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Friend worried about detained Canadian after fundraising effort shut down

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A friend of Michael Spavor says he worries about the detained Canadian’s well-being and financial future now that an online fundraising effort in his name has been derailed.​

Andray Abrahamian, a lecturer at Stanford University in California, was among the organizers of a GoFundMe campaign for Spavor, arrested last month in China for allegedly endangering Chinese national security.

“I worry about many things, starting with his health and emotional well-being,” Abrahamian said Monday.

GoFundMe said the campaign in Spavor’s name was shut down because its third-party payment processor, which made the decision, was unable to handle the donations.

GoFundMe spokeswoman Rachel Hollis would not elaborate on the reason, but said the fundraising portal relies on such processors to make sure money transfers made online “are securely processed and verified, helping us to keep GoFundMe the safest place to donate online.”

The backers were told “it was for a ‘terms and conditions’ violation, but nothing more specific than that,” Abrahamian said.

“Basically, nearly everybody’s money was refunded Friday without notice, then the next day the page was shut down.”

Abrahamian told CBC News that, notwithstanding GoFundMe’s explanation for why the campaign was shuttered, he believes it’s more likely the fundraising website was worried about falling afoul of sanctions against North Korea.

“If I had to guess, it would be the fact that Michael works in North Korea and with North Koreans,” he said. “These days U.S. sanctions are such that any financial institution has to be incredibly worried about any kind of transactions that could be connected to North Korea.

“Even if they suspect it might be connected to North Korea, it’s generally worth it for them to put a stop to that kind of transaction.”

U.S. and Canada standing together

Spavor is director of the Paektu Cultural Exchange, an organization that facilitates sporting, cultural, tourism and business exchanges with North Korea — a largely isolated country subject to a number of international sanctions over its nuclear weapons program.

He and fellow Canadian Michael Kovrig, a diplomat on leave from Global Affairs Canada, were taken into Chinese custody on security grounds in December. The actions came just days after Canadian authorities in Vancouver arrested Meng Wanzhou, a senior executive with Chinese firm Huawei Technologies, who is wanted by the U.S. on fraud charges.

Since Kovrig and Spavor were detained, both the Canadian and U.S. governments have called for their immediate release. That position was reaffirmed earlier today in a phone call between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump.

“The prime minister thanked the president for the strong statements of support by the United States in response to the arbitrary detention of two Canadians in China. The two leaders agreed to continue to seek their release,” said a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office today.

Legal and recovery funding

Abrahamian said the fundraising effort was intended to create “a little pot of money” to help with Spavor’s legal fees and other costs and, when the stressful experience is over, to aid his recovery and readjustment.

“Once the issue with China is resolved, he probably won’t be able to transit through that country, meaning he won’t be able to continue his work promoting exchanges,” Abrahamian said.

“So we wanted to help buy him some time while he figures out what’s next. We also were hoping his family could use the money to have his possessions collected and shipped back to Canada.

“We’re trying to figure out how to best solicit donations again, but are afraid we won’t be as successful as this past attempt. It was Christmastime, after all.”

In an interview with CBC News Abrahamian said it is his hope that Spavor’s case does not drift from the public consciousness as time passes. 

“I really hope the Canadian public doesn’t forget about these two Canadians that are detained in China,” he said. “As the weeks turn into months it is easy to forget about. We hope that people continue to pay attention.”

Many western analysts see China’s detention of the Canadians as retaliation for Ottawa’s co-operation to date with the U.S. on Meng’s pending extradition.

Kovrig and Spavor have each had a single consular visit from John McCallum, Canada’s ambassador to China.

Canada has expressed deep concern about the “arbitrary detention” of the men in calling for their immediate release.

The latest setback for Spavor comes as a Canadian parliamentary delegation, long scheduled to visit China, does what it can to help secure the pair’s freedom.

A Monday opinion piece in the China Daily newspaper, published by the country’s Communist Party, accused Canada of acting “as a loyal adherent of the U.S. in the Meng detention drama.”

“By continuing to follow the U.S., either passively or actively, Canada will eventually harm its national interests,” said the article by Li Qingsi, a professor of international studies at Renmin University in China. “If Canada insists on following the old track, it may not benefit much from a big trading partner like China.”

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Future of Ottawa: Chefs with Kathryn Ferries

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This week in the Future of Ottawa series, we’re taking a deep dive into the bar and restaurant industry—what it’s like now and where it’s headed. Read on for a guest post from Kat Ferries on the future of chefs, or read posts from Quinn Taylor on bars or Justin Champagne on fine dining.

Kat Ferries is Sous-Chef at Stofa Restaurant and a 2020 San Pellegrino North American Young Chef Social Responsibility Award Winner.

Apt613: What is the current landscape for chefs in Ottawa?

Kat Ferries: There is such great talent in Ottawa with so many chefs either being from here originally or have returned after traveling and have since opened some incredible restaurants. Many chefs have focused menus that really highlight their strengths, their heritage, and their passion for food. Dominique Dufour of Gray Jay, Marc Doiron of Town/Citizen, Steve Wall of Supply & Demand, Daniela Manrique Lucca of The Soca Kitchen, and so many more are all cooking up beautiful and delicious food in this city.

If you care to make a prediction… Where is the food industry in Ottawa going for chefs in 2021?

The industry right now is, unfortunately, in a really tough spot. The pandemic has been so devastating on mental, physical and emotional levels for so many and I know that many of my friends in this industry are burning out. There are many discussions happening on work/life balance and what is healthy for everyone. Some may never return to the long, hard hours we are expected to put in day after day and instead opt for a more flexible schedule or hire more staff to lighten the load on everyone, with some even leaving the industry indefinitely. Some may throw themselves back into this industry 10x as hard and create some of the best restaurants and concepts we’ve yet to see. I think all that will happen after the pandemic though.

For this year, it’s mostly about survival and finding happiness in creating what we can in the spaces we have while following all the laws and guidelines from public health officials. I think we will see more chefs creating experiences for guests that we otherwise wouldn’t have: think pop-ups, virtual dinner clubs, cocktail seminars, collabs, etc.

Where in your wildest dreams could the Ottawa culinary community grow in your lifetime?

I would love to see the Ottawa community support more small, local restaurants so our streets are bustling late into the nights like they are in Montreal, New York, or Europe. Having a local restaurant to frequent should be so much more commonplace, where you can enjoy a night out more often than just Friday or Saturday night. I would also love to see many more of our local chefs highlighted for the amazing food they create!

What is the best innovation to take place in your industry since the pandemic started affecting Ottawa?

Turning all our restaurants into mini-markets for customers to enjoy the food and wine of their favourite places at home. We have bottle shops for all your wine, beer and cocktail needs as well as menus that reflect what each restaurant does best. Some have even pivoted to a point where they are 100% a store and have paused any type of “service-style” dining.

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Future of Ottawa: Fine Dining with Justin Champagne

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This week in the Future of Ottawa series, we’re taking a deep dive into the bar and restaurant industry—what it’s like now and where it’s headed. Read on for a guest post from Justin Champagne on the future of fine dining, or read posts from Kathryn Ferries on chefs or Quinn Taylor on bars.

Justin Champagne went to culinary school at Northwest Culinary Academy of Vancouver. He got his start in fine dining restaurants at C Restaurant under Chef Robert Clark, then at Hawksworth Restaurant under Chef Eligh. He staged at three-Michelin-starred Atelier Crenn under Chef Dominque Crenn before moving to Ottawa and spending five years at Atelier, working his way up to Sous-Chef. He’s now the Head Chef of Bar Lupulus.

Apt613: What is the current landscape of fine dining restaurants in Ottawa?

Justin Champagne: Ottawa punches well above its weight class when it comes to quality restaurants in general. Fine dining is no exception to that—we have some amazing chefs here that are doing really great things. We also have some phenomenal sommeliers in town that are a huge factor when it comes to a guest’s experience in a fine dining restaurant. While there are some fantastic fine dining restaurants in town I do believe there’s room for more, and definitely room for more creativity and unique styles of cooking! I think we’ll see more small fine dining restaurants opening up, “micro-restaurants” where there’s maybe 20 seats. This will be over the next few weeks as the industry did take a big hit financially with COVID-19, but we still have a lot of great young chefs who have the fire inside of them to open their own location!

If you care to make a prediction… Where is fine dining going in Ottawa in 2021?

I’m not sure it’ll be 2021 or 2022 with the way the vaccine rollout and stay-at-home order is going, but I do expect there to be a wave of people looking to go out to fine dining restaurants. We’ve been cooped up cooking for ourselves or ordering takeout for over a year now. People are getting antsy and ready to go out and have fantastic meals again with exceptional wine and not have to worry about doing all the dishes afterwards!

Where in your wildest dreams could fine dining go in Ottawa in your lifetime?

That’s the fun part about “fine dining,” it can go anywhere and it can mean many things. Fine dining is about amazing service and well thought out, unique food that the kitchen spent hours fussing over, being meticulous in execution. Outside of that, you can have a lot of fun and be creative in different ways. My wildest dream I guess is that fine dinning restaurants begin to thrive and are able to charge without backlash the kind of prices that they need to charge in order to keep the lights on and pay their staff a proper living wage!!

What is the best innovation to take place in your industry since the pandemic started affecting Ottawa?

I’m not sure if I would really say there’s been a best “innovation” in my industry during the pandemic, but I will say that seeing the “adaptability” by all the restaurants in Ottawa has been incredibly inspiring. Ottawa’s food scene has always been a tight-knit community, “everyone helping everyone” kind of mentality. And this pandemic has really helped show that—restaurants helping restaurants through all of this!

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Ottawa’s Giant Tiger chain celebrating 60 years in business

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OTTAWA — An Ottawa staple, along with what might be the most famous cat in Canada, are celebrating a milestone Monday.

Giant Tiger is 60 years old.

“It all started with a very simple idea,” says Alison Scarlett, associate VP of communications at Giant Tiger. “Help Canadians save money every single day. Bring them products that they want and need. When you focus on those core principals, it really is quite simple to succeed.”

In 1961, Gordon Reid opened the first Giant Tiger in Ottawa’s ByWard Market. The company now has more than 260 locations across Canada and employs roughly 10,000 people.

“If you were at our store on opening day 60 years ago, the in store experience would be a little bit different from your local Giant Tiger store today. So that’s changed. A lot of our products and offerings have changed or expanded as Canadian consumers wants and needs have changed or expanded,” says Scarlett.

The homegrown department store continues to be a favourite for many shoppers looking to for the best deals on everyday products.

Helen Binda has been shopping here for decades.

“Many years. I can’t remember when. I’ve always loved Giant Tiger. It’s always been a good store for me.”

“I think its amazing and I think that we need more department stores,” says shopper Fay Ball. “And if it’s Canadian, all the better.”

The Canadian-owned family discount store carries everything from clothing to groceries, as well as everyday household needs. They’ve also expanded their online store and like most retailers provide curbside pickup during the pandemic.

“Doing what is right for our customers, associates, and communities. That has enabled us to be so successful for all of these years,” says Scarlett.

To celebrate, Giant Tiger is hosting a virtual birthday party at 7 p.m. Monday with live musical performances from some iconic Canadian artists.

You can visit their Facebook page to tune in. 

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