” Julia said.

“We’re the least likely to be spies. We love this country, we love the people and we’ve been here for 30 years, serving together and partnering with Chinese people on all kinds of projects.”

But Julia quickly realized that it didn’t matter what she said to her interrogators.

She believes Kovrig may be prepared for the situation he’s in now, given his training as a diplomat, but the Garratts were “blindsided.”


READ MORE:
Who is Michael Kovrig, the Canadian ex-diplomat arrested in China

“It was very traumatic for us,” she said. “Your body starts to go into shock. Your mind is just thinking about your children and your family and wondering: ‘They’re not going to know where I am.’”

The Garratts were held separately — in complete isolation, save the throngs of guards who watched over them.

“We had 50 to 60 guards just for the two of us so in that way, I guess, we were safe,” Kevin said.

“We were fed three meals a day but we had guards in our room,” he explained. “The lights were on 24-7. There’s nothing in your room. If you want a drink of water, they have to get it. If you want to brush your teeth, they have to go get your toothbrush for you.”

But when they weren’t locked away, the Garratts were being interrogated up to six hours a day, every day of the week.

“I had three men interrogating me for six hours a day. And that happened in the daytime, for the most part, seven days a week — continually,” Julia said, adding they were given “homework” on top of the rigorous questioning. “All sorts of confession-type papers.”

She said they were grilled on every “minute detail” on everything they did in China and everyone who visited them as their interrogators tried “to string it together into a story that looked much more like we were gathering information and passing it on to foreign agents, and therefore it was a spy story.”


READ MORE:
‘They try to break people’: Arrest of Canadian ex-diplomat has former ambassador to China worried

But it was during the interrogations they began to sense there was something more to their detention — something that they now know parallels Kovrig’s situation today.

“Along the way, sometimes before a consular visit, they would say: ‘Tell your government to do more. They know what to do,’” Kevin recounted. “So there’s something more to this, but I have no idea what it is.”

That wasn’t the only clue.

“At one point, they made sort of a hostage video where they said: ‘Plead with your government to do more,’” Julia explained.

“We said: ‘More about what?’ And we couldn’t figure it out, and they wouldn’t tell us. They said: ‘Your government knows.’ So we started to kind of get clues that it wasn’t really about us, it was about something going on between the governments.”

Weeks before the Garratts’ arrest, Canada detained a Chinese citizen named Su Bin in Vancouver. Su, who held permanent residency in Canada and owned a home in Richmond, B.C., was wanted in the U.S. on accusations of conspiring to hack sensitive military information from defence contractors — including data on fighter jets and military transport aircraft.

He eventually pleaded guilty in March 2016, agreed to be extradited to the U.S. and was sentenced to 46 months in a U.S. federal prison.

It was not long after that time that the Garratts’ fortunes began to shift.

Julia was granted bail and released from custody in February 2015 but was unable to leave the country until August 2016, shortly before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau travelled to China for the G20 summit.

Kevin, who had been moved to a prison after his first six months in detention, would have to wait until September of that year after a court ruled against him on charges of spying and stealing state secrets. Following the trial, he was deported back to Canada.

“It stole two years of our life and it didn’t solve the problem China wanted, either,” Julia said. “It seemed to be not a good solution, not a good diplomatic solution … it’s really sad that they’ve chosen to do it again.”

Watch below: Kevin Garratt thanks PM, government on safe return to Canada





The Garratts said their ordeal has changed them, but it has also “opened up many new doors.”

“I think we’ve been able to help a lot of different kinds of people because we belong to a community of people who share a certain type of injustice,” Julia said, explaining the couple has “a deeper level of compassion” for people who have endured similar scenarios.

As for Kovrig, Kevin said: “It’ll be hard, but he can make it through; he really can.”

nick.logan@globalnews.ca

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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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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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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