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China has carried out death penalty threats against Canadians in the past, Star has learned

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The former Canadian ambassador to China, Guy Saint-Jacques, said in an interview he was personally involved in steps taken by the embassy and the Canadian government, including personally delivering a letter Harper wrote seeking to prevent the execution of two Canadians of Chinese origin. Saint-Jacques recalls it occurred in late 2014 or early 2015, in separate drug trafficking cases in Guangdong province.

“I think what we just succeeded in doing was delay their execution by maybe one year.”

That’s cause for alarm as Canadian Robert Lloyd Schellenberg faces execution by a Chinese justice system that had previously sentenced him to 15 years in jail on charges of smuggling 222 kilograms of crystal meth. A Chinese appeal court had ordered the sentence reviewed in late December, and after a one-day hearing the prosecution request to toughen the sentence was granted. Schellenberg, reported to have prior drug convictions in B.C., now has 10 days to file an appeal.

Harper took up their cases personally during a visit to China in a meeting with President Xi Jinping, who Saint-Jacques said told the Canadian leader China regards “drug trafficking as a very serious crime and they were following Chinese law.” Harper travelled to China in November 2014.

Harper’s letter was sent weeks after the visit, the day before the scheduled execution of one man, but was to no avail, said Saint-Jacques. He said Canadian officials were allowed one last consular visit, but the execution eventually went ahead, with the second execution occurring within weeks as well, he said. Saint-Jacques could not recall the full names of either man, nor are there any records of such cases in English-language Canadian media.

Global Affairs Canada did not confirm details of Saint-Jacques’ statements when first contacted but acknowledged late Monday that executions did occur in roughly that time period. The Star was unable to independently verify any other details.

The revelation was one of a number of alarming developments Monday.

The Canadian government warned of new travel risks for Canadians.

Ottawa said while the risk level for travel to and within China was unchanged at “high,” it added a new warning: “We encourage Canadians to exercise a high degree of caution in China due to the risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws.”

Canada’s embassy in Beijing emailed Canadians registered in the country to be aware of the new risks, asking them to update the embassy if they leave China.

The Canadian government also made clear its concern over the fate of other Canadians now facing the Chinese justice system.

On Monday, the Chinese government formally dismissed Trudeau’s claim of diplomatic immunity for a Canadian former diplomat, Michael Kovrig, arrested by China last month.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying, said Kovrig “is not entitled to diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations by any measure.

“He is not currently a diplomat. Michael Kovrig used an ordinary passport and a business visa to come to China.”

Kovrig was on leave from Global Affairs Canada to work for a non-governmental peace advocacy group, the International Crisis Group. Arrested by China after Canada arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on Dec. 1, Kovrig faces vague allegations of engaging in activities that endangered Chinese state security. A second Canadian, businessman Michael Spavor, was arrested last month as well, and faces similar unspecified charges.

Trudeau reacted Monday with dismay to the latest developments in Schellenberg’s case and tied it to his concern about China’s actions in the other cases.

“It is of extreme concern to us as a government as it should be to all our international friends and allies that China has chosen to begin to arbitrarily apply death penalty in cases facing – as in this case facing a Canadian.”

Trudeau told reporters he would seek clemency for Schellenberg, speaking after he shuffled his cabinet Monday morning. As part of that shuffle, Trudeau moved his justice minister out of the portfolio responsible for handling the U.S. extradition request of Meng, and installed a legal expert in comparative and public law, David Lametti.

Meng’s arrest infuriated the Chinese government, which has accused Canada of acting arbitrarily in the matter.

China dismissed Canada’s explanation that it was obliged to act under a bilateral extradition treaty with the U.S., with its ambassador in Ottawa publicly accusing Canada’s government last week of double standards driven by “white supremacy.”

Chunying fired a shot at the Canadian government’s insistence that Trudeau is bound to respect the independence of a Canadian court now seized with the Meng case.

“As to the Canadian side’s claim that all countries should respect judicial independence, I believe this is quite right if only the Canadian side itself could first prove its judicial independence with concrete actions.”

Saint-Jacques, who was Ottawa’s envoy from 2012 to 2016 and worked with Kovrig, said in an interview there is little doubt that with the men’s arrests and Schellenberg’s suddenly toughened sentence, China “is sending a clear message” to Canada.

He said the government needs to “prepare a Plan A and a Plan B in case this further escalates because this problem is going to be with us for some time,” said Saint-Jacques.

Saint-Jacques predicted Meng’s legal defence team will try to block the U.S. request and draw out the legal arguments for years, and he encouraged the Trudeau government to keep up the international pressure because China cares about its international reputation, even if it does not care about Canada.

Trudeau said Canada would continue to enlist the support of its international friends and allies to object to China’s actions.

Trudeau said all governments should be worried about China’s “arbitrary” moves.

“We are extremely concerned as should be all countries around the world that China is choosing to act arbitrarily whether it is in application of its own justice system to its own citizens and people around the world or whether it’s in its choice to not respect longstanding practices and principles in regard to diplomatic immunity.

“This is something that everyone should be alert to and certainly something we as a government take very seriously and will continue to engage strongly with China on.”

Several governments, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, the European Union, and Australia have already stepped up to express concern about China’s arrests of Kovrig and Spavor.

Schellenberg’s aunt, Lauri Nelson-Jones, in an email to the Star’s Vancouver reporter Perrin Grauer, said “All I can really say at this moment is, it is our worst case fear confirmed. Our thoughts are with Robert at this time.”

“It is rather unimaginable what he must be feeling and thinking. It is a horrific, unfortunate, heartbreaking situation. We anxiously anticipate any news regarding an appeal.”

Canada seeks clemency for all Canadians facing the death penalty in foreign jurisdictions. We have sought clemency in the case of Mr. Schellenberg and will continue to do so,” said Global Affairs spokesman Guillaume Bérubé.

Global Affairs says about 200 are currently detained in China “for a variety of infractions and continue to face legal proceedings. Many of these Canadians are out on bail or serving probation,” while a handful are in custody.

Alex Neve, of Amnesty International Canada, said Monday the sentence against Schellenberg “was imposed after a rushed retrial,” and called on the Chinese government to abandon its plans to carry out the death sentence.

Neve called on the Canadian government “to intervene at very senior levels, including the Prime Minister, to press that request.”

Neve said the fact the Schellenberg death penalty “has arisen in the context of the strained relationship between China and Canada arising from Canada’s arrest of Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition warrant, adds greater urgency to the need for immediate and concerted effort on the part of the Canadian government to convince Chinese authorities to overturn the death penalty in this case.”

John Kamm, head of Dui Hua, a San Francisco-based non-governmental group that advocates for political prisoners in China, said in an interview that Schellenberg’s aunt has asked for his help in advocating for the Canadian man.

He said his organization is aware of 19 foreigners, but no North Americans among them, who have been executed by China from 2009 to present.

Kamm said the best thing that could happen now for Schellenberg is for an appeal to be filed, and “a cooling off period between the two countries,” the sooner the better.

However, Trudeau’s comments, and Ottawa’s travel advisory update, signaled a distinct shift in tone from the Liberal government towards China.

In December, Trudeau told reporters he has learned since taking power that it does no good to “politicize” or “amplify” consular cases because it can actually hinder what he said is the ultimate goal of securing Canadians’ release from detention and their safe return home.

Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc

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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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