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Saudi teen who fled her family and risked her life says she had nothing to lose

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A Saudi teen who arrived in Canada Saturday after fleeing her family says she needed to risk her life in order to live freely and be independent, and is very happy to be in Canada.

« I felt that I was reborn, especially when I felt the love and the welcome. »

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, told the CBC’s Susan Ormiston in an interview on Monday that she never thought there was even a one per cent chance that she would be able to come to Canada, or that people would be talking about her story around the world.

Mohammed — she has dropped « al-Qunun » from her name because her family has disowned her — claims she was physically and mentally abused by her family since she was 16 years old, and that she thought about escaping for years.

« I was exposed to physical violence, persecution, oppression, threats to be killed. I was locked in for six months, » she said, in Arabic, describing what happened after she cut her hair.

« I felt that I could not achieve my dreams that I wanted as long as I was still living in Saudi Arabia. »

Mohammed told the CBC’s Susan Ormiston she had since been disowned by her family. (Sylvia Thomson/CBC)

When she turned 18 she felt able to try to escape, she said, because she would be treated as an adult around the world, and that she would be able to make her own decisions.                           

She knew a family vacation to Kuwait in early January was her chance. « From a while ago I was trying to convince my parents to go to Kuwait because as long as I’m in Saudi Arabia, I cannot leave. But once I’m in another country I can travel and it’s allowed, » she said. 

My greatest fear was if they [my family] find me, I would disappear.– Rahaf Mohammed

Mohammed said she waited until her family went to sleep early one night, the very last day of their trip, and then bought her ticket to Thailand and left the hotel room at 7 a.m.

But she was stopped at the airport in Bangkok. Mohammed was denied entry and had her passport seized. With the threat of being sent back to her family, she barricaded herself in a hotel room and used Twitter to plea for help.

Mohammed used Twitter to get her message out from her hotel room in Bangkok, Thailand, on Jan. 6, 2019. (@rahaf84427714/Reuters)

« My greatest fear, » she said, « was if they [my family] find me, I would disappear and I wouldn’t know what would happen to me after that. » She even wrote a letter to her friends, because she says she was prepared to end her life in the hotel room before she would let herself be taken. 

« I wrote it and I sent it to my female friends, should I disappear they would publish it to the whole world. »

Her tweets and her case drew international attention, and Thai officials eventually agreed to let her stay in Bangkok under the protection of United Nations officials.

Mohammed said when the UN officials showed up at her hotel, she didn’t believe at first that it was true, that her pleas had been heard. She feared the Thai and Kuwaiti authorities « would lie and pose as the UN, so I wanted some sort of proof that they are actually the UN.

« So they showed me the proof. After that, I opened the door and I welcomed them, » she said, smiling at the memory. 

Mohammed speaks with Thai Immigration Police Chief Surachet Hakparn, right, and an unidentified UN official at a hotel inside the Suvarnabhumi international airport on the outskirts of Bangkok, Thailand, on Jan. 7. (Thai Immigration Bureau/EFE/EPA)

Still, as happy as she is to be free, to be in Canada (despite the cold, she said), Mohammed is clearly upset that it has meant losing her family. She said she received a message from them, telling her she was disobedient and now disowned. She started to cry during the interview, saying she didn’t expect that. She said she is very sad, so sad that she can’t even talk about it. 

Saudi Arabia ranks among the worst countries for women’s rights and equality. The World Economic Forum ranked it 141 out of 149 in its 2018 report on gender equality. Mohammed said she endured daily oppression and violence from her mother and brother. Her father, she said, did not live with the family, but still exerted control over her in terms of what she could study and where she could work. 

She has been accused of not telling the truth — that things aren’t as bad in Saudi Arabia as she says. She rejects that. 

« These people, maybe their families are more understanding and they don’t know the real life. But there are a lot of women imprisoned and there are a lot of stories that they can read to know the situation of women. » She calls herself an example of how bad it can be.

« Why would I escape from this life if the conditions were good? »

In this photo released by Thai officals, Mohammed is seen before leaving the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok on Monday. (The Associated Press)

Now that she is in Canada, Mohammed feels safer. Not 100 per cent, she said, because everyone knows her now and knows where she is. Still, she is looking forward to continuing her education, exploring, learning English and living a normal life.

Watch Rahaf Mohammed tell Susan Ormiston about her plans now that she’s in Canada. 

Rahaf Mohammed, the Saudi teen who fled her allegedly abusive family, talks to CBC’s Susan Ormiston about what’s next for her life in Canada 0:32

She also wants to continue to be a voice for the women still in Saudi Arabia, but she also hopes that they will fight for changes themselves. She said she knows many women who have fled Saudi Arabia, but added she wouldn’t encourage women to do it, as they would be putting their lives at risk. She wants them to fight. 

But if nothing changes, she added, « escape. »

Watch Susan Ormiston’s interview with Rahaf Mohammed from The National: 

A Saudi teen who arrived in Canada after fleeing her family says she needed to risk her life in order to live freely and be independent, and is very happy to be here. Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, says she never thought there was even a one per cent chance that she would be able to come to Canada, or that people would be talking about her story around the world. 4:35

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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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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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