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Diplomats sue Ottawa for $28 million for health problems suffered in Cuba

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OTTAWA—A group of Canadian diplomats and their family members left ill after serving in Cuba are suing the federal government for $28 million, charging that Ottawa “badly mishandled” a crisis that has left them suffering debilitating brain injuries.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Federal Court, paints a picture of a federal government that was more concerned with keeping a lid on a worsening health crisis that first surfaced for the Canadians in early 2017 in Havana.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

“Throughout the crisis, Canada downplayed the seriousness of the situation, hoarded and concealed critical health and safety information and gave false, misleading and incomplete information to diplomatic staff,” the lawsuit claims.

It says the department failed to provide “reasonable or appropriate” medical support to diplomats and their families suffering an array of symptoms that has left them struggling to return to work and normal life.

Indeed, it claims that Global Affairs interfered with the health treatment of Canadians, at one point calling a Miami physician to press him to alter his assessment that one family was determined to have traumatic brain injuries.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland declined to comment on the case Wednesday but said that she has met with some of the affected diplomats.

“They told me about their situation. I’m really concerned about them. They have Canada’s utmost sympathy and support,” Freeland said in Washington, where she was attending a meeting of nations involved in the fight against Daesh.

“They were in Cuba. They were representing us. They were representing their country and their health and safety absolutely needs to be a priority,” Freeland said.

The lawsuit covers 14 people in all — five diplomats along with their spouses and children — and alleges that they were “targeted and injured, suffering severe traumatic harm.

“These mysterious but extremely serious and debilitating attacks have resulted in brain injuries,” the lawsuit states.

It’s believed the “attacks” began in late 2016, originally focused on American diplomats and intelligence officers, it said. Individuals were “targeted” in their homes. For some, symptoms followed unusual sounds or sensations of pressure, it said, such as a “loud screeching metallic noise . . . that seemed to bombard and suffocate” one Canadian.

For others, there was no warning, “leaving an individual gripped in pain, blinded by a headache, or doubled over in dizziness or nausea, confused and disoriented.”

Global Affairs has stated publicly — as recently as last month — that it has no idea what has caused the health symptoms, despite an RCMP-led investigation. But the lawsuit says that the department was immediately concerned that it was some form of sonic or microwave attack, “potentially by a hostile foreign power.”

“The plaintiffs are clearly the victims of some kind of new weaponry, or method of attack,” it states.

The incidents left personnel with symptoms consistent with traumatic brain injuries, including headaches, loss of memory, dizziness and balance problems, the lawsuit states. “Neurological assessments of victims’ brains actually show damage consistent with that seen in cases of concussion,” it states.

The lawsuit accuses the federal government of putting diplomats and family members in harm’s way despite knowing the “high and growing risk that they would sustain the brain injuries.”

It also alleges that the Ottawa kept diplomats in the dark about the risk and gave them false assurances of safety.

And later, federal officials suggested the problem was psychosomatic, leaving ill personnel to “contend with rumours that they were faking it.”

The lawsuit charges that the federal government has frustrated efforts by the ill diplomats and their family members to get proper medical treatment, restricting what medical professionals they see and what information they can share.

It even alleges that brain experts at the University of Pennsylvania — who were treating American diplomats — were instructed to “stop testing the Canadians,” cutting short the assessments of individuals who had travelled to Philadelphia at their own expense.

The lawsuit notes that in April, 2018, Global Affairs deemed Havana an unaccompanied post, meaning that family members would no longer be allowed to join diplomats. In November, it gave Havana the same rating as missions based in Iraq and Afghanistan. And in January, Global Affairs announced it would be looking at reducing its embassy staff by half, to eight, after yet another diplomat had been confirmed with health symptoms.

As was first revealed in the Star, the lawsuit notes that an American diplomat had warned his Canadian neighbour about the potential dangers. That information was passed to the Canadian ambassador, along with the symptoms suffered by the Canadians, yet the embassy “took no apparent action.”

Within weeks, the U.S. embassy officially informed the Canadian embassy that its personnel were getting ill, “possibly because of sonic attacks.” Yet that information was not shared with the Canadian diplomatic staff nor were steps taken to ensure their safety, the lawsuit states.

Even as the Americans were evacuating staff and family members, Canada took a “business as usual” approach insisting that there was no reason to believe the Canadians were being targeted,” the lawsuit says.

With files from Daniel Dale

Bruce Campion-Smith is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @yowflier

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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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