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Trudeau denies news report that his office pressed former justice minister to drop SNC-Lavalin charges

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OTTAWA— Prime Minister Justin Trudeau adamantly denied an explosive story Thursday that senior PMO officials pressed the former justice minister to seek mediation instead of pressing criminal charges against a high-profile Quebec engineering company, SNC-Lavalin.

“The allegations in the Globe story this morning are false,” Trudeau told reporters Thursday. “Neither the current nor the previous attorney-general was directed by me or anyone in my office to take a decision in this matter.”

But the statements are unlikely to quell the uproar that broke after the Globe and Mail reported Thursday that Jody Wilson-Raybould was shuffled out of the job after she refused requests to direct the independent public prosecution office to negotiate a remediation agreement which would have resulted in the firm avoiding criminal liability for actions it said were taken by individual employees.

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Speaking outside the House of Commons, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer rejected Trudeau’s denial as “words written by a lawyer.” He said the report brings up questions about whether officials in Trudeau’s office, and even potentially the prime minister himself, tried to influence Wilson-Raybould over the SNC-Lavelin prosecution.

“The allegations that are in the media today raise the idea that Jody Wilson-Raybould lost her job for refusing to bow to pressure from the prime minister’s office,” Scheer said, accusing the prime minister in French of “hiding something.”

“It’s up to the prime minister to come clean on this,” he said.

During his press conference earlier Thursday, Trudeau said three times in English and twice in French that no one in his PMO directed Wilson-Raybould, or her replacement David Lametti, a Quebec MP, to take “any decision whatsoever” in the SNC-Lavalin prosecution.

Asked what efforts were made to influence her decision, Trudeau said: “At no time did I or my office direct the current or previous attorney general to make any particular decision in this matter.”

Trudeau side-stepped a direct answer to another question about the the nature of discussions between his office and Wilson-Raybold, saying, “We have a tremendous positive working relationship with all members of our cabinet.”

Asked how Canadians can believe the Liberal government’s claims of never politicizing the judicial system — which it has repeated in the Meng Wanzhou extradition case and to questions about the trial of vice-admiral Mark Norman who is charged with leaking cabinet secrets — Trudeau insisted that “we have been consistent that Canada is a country of rule of law that respects the independent judiciary and always will.”

“It’s something we have stood up for on the international stage, it’s also something we ensure on the domestic stage.”

According to the report, SNC-Lavalin sought to avoid criminal fraud and corruption charges based on allegations it paid millions in bribes to win government business in Libya between 2001 and 2011.

Former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould declined comment through a spokesman after the story broke Thursday.

The engineering company claims the executives responsible have left the company and it has since overhauled its ethics and compliance rules. This past week, the company’s former CEO Pierre Duhaime was sentenced to house arrest over a separate bribery scandal tied to the construction of a Montreal hospital. Former SNC-Lavalin CEO Pierre Duhaime pleaded guilty and will serve 20 months of house arrest.

The Liberal government changed the law last year to what allow “deferred prosecution agreements” and allow remediation agreements to be reached.

In June, Conservative MP Dan Albas slammed it saying the change “gives, effectively, large corporations a ‘get out of jail’card” for offences such as money-laundering.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau defended the move as a way to protect jobs and the economy, and noted that it is similar to the approach taken by the United States and the United Kingdom.

“We recognize that when organizations are found to be offside with the laws, they should be held to account, and they should be held to account for their actions in a way that ensures we protect Canadians,” Morneau said.

He said the revised approach was a “prudent way to ensure that we have companies pay the price for any wrongdoing in a way that allows us to ensure that our economy continues to be successful and that the people who are legitimately responsible for the bad behaviour pay a price, as opposed to people who aren’t, such as people who are unwittingly employed by firms that have had that bad behaviour.”

Liberal MP Mark Miller, whose riding encompasses the Quebec engineering and construction giant’s headquarters, defended the PMO officials as well as the former justice minister on Thursday after the story broke. “I’m confident that the Prime Minister’s office at all times acted legally and ethically,” he said, adding it was never discussed in Quebec caucus.

Miller also called Wilson-Raybould “one of the most principled and ethical people I’ve met in the last three years.”

When Trudeau gathered with his cabinet ministers for a retreat in Sherbrooke, Que., last month, he sidestepped questions about why Wilson-Raybould was removed as justice minister.

“Jody Wilson-Raybould has been a hard-working minister and has been a great person. We have given her a very important job that I know she is going to do well,” Trudeau said.

Asked specifically whether she was moved for “speaking truth to power” too often, Trudeau would only say, “we have a great team of very strong ministers who have stepped up time and time again to serve this country.”

That’s the very language Wilson-Raybould used in a lengthy letter penned after the shuffle that laid out her achievements as justice minister.

In that letter, she said the role of attorney general “demands a measure of principled independence.

“It is a pillar of our democracy that our system of justice be free from even the perception of political interference and uphold the highest levels of public confidence,” she wrote.

“As such, it has always been my view that the Attorney General of Canada must be non-partisan, more transparent in the principles that are the basis of decisions, and, in this respect, always willing to speak truth to power. This is how I served throughout my tenure in that role,” she said.

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

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

Alex Ballingall is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @aballinga

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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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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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