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Trucking in meth: How smugglers sneak the destructive drug into Winnipeg

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Allan Rodney was never alone on the open road, police allege — bags of illicit drugs were treated like his passengers.

Court records say Rodney, a 72-year-old long-haul trucker from Surrey, B.C., made frequent trips into Winnipeg over a period of months to unload the legal freight he was supposed to ship — and the illicit drugs he wasn’t.

Police believe such trips are a snapshot of how the methamphetamine infiltrating Winnipeg’s streets has arrived here — a problem one former gang investigator says is akin to a flood police are trying to stop with a finger in a dike.

Rodney, along with fellow driver Shontal Vaupotic, 32, would travel more than 2,000 kilometres each way, like a team, the court records allege. They usually travelled to the Prairie city once a week, sometimes twice.

On rare occasions, they’d visit Winnipeg using the semi-trailer of their legitimate employer with nothing but illicit drugs to deliver, the documents say.

Before their arrest last October after a 10-month investigation dubbed Project Riverbank, police allege Rodney and Vaupotic were smugglers — part of what investigators say was a major western Canadian drug-trafficking operation shipping a cheap, highly addictive drug that’s being brought into Winnipeg in disturbing quantities.

A semi-trailer police seized as part of Project Riverbank, a months-long investigation into an alleged drug-smuggling ring. The truck sported the logo of a family-run company based in Langley, B.C. The owner of the business says it belonged to an independent contractor and was operated by two of the people charged as part of the Project Riverbank investigation. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

The drug’s proliferation has been tied to a disturbing spike in crime and violence that underscores the strain police and emergency services are facing.

Unlike a decade ago, when the drug’s presence in the city was comparatively small, the meth now sold in Winnipeg is mostly manufactured elsewhere, which means it’s being brought into the city — somehow.

You name the mode of transportation and it’s probably being used, says Insp. Max Waddell of the Winnipeg Police Service’s organized crime unit.

« That’s to elude detection, » he said. « If they’re always changing their game, it makes it very difficult for us to just focus or concentrate on one particular method. »

He previously called the dismantling of what police say was a sophisticated smuggling ring through Project Riverbank a major blow to the city’s drug supply.

The operation resulted in the seizure of nearly $3 million worth of drugs and other property, including a semi. Eleven people were arrested and face more than 160 charges.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

Mexican cartels

Police believe much of the city’s methamphetamine is concocted by Mexican drug cartels, Waddell said. The product is shipped along the West Coast toward the United States, and then enters British Columbia by land, sea or air. It is then transported east toward centres like Winnipeg.

The United States has tracked the production of meth in that country, and the Drug Enforcement Administration notes that while most of the U.S. supply is smuggled in through Mexico, domestic production last year reached its lowest level since 2000

It’s like trying to put your finger on a hole in a dam. There’s just so many ways they can get it in.– Former gang investigator Doug Spencer

In Canada, meth is being imported and distributed by networks of organized criminals who know what they’re doing, police say.

« They have channels and they’ve established themselves, no different than a company that is across Western Canada, » Waddell said. « It’s the same principle. »

« From our sources and our intelligence, the majority comes from British Columbia and then comes east to Manitoba, » Waddell said, but some makes its way through Ontario from the east.

Doug Spencer, a former gang investigator with the Vancouver Police Department, said his city is a hotspot for the distribution of drugs. He said trying to impede that flow is an onerous task.

« It’s like trying to put your finger on a hole in a dam. There’s just so many ways they can get it in, right? They smuggle it inside human beings as well. »

He said Vancouver gangsters have to look elsewhere to sell because the city is oversaturated with opioids. That could explain the ring Project Riverbank busted, Spencer said.

The alleged ringleader, Mohammad Khan, has ties with the Independent Soldiers street gang in B.C. and the Wolfpack — an alliance of the Independent Soldiers, Hells Angels and Red Scorpions, court records say.

Insp. Max Waddell, commander of the Winnipeg Police Service’s organized crime unit, shows some of the drugs seized as part of Project Riverbank to media on Nov. 1, 2018. (Warren Kay/CBC )

Spencer said police in the Prairies have thankfully established interdiction units to catch drug smugglers en route. 

« A single young male by himself from Vancouver, driving a motorhome out to Manitoba a couple of times a month — you don’t have to be a policeman to figure out something’s going on, » he said.

« It’s investigating, it’s being a police officer, being sharp and picking that stuff off. But … you’re not even barely scratching the surface. »

Few ways to stop drug’s entry

Drug mules often cross provincial boundaries without any impediment, Spencer says.

« There’s nobody there. There’s no checks there. »

The transformation of big-rig drivers into smugglers brings disrepute to the trucking industry, said Manan Gupta, who runs Road Today — a national trucking publication primarily catering to the South Asian community.

I don’t believe anyone is fully forced to be carriers of these illicit drugs. They’re doing it likely for the same reason that drug dealers are in business: it’s to make profits.– Winnipeg police Insp. Max Waddell

He isn’t surprised that criminals have infiltrated the trucking industry. Sometimes, drivers are unwittingly drawn into smuggling, but often greed, money troubles or their own naivety are to blame, he said.

« Many scenarios, you know, people know what they’re doing, » he said. « They just get caught at the wrong time and the wrong place. »

Gupta said newcomers to the country are more susceptible to the charms of experienced drug traffickers. Before long, they’re doing the bidding of criminals and they’re trapped. 

As a result of a 10-month investigation that involved five police forces, police say they busted a complex drug network that was operating across the western provinces, resulting in the seizure of $2.7 million in drugs, cash, and vehicles. (Warren Kay/CBC)

In a number of Canadian court cases involving drug importation, however, defence attorneys have maintained their clients were blind to the illicit cargo discreetly stored in their freight.

Waddell finds that explanation hard to believe.

« I don’t believe anyone is fully forced to be carriers of these illicit drugs. They’re doing it likely for the same reason that drug dealers are in business: it’s to make profits. »

And money is directly behind the rise in meth use in Winnipeg, he said, with the price of the drug cratering from $60,000 per kilogram in 2016 to around $17,000 today.

Priced to sell

Since it’s so cheap, local dealers don’t bother with homemade recipes. 

« You avoid less detection if you can just purchase the product at such a low cost than to try and elude police and try [to] figure out how to manufacture this product, » Waddell said.

Even the odd time that the vehicles are intercepted, it’s a small fraction of probably what’s coming and going.– Mitch Bourbonniere

​Mitch Bourbonniere runs a program called Ogijita Pimatiswin Kinamatwin, which works to help at-risk Winnipeggers stay out of gangs. He says dealers are following the principle they can sell in volume by selling cheap.

« If you just lower your prices and make the money off of volume, you’re going to make it, » he said.

Like Waddell, the social worker says there are many lone agents doling out meth who aren’t otherwise engaged in the drug trade. They’ve found an opening in the industry because the demand is so high, Bourbonniere said.

He’s frustrated there are few means to prevent meth from entering Winnipeg. If he had his way, the justice system would mete out stronger penalties against convicted smugglers and dealers. 

« So much traffic comes in and out of our province, it would be impossible to track all of that for law enforcement, » he said.

« Even the odd time that the vehicles are intercepted, it’s a small fraction of probably what’s coming and going. » 

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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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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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