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B.C. people smuggling investigation alleges Rwanda, Kentucky, Alberta connections

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Court documents obtained by CBC News provide an intriguing glimpse into an alleged people smuggling case that started in the African nation of Rwanda and ended in Aldergrove, B.C., with stops in Kentucky and Washington state.

On May 13, a Rwandan woman dragged a suitcase across a ditch separating the U.S. and Canada just east of the Aldergrove border crossing. She immediately applied for refugee status.

How the 38-year-old woman got to B.C. is at the heart of the mystery.

The Canada Border Services Agency alleges two men — a Kentucky pastor and an Alberta man — « organized, aided and abetted » the illegal entry.

Athanase Moucat, pastor of the Revival Pentecostal Church in Louisville, Ky., allegedly aided the entry of a Rwandan woman into Canada, according to a CBSA search warrant application. (Revival Pentecostal Church website)

Reached by CBC News, the U.S. pastor said he had no idea the woman would seek refugee status in Canada.

« It shocked me, and I’m surprised, » said Athanase Moucat, who is also originally from Rwanda.

« We paid (for the plane ticket) from here in Kentucky to Washington state. That’s it. »

But he wouldn’t say why his congregation would raise money to fly the refugee applicant to Spokane, Washington.

« I don’t have to explain (that) to you, » he told CBC News.

The second man — from Edmonton — allegedly drove the woman from Spokane to the illegal crossing point. He couldn’t be reached for comment.

Charges have not been laid, and the allegations have not been tried or proven in court.

Border jumper ‘appeared to be in distress’: CBSA

The alleged people smuggling case is laid out in a search warrant application, filed by the CBSA in Surrey, B.C., provincial court.

Such applications seek to convince a judge that more information needs to be gathered.

The report said the Rwandan woman was spotted on the Canadian side of the border because she was zigzagging « back and forth across 0 Avenue » pulling a wheeled suitcase, and « she appeared to be in distress. »

Long stretches of the U.S-Canada border are open, marked by simple signposts. (CBC)

When approached by two border agents, the report states she presented a Rwandan passport and indicated she was applying for refugee protection.

‘She was tortured in Rwanda’: Kentucky pastor

It’s not clear why she was seeking asylum — but Rwanda remains affected by ethnic tension after a government-sponsored genocide in the 1990s, according to Human Rights Watch.

Moucat said the woman feared for her life back in Africa.

« She told me … she was tortured in Rwanda, » said the Kentucky pastor.

Staying in the U.S. doesn’t appear to have been an option.

President Donald Trump has slashed U.S. refugee admissions to historic lows, making it extremely difficult for asylum-seekers in the United States. Canada’s acceptance rate, by contrast, is the highest it’s been in almost 30 years.

Last year, 341 people from Rwanda appealed for refugee status in Canada, according to the Immigration and Refugee Board. Fifty were accepted — a 15 percent success rate.

The U.S. crackdown on illegal immigration has seen an increase of refugees heading to Canada. (CBC)

‘Hotspot for illegal activities’: search warrant application

CBSA investigators claim the woman’s long journey began with help from her church in her homeland.

« (Her) pastor in Rwanda arranged for her to meet with a pastor they knew in Kentucky, » states the application.

The documents identify the Kentucky pastor as Moucat, head « of the Revival Pentecostal Church For All Nations » in Louisville.

The CBSA doesn’t say how the woman got from Africa to the U.S. It states Moucat paid to fly the Rwandan from Louisville to Spokane, where she rendezvoused with the Albertan who had driven down to meet her — « a Canadian citizen … born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. »

The application alleges he drove her just south of Aldergrove, where she was dropped off and crossed the border on foot in an area where the U.S. and Canada « are separated only by a shallow ditch that one can easily walk across … a hotspot for illegal activities. »

The Rwandan woman walked across the Canada-U.S. border just east of the Aldergrove, B.C., port of entry. (CBC)

Alberta man detained then released

According to the CBSA, the Edmonton man was detained as he drove back into Canada through the Aldergrove port of entry, around the same time the woman was making her illegally crossing.

Border agents were suspicious of his claim he was coming back from an overnight trip to « attend a church event » in Spokane.

Upon learning the woman had been picked-up nearby, the CBSA seized the man’s two smartphones. The search warrant application seeks to unlock the devices and search for messages and GPS locations.

The application notes the man « denied he had driven anyone to the border » or had accepted payment from the woman, and he was eventually released.

Moucat said he doesn’t know the Edmonton man, and received no payment for flying the Rwandan national to Spokane.

According to Canadian immigration officials, individuals rarely face people smuggling charges if they haven’t been paid.

The status of the criminal investigation is unknown.

The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada refuses to comment on the woman’s asylum bid, citing privacy — but it says refugee applications are taking up to two years to process because of a backlog.

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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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Anglais

Birdhouse Wingerie & Bar is the Latest to Hatch in West Island’s Bubbling Restaurant Scene

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Wings are the thing at the latest restaurant to make its mark on Montreal’s West Island: Birdhouse Wingerie & Bar.

At the buzzy new Dollard-Des Ormeaux eatery, the bird limbs come aplenty, with a menu listing eleven “wet & messy” wings, including smoked apple habanero, sriracha lime, and cherry cola BBQ; and four — cacio e pepe, ketchups chip, Nashville hot, and the garlicky, lemon pepper “vampire slayer” — dry rub flavours. They come 10 for $18 or 20 for $34, plus the option of ranch, parmesan, or blue cheese dipping sauce.

Tacos, nachos, poutines (one made with bone marrow, another with tater tots), smashed burgers, salads, and a classic buttermilk fried chicken dinner are just sampling of the other dishes that round out the offering. On the drinks side, there are cocktails, sangrias, and spiked milkshakes in popular chocolate bar flavours: After Eight, Skor, Bounty, or Reeses.

Opened on July 5, Birdhouse is among a recent influx of restaurants to grace the island’s western end, including birria taco slinger Tacos Don Rigo and barbecue joint Smoke Box — a double whammy in the same Pierrefonds area strip mall. That comes in addition to plans for Fairview Pointe Claire’s incoming “District Gourmand” (slated to usher in Tommy Café), and, of course, a number of the area’s longer-standing stalwarts — from southern belle Bistro Nolah to old-school casse-croûte Smoked Meat Pete — that have helped bolster the West Island’s culinary credentials.

The brand-new Brunswick Boulevard restaurant is the brainchild of Montreal entrepreneur Lorne Schwartz, restaurateur George Massouras (of Madisons and Arahova Souvlaki), and among the other partners involved, Brahm Mauer, son of the founder of beloved buffalo hot wings expert Wings ‘n’ Things. Mauer has tried his hand at reviving the original Wings ‘n’ Things recipe — the restaurant originally opened in 1986 — over the years, including with a Royalmount Avenue location in 2012, then as a roaming summertime food truck and NDG pop-up. That same truck has now been made over with a Birdhouse-branded livery to be deployed for private events.

A likely draw to many, Birdhouse is reprising the “famous flavours, untouched” of the once-upon-a-time NDG staple, represented on its menu as “The Legendary WNT Buffalo” chicken wing.

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