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Trudeau tries to distance himself from allegations of interference in SNC-Lavalin case




OTTAWA—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tried to distance himself from allegations of improper pressure on former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, telling reporters she has “confirmed” privately to him that he told her last fall the decision on whether to negotiate a deal for SNC-Lavalin on corruption charges was “hers alone.”

But word that the federal ethics commissioner was launching a probe into the affair heightened pressure on the prime minister Monday, who insisted he continues to have “full confidence in Jody.”

And Trudeau said he “welcomed” the federal ethics inquiry by commissioner Mario Dion into the explosive allegation reported last week that senior PMO officials pressured Wilson-Raybould to cut a sweetheart deal for the Quebec company facing bribery and fraud charges. Opposition MPs charge that Wilson-Raybould was bumped from the justice post in January because she resisted that pressure.

At a news conference to announce funding for three Vancouver housing projects, Trudeau was flanked by several of his B.C. MPs and ministers, but Wilson-Raybould who represents the riding of Vancouver Granville was conspicuous by her absence.

The prime minister offered no explanation for why she was not there but twice said he has confidence in her, and that “in our system of government of course her presence in cabinet should speak for itself.”

In other words, she has neither been fired nor has she quit.

Trudeau in French said he twice met with Wilson-Raybould since travelling to Vancouver Sunday, and said she told him she felt solicitor-client privilege prevented her from speaking publicly to allegations published first in the Globe and Mail Thursday.

Since that explosive report, senior government officials acknowledged there was “robust debate” about the SNC-Lavalin file, but deny that Wilson-Raybould was pressured.

On Monday, Trudeau took pains to reveal the content of his own private conversations with Wilson-Raybould in the past two days, which also revealed an exchange he had with her on the topic on an unspecified date last year.

“She confirmed for me a conversation we had this fall where I told her directly that any decisions on matters involving the director of public prosecutions were hers alone,” Trudeau said.

“I respect her view that due to privilege she cannot comment or add on matters recently before the media and I highlight we’re bound by cabinet confidentiality.”

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer — who has called on the government to waive privilege to allow Wilson-Raybould to publicly address the allegations — pressed Trudeau again on that front Monday.

“Justin Trudeau said he spoke to Jody Wilson-Raybould and he reported on the nature of those conversations. I think it’s time for Justin Trudeau to stop speaking for Jody Wilson-Raybould and let her speak for herself,” Scheer said.

Trudeau said that he has asked Justice Minister David Lametti to look into the “complicated” question of whether the government can or should waive the solicitor-client privilege that surrounds PMO discussions with Wilson-Raybould, who as attorney general was the government’s top legal adviser on the SNC-Lavalin file.

In an Oct. 9, 2018 letter, Kathleen Roussel, the director of public prosecutions, refused SNC-Lavalin’s request that her office issue “an invitation to negotiate” a deferred prosecution agreement. It would have allowed the company to pay a heavy fine and agree to corporate ethical reforms, but avoid registering a criminal conviction. A criminal conviction could impact the firm’s ability to bid on future government contracts. SNC-Lavalin has challenged that refusal in court, and is awaiting a decision.

Trudeau signalled his office would co-operate with the probe launched by Dion, the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner.

“I believe that it’s extremely important that Canadians can continue to have confidence in our system and that’s why I welcome the ethics commissioner’s interest in this matter.”

Trudeau’s spokesman Cameron Ahmad has confirmed publicly that Trudeau’s principal secretary Gerald Butts met with Wilson-Raybould on Dec. 5. He said she raised the SNC-Lavalin file with him, and he told her to speak to Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick about it.

Trudeau said while he always believed the decision “was hers to make,” he had “obviously … heard from premiers, Canadians who are aware of the thousands of jobs at SNC-Lavalin and this is an issue of course that we take seriously as a government.

“But at the same time we ensure that we are upholding the rigour and the independence of our justice system.”

In a letter to two NDP MPs, Dion, the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner, confirmed his probe into the allegations that became public last week, saying he has “reason to believe” that a possible contravention of section 9 of the Conflict of Interest Act has occurred.

That section prohibits a public office holder from seeking to influence a decision of another person to improperly further another person’s private interests.

Cullen said in an interview that the ethics commissioner’s acknowledgment there is something to be probed shows the need for the Commons justice committee to also do its own inquiry.

Read more:

Andrew Scheer met with SNC-Lavalin chief over criminal charges

Top prosecutor defends independence and decision to prosecute SNC-Lavalin

Liberals to block opposition attempt to probe SNC-Lavalin affair

Cullen criticized Lametti for suggesting in a CTV interview that he saw nothing for the justice committee to look into, even as he admitted he had not talked to his predecessor about what pressure if any she felt.

“This hear-no-evil, see-no-evil by the top prosecutor is incredibly disturbing to me,” he said.

In a speech for the Canadian Bar Association Monday afternoon, Lametti said the Canadian system means the attorney general is placed at the cabinet table with the politically-appointed ministers, and can consult with them on important decisions.

“These discussions can improve the quality of decision-making, but there is a line that cannot be crossed: telling an attorney general what a decision ought to be. That would be interference,” he said.

But speaking to reporters after his speech, Lametti was more reluctant to speak than in recent days when he defended the government and said there was nothing he saw to merit an investigation.

And despite having revealed in two weekend interviews that he had not spoken to Wilson-Raybould to hear her side of the story, Lametti said Monday his role as “the government’s lawyer” prevents him from saying whether he has spoken to her about the situation.

Lametti declined to say whether he would advise Trudeau to waive solicitor-client privilege, and declined to comment on the ethics commissioner’s investigation.

He also refused to discuss whether he would consider overruling prosecutors and agree to pursue mediation in the SNC-Lavalin case — even though he told CTV this weekend that such an agreement “remains a possibility.”

The Commons’ justice committee will meet Wednesday to decide whether to launch its own investigation. Conservative and NDP MPs want hearings, with Lametti, Wilson-Raybould and Trudeau’s senior aides called as witnesses.

However the opposition parties doubt those hearings will proceed, given that Liberal MPs hold the majority on the committee and are expected to vote down the motion.

Liberal MP Ali Ehsassi (Willowdale), a member of the committee, told the Star Monday that at this point, he has “no cause to be concerned” about what he has heard so far about the PMO’s dealings with Wilson-Raybould.

“That is because the story was based on anonymous sources. I haven’t seen any facts that would support the contention that there has been a coverup,” Ehssasi said in an interview.

But he said it’s “imperative” to keep an open mind and listen to the discussions Wednesday when the committee meets.

Yet Liberal New Brunswick MP Wayne Long is voicing his support for the committee investigation, saying he was “deeply unsettled” by the allegations. “I am also seeking answers that will clear the air regarding exactly what happened… I believe a full and transparent investigation is necessary,” Long said in a statement posted on Twitter.

Bruce Campion-Smith is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @yowflierTonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc

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


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Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme




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




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




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.


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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