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As holidays near, Winnipeg-based Venezuelan family faces deportation in New Year

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Ana Sofia Rodrigues Suarez asked Santa for three things this Christmas: clothes, candy and to stay in Winnipeg instead of being deported in the New Year.

“I really want to stay here,” said Ana, 11, seated at a table with her colourful drawings and school work in the Westdale duplex the Venezuela-born sixth-grader shares with her parents, aunt and 86-year-old grandmother. 

“I have a lot of friends and they will be very sad if I left them.”

Watch Ana list Canadian things she’ll miss:

Ana Sofia Rodrigues Suarez, 11, says her friends will be sad if she and her family leave and are unable to come back to Winnipeg. 0:33

After a series of applications to stay in Manitoba were dismissed, Ana’s father, Luiz Antonio Rodrigues Bonito, said Canada Border Services Agency notified him this month he needed to buy plane tickets by Friday and be out of the country by Jan. 21.

“I feel sad, desperate, just because my daughter, you know, she is very happy here,” said Luiz, 56, who works as a janitor with his wife, Sandra Suarez de Rodrigues, 50, at a local church.

“When I talk to her and say, ‘You know, we must leave Canada,’ she really, really cry a lot.”

Luiz wipes snow off the family van during his first winter here in 2016. (Supplied by Bonito family)

Following a traumatic home invasion and robbery in 2014, the family fled Venezuela for Winnipeg, where Luiz’s brother’s family has lived since the 1970s.

Luiz’s mother, wife, daughter and sister, Cristina Rodrigues Bonito, left amid ongoing economic turmoil that spawned a refugee crisis that has seen over two million Venezuelans flee the South American country in recent years, according to estimates from the United Nations.

Economic turmoil

The family once ran a successful business that sold appliances to hotels and restaurants, but things changed in the mid-2000s, a few years after the late Hugo Chavez took over as president of oil-rich Venezuela. 

For a time, Chavez helped provide better health care and other opportunities for the poor and working classes, but his government also fixed prices for some foods and goods. By 2014, the price of oil had plummeted, and the government was left in serious debt.

Luiz said the Chavez government took over his business and many others. Soon it became a challenge to access basic services or find enough food at grocery stores, he said. Food shortages remain a problem in Venezuela.

Luiz and Sandra participated in an anti-government group and protests in Venezuela and were taken into custody for a day. Luiz said they were made to sign a document stating they would face indefinite jail time if they were arrested for similar protests again.

Two other cousins have been imprisoned in Venezuela in recent years for similar political activity, the family said.

Gun to the head

Then, in 2014, Cristina was approved as a permanent resident in Manitoba through the Provincial Nominee Program. She planned to postpone her move to Winnipeg until Luiz and the rest of the family had their approvals as well, but the home invasion that year changed that.

Cristina, left, says she plans to leave with her niece Ana, right, and her parents if they are forced to leave the country and settle in Portugal. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

“I was shocked. I was sleeping in my own bed and somebody covered my mouth and put a gun at the top of my head,” Cristina said with a quivering voice, adding the robbers tied the family up in a room and threatened them.

“What I was most scared about was we were seeing their faces … I said, ‘They’re going to kill us all,’ because that’s what happens when you see their faces.”

The family dogs died in the days before and tests later showed they were likely poisoned, said Cristina. 

It took a while for Ana to recover.

‘I’m crushed’

Luiz came to Winnipeg on a tourist visa in 2015, as did his wife and daughter, after having his application to Canada’s skilled labourer program dismissed. While here, he learned his application through the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program was dismissed in 2015.

Sandra, Ana and Luiz celebrate mother’s day at Oasis Church, where both adults work as custodians. (Supplied by Bonito family)

In 2017, Luiz and Sandra obtained work permits and their volunteering at Oasis Church turned into paid jobs as custodians.

They’ve become valued employees and members of the church, said the church’s community life pastor Kelly Gray.

He said news of their deportation is devastating.

Watch Gray’s goodbye message to the family:

Oasis Church community life pastor Kelly Gray says he was crushed to learn Luiz Bonito and his family are being deported next month. 0:22

“I’m crushed. I I don’t think there’s ever a good time to get news like that. Christmas doesn’t make it any easier,” said Gray.

“It’s such a friendly family, a loving family, and it’s hard to see this cloud hanging over them. I know they’re happy here.”

Kelly Gray, right, Ana, centre, Sandra and Luiz, left, talk about the holidays at Oasis Church Thursday. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Luiz’s application to stay in Manitoba on humanitarian and compassionate grounds was rejected in 2017, so his wife, Sandra, filed for refugee status on behalf of the family that year. The refugee claim was denied and an attempt to appeal at the federal court level was dismissed this fall.

Humanitarian case

They’re now waiting for the results of a November humanitarian and compassionate case application they made in the interest of Ana’s well-being. The Canadian Human Rights International Organization, which advocates on behalf of thousands of refugees worldwide, is handling that plea and helping to get the Bonitos’ story out.

“They believe … they will be targeted upon their re-entry into Venezuela which will put not only their lives in danger, but it will also put their daughter’s life in danger,” reads a Dec. 12 letter addressed to Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland. “Ana’s safety is their main priority.”

Luiz bought notified Canada Border Services Agency via email Thursday night he had purchased tickets to Portugal on Jan. 21, 2019. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Cristina and Luiz were born in Brazil, but also fear for their safety if they were to move there.

Their late father, born in Portugal, arranged for Luiz and Cristina to obtain passports from that country as a contingency in case things in Canada fell through. 

On Thursday night, Luiz bought the family tickets to Madeira, Portugal, for Jan. 21. They don’t know anyone there.

Although she can technically stay in Manitoba, Cristina is going to leave with her brother’s family and mother.

‘Respect our laws’

A Canada Border Services Agency spokesperson refused to comment on the case, but said decisions to remove people from Canada aren’t taken lightly.

“Everyone ordered removed from Canada is entitled to due process,” the spokesperson wrote in an email. 

“Once due process is complete and individuals have exhausted all legal avenues, they are expected to respect our laws and leave Canada or be removed.”

Cristina and Ana pose next to their first Winnipeg snowman in 2016. (Supplied by Bonito family)

For Ana, she loves being close to her uncle’s family in Winnipeg. Her three years in the cold Prairie city have been full of firsts. French is one of her favourite subjects, as are the people.

“It’s fun. I can have a snowball fight and I can make, what are they called, snowmans,” she said.

“People are really nice to me here and I like school a lot and I like everything about it.”

As many Manitobans plan to come together for the holidays, one Winnipeg-based Venezuelan family is facing deportation in the New Year. 3:23

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Canadian Tech Calling: Moon and Mars and Mobile Phones

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Canadian technological know-how is helping develop reliable mobile communications for next-generation space missions, including manned missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond.

With many eyes here on Earth now focused on Mars, following the successful journey of ‘Percy’, the roving space exploration vehicle more formally known as Perseverance that is now cruising the Martian landscape, the continued role of Canadian researchers and technologists in space exploration has also drawn more attention.

A team of researchers at Simon Fraser University is working to make LTE/4G and Wi-Fi communications systems on the Moon a reality, along with others in the U.S. and Canada, under the umbrella of the Artemis Program at NASA.

That project will see the return of human beings to the Moon by 2024, and then to the surface of Mars after that.

As part of those efforts, NASA selected Nokia Bell Labs to build a test network and communications infrastructure to build interoperability standards among future cellular and Wi-Fi networks, so that all types of devices can be connected and support Artemis.

The network must provide critical communication capabilities for many different data transmission applications, including command and control functions; real-time navigation and remote control of surface rovers; as well as the streaming of high definition video, applications that are all vital to long-term human presence on a lunar or planetary surface.

“It sounds like far-out stuff, building networks on the Moon, Mars and even further out in our solar system,” says Stephen Braham, the director of the PolyLAB for Advanced Collaborative Networking at SFU. “But we’re actually testing Nokia’s technology right now.”

SFU’s PolyLAB for Advanced Collaborative Networking is doing some of that work at its Exploration Wireless Communications testbed at Vancouver’s Harbour Centre, in collaboration with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

“(This is) what will allow us to build the ladder of technology standards needed to get cellular networks off Earth and into the solar system,” Braham said in a statement.

NASA and the CSA handed that critical testing to Braham and the scientists at PolyLAB, the Canadian component of what’s called the Exploration Wireless Communications (ExWC).

“Before space agencies can adopt these technologies, we need to prove we can operate between multiple vendors and different agencies, which is why NASA and CSA supports the ExWC testbed,” he continued.

The ExWC testbed launched back in 2018, testing high-speed wireless communications systems for space use, including 5G-forward LTE solutions and advanced Wi-Fi.

The SFU radio transmission systems, in the lab and on masts in the mountains in B.C. and the Yukon, are tested with various vendors and leading telecom providers, such including Vancouver-based Star Solutions and Sierra Wireless, another local company, as well as international telecommunications firms like Nokia.

Braham and associate professor Peter Anderson, who directs the SFU Telematics Research Laboratory that includes PolyLAB, both have extensive track records working on communication systems for NASA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

It includes extensive research on very early cellular and Wi-Fi networks in the Canadian High Arctic, where advanced field communications systems were set up to support the SETI Institute and Mars Institute-lead NASA Haughton-Mars Project (HMP) up on Devon Island. 

That’s where Braham and his team tested the technology (developed in Canada) that became a big part of modern Wi-Fi, LTE, and now 5G technology, in order to meet up-front needs on human lunar missions if not all manned space flights.

From those early beginnings, the SFU team has now worked with other collaborators for the ongoing design and development of Canada’s prototype lunar/Mars surface communication networking systems, specifically the ExoMars rover, including Canadian space technology company MDA and the Canadian Communications Research Centre.

Braham is also an Associate Member on the Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems (CCSDS), supporting CSA during discussions and development of international standards for computing, networking, and communications in space. He also worked for many years as a member of the CSA’s nine-member Space Exploration Advisory Committee (SEAC), providing community leadership and representation in aspects of human space exploration in Canada.

But, when space agency officials announced recently that a Canadian will be aboard when NASA returns to the Moon in 2023, well, Braham was not named as that astronaut.

Nevertheless, with his and his team’s help, that astronaut will make Canada the second country in history to have someone travel into deep space and fly around the Moon.

And maybe use a mobile phone to call us and tell us all about it.

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Canadian Consumer Coalition Calls for Affordable Internet on National Day of Action

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Tomorrow, Tuesday, March 16, a national day of action will be staged by Canadian consumer advocates, social justice groups, telecom policy experts, digital activists, and independent ISPs, or Internet Service Providers.

In a series of scheduled virtual events, there will be calls for the federal government and telecom regulators to take action and ensure affordable Internet and wireless services are available to all Canadians.

The free online event is open to the public, and planners and scheduled participants in the Day of Action for Affordable Internet hope consumers themselves will them in urging a range of actions be taken by the federal government, the CRTC and the country’s Competition Bureau.

Advocating for a more affordable Internet will be: ACORN Canada; Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship; activist and author Cory Doctorow; Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law Michael Geist; The Internet Society Canada Chapter; OpenMedia; Public Interest Advocacy Centre; Ryerson Leadership Lab; Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic; and TekSavvy Solutions.

And while a lack of competition has long been cited as a reason for high prices in Canada, the fact that a majority of subscribers stick with the ‘Big Three’ is also a stumbling block to leveling the playing field, at  least price-wise.

Canada’s Competitive Network Operators, a trade organization made up of Internet and telecommunications service providers that own/operate telecommunications networks across the country, is also fighting for a fair Internet pricing and accessibility structure.

Pandemic Pressures

Affordable Internet activists point out that, throughout the current COVID-19 crisis, reliable and affordable connectivity became even more essential. So did many things, in fact: many we had never deemed as so important, relevant or even as noteworthy as high speed Internet.

“The affordability and accessibility of the [I]nternet has never been more critical,” says Franca Palazzo, one of the event participants and the executive director of the Internet Society, Canada Chapter. “More than ever, we are being asked to work, learn and connect online.”

While it is true that many of our fellow Canadians are struggling to make ends meet during this pandemic, and they struggle, the coalition says, to pay some of the highest telecom bills in the world (while others can’t even get high-quality reliable connections), it is also true that many of us are using our high-speed connections more than ever with no increase in cost or decrease in service as a result of our pandemic-related stay-at-home, work-at-home or school-at-home activities.

The big three providers in Canada – Bell, Rogers and Telus – are among those companies that lifted data caps on cable and fibre-based residential Internet services; it’s a corporate goodwill gesture made as a result of pandemic and public pressures. The caps have been lifted until the end of June, where and when possible. (The Liberal government has directed the country’s largest telecom providers to cut specific cellphone prices in general.)

Not everyone is eligible for the pandemic discounts, however: some folks still using cellular (where, for example, high speed networking is not available) for their Internet connections are unable to get discounts because, the telecoms say, bandwidth and capacity would be threatened if caps were removed from cellular service.

“The digital divide in Canada is sometimes portrayed as exclusively a rural-urban divide,” says Sam Andrey, the director of policy and research at Ryerson Leadership Lab, where research and analysis into Internet usage is conducted. “But even in Canada’s largest cities, there are persistent gaps in access to digital services, devices and affordable [I]nternet at sufficient speeds that map onto other socioeconomic inequities, including income, age, race and ability,” he adds.

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Brim Financial Raises $25M Series B to transform the way people bank and shop

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TORONTO, March 16, 2021 /PRNewswire/ – Brim Financial (Brim), a Canadian next-generation Fintech company and certified credit card issuer, today announced the close of a $25M Series B, co-led by Desjardins Group and US-based EPIC Ventures with strong participation from Canadian and US based investors including goeasy Ltd., White Owl and Impression Ventures.

Brim’s state-of-the-art technology stack and credit cards infrastructure leverages the company’s ability to directly access the payment rails as an issuer, enabling Brim to deliver a fundamentally transformative ecosystem of financial products for consumers and businesses.

The Series B financing will bolster Brim’s Platform as a Service (PaaS). Brim’s B2B2C strategy enables any bank, credit union, fintech or large commercial partner to seamlessly roll out Brim’s financial products platform, credit cards and integrated buy-now pay-later solutions, mobile and digital banking, and behavior-driven customer engagement, all embedded with a best-in-class globally open loyalty and rewards ecosystem available in real-time at all merchants worldwide. With Brim’s Platform as a Service, partners have the ability to customize every element of the platform and leverage Brim’s end-to-end services, on a modular and turnkey basis.

Our technology stack powers banking, loyalty and integrated e-commerce on a single platform, with the customer experience at the center of it all” said Rasha Katabi, CEO and Founder of Brim Financial. “Today’s digital environment has brought a new sense of urgency for institutions to assess how they will interact with their customers. We are well positioned to be at the forefront of this transformation that’s shaping the way we live, connect and engage for decades to come, and we’re excited to be working with investors who share the same vision.”

Brim has expanded beyond the direct-to-consumer space enabling large partners to leverage their digital first platform, suite of credit cards and financial products, and a globally open rewards and e-commerce ecosystem. Brim seamlessly integrates buy-now pay-later capabilities in all of its revolving consumer and business credit card products, providing ultimate flexibility for customers with a uniquely and strongly differentiated ecosystem.

“We’re thrilled to be part of Brim’s next chapter. There is tremendous potential in the industry, both in Canada and in the US, and Brim is uniquely positioned to deliver a significant and much needed transformation.” said Ryan Hemingway, Managing Director at EPIC Ventures. “Brim is combining banking and commerce like we haven’t seen in North America.”

Merged with its scalable technology platform, Brim has the largest open loyalty and rewards ecosystem as Brim’s technology stack directly leverages the global payment network. Brim’s Loyalty and Rewards are live at all points of sale globally, both in physical stores and online.  Any merchant can be live and part of the ecosystem in less than 3 minutes.

“Brim’s platform delivers industry-leading payments technology to their customers at an astonishing pace,” Martin Brunelle, Vice-President, Growth, Acquisitions and Development at Desjardins Group.  “Desjardins has earmarked $100 M to invest in technology companies and investment funds who can support our different business units in their digital transformation needs.  We’re very excited to be partnering with Brim.”

With its platform built entirely from the ground up and directly on the global payment network, Brim is positioned to transform the future of the credit card industry and digital banking products with the world’s largest open loyalty and rewards ecosystem. Brim has notably on-boarded hundreds of merchants to its rewards ecosystem since its launch, and rapid expansion will continue to be a key focus for the company going forward.

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