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Ontario’s dental watchdog bares sharp teeth against critics

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Describing a toxic work environment fuelled by bullying and favouritism, more than two dozen current and former staff and executives of the province’s dental regulator have been waging a quiet war against their leadership.

In response, lawyers for the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario and its top executive — registrar Irwin Fefergrad — have issued letters threatening legal action and promises of repercussions. In recent months, the college has also launched an internal investigation seeking to identify employees they suspect have leaked documents to the Toronto Star.

That investigation has targeted one former employee with threats of legal action should he not cooperate with college lawyers. The man, who left the college last year, was blindsided and says the ordeal is “affecting my work life, my personal life, my health.” The former college employee — who has not provided documents to the Star — has hired a lawyer.

Over the past year, the Star has obtained internal college documents and letters and interviewed current and former employees and board members of the college who allege secrecy surrounding the college’s finances, conflict of interest and abusive treatment of staff. A former senior executive at the college filed a $1-million wrongful dismissal lawsuit last year that also cited bullying behaviour.

Lawyers for the college — which is mandated by the government to regulate Ontario’s 10,000 dentists including investigating public complaints — have denied any wrongdoing by the college in a series of written statements since May and warned of legal action should the Star publish the allegations.

“The college takes seriously the spreading and publication of false and defamatory information,” reads a written statement to the Star Friday from college lawyer Linda Rothstein with the law firm Paliare Roland. “We reiterate our concerns about the veracity of the information you have received, the motivation of the individuals providing it to you, and the legal implications to you and the Toronto Star in publishing that information, or opinion based on that information.”

Fefergrad, a lawyer who was appointed college registrar 18 years ago, had a salary rate of $607,497 in 2017, according to documents obtained by the Star. He declined requests to be interviewed, referring all questions to the college’s lawyers.

Read more:

Ontario’s dentist watchdog plagued by ‘toxic culture,’ lawsuit alleges

The ‘radical paradigm shift’ that’s changing Ontario’s oversight system for health professionals

The college’s lawyers have issued warnings to critics, threatening defamation suits for public statements that question college leadership.

“In my opinion, Irwin Fefergrad goes to great pains and uses his extensive legal resources and connections to resist change and deflect reasonable, legitimate questions,” says Natalie Archer, a Toronto dentist and former college executive council member who has been publicly critical of the college. “In my opinion, the college has a history of threatening to sue dentists and anyone who questions them. This has been very effective.”

In 2013, Archer, former college president Dr. Tom McKean and dentist Dr. Dick Jones received libel notices from college lawyers after being quoted in the London Free Press criticizing the college’s controversial in-house insurance arm. They alleged the arrangement (which is unique among medical colleges) represents a conflict of interest because the college both disciplines and insures dentists.

Beginning in September of last year and continuing into this year, 20 current and former staff and former executive council members sent letters to the provincial health ministry and MPPs alleging a “culture of hostility” within the college that presents “serious repercussions for the (college’s) ability to protect the public,” including preventing staff “from responding to patient complaints in a timely manner.”

In February, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath wrote to then premier Kathleen Wynne and health minister Eric Hoskins urging them to take “immediate action to investigate these serious allegations.”

Horwath’s press secretary confirmed there was no response to the letter.

The college’s annual legal bills have risen from about $672,000 in 2012 to more than $1 million this year as of Sept. 30 — a rise that has exceeded projections the past two years, according to college records.

In Friday’s written response, the college said rising legal expenditures were related to an increase in college members, the complexity of issues coming before its committees and the costs of investigations and proceedings against dentists.

Legal costs have exceeded budget in the past two years, the response said, because of “unforseen civil litigation costs” including defending a “significant civil action” and investigating a “potential breach of confidentiality.”

In a letter sent Sept. 17 to the former employee at the centre of that investigation, college lawyers ask him to voluntarily meet with them or “we will ask a court for assistance if you are unwilling to co-operate.”

The man worked for the college for several years and left a little more than a year ago. “When I left the college, I thought I was leaving behind all of their antics, politics and what they do there.” He is speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of compromising his current job.

“I thought I was turning over a new page … More than a year later, they’re accusing me of these things. It was shock, disbelief.”

The letter reads:

“We have reason to believe that the breach occurred during the period of time that you were an employee of the college, and furthermore, that you are one of certain former college employees who might have information that could assist us in identifying the person or persons who are responsible for the breach.”

Attached to the letter is a draft notice of application that college lawyers said was ready for submission to court. It asks a judge to require the man to identify “every person to whom he provided the confidential documents” during his employment, along with the “particulars of the occasions on which he provided those documents and/or information, including the date and the method by which they were provided.”

Citing “circumstantial evidence,” the draft notice of application says the former employee “may be involved in, or have documents or information relating to, the theft of the Star documents from the college.”

It also asks for a court order permitting a forensic examination of his electronic devices — computers, mobile phones, tablets, hard drives and USB memory drives — on which “confidential documents are or were at one point stored.”

The application names the Toronto Star and two Star reporters, saying they provided the college with copies of documents — internal college emails, Fefergrad’s calendar entries, expense claims and regulatory records — upon which they based questions during reporting.

The reporters “refused to identify the source or sources,” the draft reads.

The man says he has repeatedly denied through his lawyer that he is the source of the leak.

“It’s had a profound effect on me that I didn’t know stress could have on the human body. It’s a devastating blow to basically have an employer make those types of allegations and come after you when there’s no tangible or real evidence. It’s based on hearsay. They’re turning lives upside down,” he said.

The “circumstantial evidence” includes allegations that the former employee was passed over for a promotion several months before he left the college and that he became “disgruntled.”

The man says he left the college because of a poisonous work environment where bullying is rewarded with promotions and those who speak out face reprisals.

“I spoke out against my own manager and I paid the price for it,” he says. “They’re spinning it back on me. We were all walking on eggshells, worried and stressed because that was the environment there … I just couldn’t take it anymore.”

In the Friday response to the Star, Rothstein said the college does not “target” individuals.

“The college investigates all allegations against it and its employees and council members seriously, regardless of the source … The college also takes carefully considered, appropriate and measured steps to mitigate the harm done by the spreading of false and defamatory information, particularly when that conduct appears to be ill-motivated. This may involve the delivery of a libel notice.”

The college sent three separate letters threatening libel suits to Archer, Jones and McKean in October 2013 in response to their comments in the London Free Press. The letters alleged published comments by the three dentists — two of them former executive council members were “false, misleading and patently defamatory” of Fefergrad and the college.

The college demanded written apologies and retractions of their statements “in a form satisfactory to us.”

Jones refused and, in a six-page response, dismissed the college’s claims as “frivolous, vexatious and without merit.”

In a recent interview, Jones, a Waterloo-area dentist, said he, Archer and McKean were “bullied for simply expressing our legitimate concerns” about Fefergrad’s leadership.

“It’s a toxic situation that’s gone on for far too long.”

The libel notices to Archer and McKean were the second each had received within two years after they had made comments critical of the college.

“Dr. Archer regards your communication as a wholly unreasonable personal attack made in the face of legitimate and necessary criticism,” reads the response from her lawyer. “Moreover, threatening to take legal action on notice of one business day hardly seems like notice at all.”

The college never pursued legal action against any of the three.

In an interview, Archer said her attempts to raise concerns about Fefergrad’s management during her six years on the college council were met with “hostility, attacks and the most inhumane, unprofessional behaviour and tactics I have ever been exposed to.”

In October 2017, 16 current and former college staff anonymously wrote to Hoskins, then provincial health minister, asking for the ministry to appoint a supervisor to oversee the college because of “serious systemic problems,” including a “toxic culture” that included sexual harassment in the workplace, “abuse of power” and a “failure to protect the public.”

“We have reached the conclusion that the deficiencies in the (college) cannot be fixed under the present leadership or within the current system,” it reads.

In a response to questions from the Star in June, the college “cautions the Toronto Star about publishing any of the anonymous, speculative and factually untrue allegations contained in the anonymous letter.”

In December 2017, Archer also wrote Hoskins alleging “financial mismanagement,” conflict of interest in the college’s dual role as disciplinary body and malpractice insurance provider, and “interference in the regulatory processes” by Fefergrad who, she alleged, “inserted himself into (disciplinary) panel deliberations.”

Archer wrote that during her time on college council as vice-president and member of the finance committee, her requests for detailed information about major expenditures were routinely refused.

“I observed very significant legal expenses,” she wrote, including large budget items for which she sought greater detail. “The request was rebuffed … A forensic audit must be conducted to identify and remedy any fiscal oversight issues at the (college).”

A written statement from the college to the Star in July says Archer is “actuated by malice in the defamatory statements she makes about the college, its employees and its council members.”

The ministry never responded to the letters, the authors say.

Also last year, the former head of the college’s insurance arm, Rene Brewer, filed a $1-million wrongful dismissal suit against Fefergrad and the college alleging a “systemic culture of harassment and workplace bullying,” conflict of interest and sexual harassment toward staff.

In a statement of defence, the college and Fefergrad cited Brewer’s “abusive management style” as cause for her firing and said her “false and reckless” allegations have “maliciously and vindictively” impugned their integrity.

The dispute remains before the courts and none of the allegations have been proven.

The Star investigation has found other examples of swift college response to public criticism.

Marco Caminiti, a prominent Toronto oral surgeon, strongly criticized the college’s online self-assessment tests in a June 2016 opinion piece published in a dentistry magazine.

“Even our great regulators, the Colleges, fall short in assessing our competencies. The farcical attempts to ensure practitioners are up to date and ‘educated’ using online competency exams … highlights our ignorance even more,” Caminiti, who was then president of the Ontario Society of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, wrote. “Unbeknownst to them, they are, to a certain extent, allowing and enabling the incompetency of some of our colleagues to grow and fester, creating a dark stain on this great profession.”

The tests are composed of about 200 multiple choice and case study questions. Virtually every dentist who takes the assessment is successful on their first attempt.

In an email exchange with Fefergrad, obtained by the Star, the college’s then quality assurance manager Michael Gardner writes: “Did you see Marco Caminiti’s editorial in the most recent issue of Oral Health? He called the College’s assessment farcical.”

Fefergrad says he had not read it. He then writes 11 minutes later: “Pisses me off to no end.”

In a June 2018 written statement to the Star, college lawyers said Fefergrad “endeavours to maintain open and courteous dialogue with (dental) associations and their leadership. (His) response to the criticism in respect of the Oral Health article was made in that spirit and was resolved amicably.”

In an interview, Caminiti said he received a call from Fefergrad about the opinion piece.

“Irwin was very succinct in his discussion with me about the article that I wrote, he was not pleased with the comments,” Caminiti said, adding that he stands by what he said in the opinion piece.

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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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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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