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Liberals to block opposition attempt to probe SNC-Lavalin affair

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OTTAWA—The Liberal government appears likely to block opposition efforts to probe allegations of political interference in the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, while insisting that discussions on the matter with former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould were above board.

Justin Trudeau’s government will not yet waive solicitor-client privilege, which would give Wilson-Raybould latitude to speak about the allegation, nor will it permit a parliamentary committee to proceed with its own investigation, the Star has learned.

Wilson-Raybould has remained silent since the Globe and Mail reported Thursday that senior officials in the Prime Minister’s Office pressed her to seek mediation instead of pursuing criminal charges against SNC-Lavalin.

The former justice minister — who was moved from her post in January — has refused to confirm or deny the allegations, saying she is bound by solicitor-client privilege.

A senior government official, speaking to the Star on the condition they not be named, said Saturday that the government will not waive the privilege — as demanded by opposition MPs — because SNC-Lavalin’s potential criminal trial remains before the courts. A second government source confirmed that the potential criminal trial, as well as SNC-Lavalin’s appeal of prosecutors’ denial of a mediation deal, makes waiving privilege unlikely.

Justice Minister David Lametti told CTV’s Question Period that he believes nothing about the affair so far merits an investigation.

“The prime minister has said that these allegations are false. We haven’t had any corroborating evidence there. There hasn’t been anything to my mind that justifies a committee investigation,” said Lametti, who is also on the listed of proposed witnesses.

Lisa Raitt, deputy Conservative leader, said she was “horrified” by Lametti’s claim that he had satisfied himself there was no improper influence based solely on the prime minister’s public statements.

“That’s insane … that’s not upholding the independence of the attorney general’s office,” Raitt said in an interview.

Any hint that of political interference in criminal prosecutions should spark an investigation into “what the hell happened,” she said.

“It’s a serious enough issue that this needs to have clear light on it and we need to understand exactly what happened,” said Raitt, MP for Milton and a lawyer.

She said the Conservatives will seek to pressure the Liberals to agree to the committee hearings, though she conceded the effort will likely be voted down.

Lametti was not available to speak Saturday. His spokesperson, David Taylor, said the minister will appear before the committee if called to testify. Wilson-Raybould, through a spokesperson, said she was unavailable for an interview.

From the initial hours after the allegations broke, Lametti has echoed the prime minister’s denial that no direction was given to Wilson-Raybould on the issue.

“We don’t know what evidence or facts he has. Maybe he has spoken to the people in the PMO. Maybe he has facts such that he is very confident in what he is saying,” said former Ontario attorney general Michael Bryant.

“Or he sees this as part of his political role and he doesn’t need to be quasi-judicial and independent,” Bryant said.

The justice minister also serves as Canada’s attorney general. The ministerial guide sets out the two roles for the cabinet post: The justice minister is responsible for federal laws and development of new policies and programs. The attorney general is chief law officer for the federal government and has responsibility to uphold the “Constitution, the rule of law, and respect for the independence of the courts.”

Trudeau has denied “allegations” that PMO officials put pressure on Wilson-Raybould to abandon criminal charges against SNC in favour of what’s called a “deferred prosecution agreement” — a new tool introduced by the Liberals last year that allows corporate wrongdoers to avoid a criminal trial in favour of fines and corporate governance reforms.

Montreal-based engineering company SNC-Lavalin has been facing criminal fraud and corruption charges based on allegations it paid millions in bribes to win government business in Libya between 2001 and 2011. It has argued that the individuals behind the charges have left the company and that punishment to the firm, resulting in a ban on government infrastructure contracts, would result in major job losses in Canada — and Quebec in particular.

Wilson-Raybould was involved in the internal debates about how to deal with the SNC situation last fall, the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed Saturday. A government source would not say at what level those discussions were held — whether with Trudeau’s entire cabinet, with a subcommittee, or informally between ministers. It’s not clear who initiated the discussions.

The PMO also confirmed that Gerald Butts, Trudeau’s principal secretary and close friend, discussed the matter with Wilson-Raybould in December 2018, but said Butts suggested Wilson-Raybould bring it up with Michael Wernick, the clerk of the Privy Council and Canada’s top bureaucrat.

The question of undue influence and political interference hinges on the nature of the discussions Wilson-Raybould had on the options for the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.

Some discussions are permitted. The Privy Council’s rules for Open and accountable government state the attorney general may consult “cabinet colleagues … in order to fully assess the public policy considerations relevant to specific prosecutorial decisions.”

Craig Forcese, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, says that clear political advice is “one thing.”

“But a political executive ‘direction’ to the (attorney general) in a criminal justice matter would exceed” judicial standards and dictate that the attorney general refuse and resign, Forcese said.

“The murk lies where discussions fall short of ‘direction,’” he wrote in a blog post.

Bryant said the involvement of the prime minister’s aides — the very people he said have power over a minister’s political future — in such discussions would not be appropriate.

“It creates the perception and the reality that if she doesn’t do what they tell her to do, then there will be political consequences for her, and that means that you are politicizing the prosecution,” Bryant said in an interview Saturday.

“These are the most political animals in the country, the PMO … They advise the prime minister, who controls the fate of a cabinet minister,” said Bryant, who is now the executive director and general counsel for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

With files from The Canadian Press

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

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

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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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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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