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COVID-19 threatens Hollywood dream for struggling Canadians in U.S. – CBC.ca

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As Harrison Houde sees it, his Hollywood dream isn’t over, far from it.

But with casting calls cancelled and studios shuttered, his hopes of stardom are now on hold, as he makes a strategic retreat in the face of insurmountable odds.

“No part-time job, no auditions, there’s nothing,” Houde said. “I didn’t think it was gonna get to the level that it is now.”

A 24-year-old actor from Vancouver Island, Houde has starred in shows for kids and teens like Finding Stuff Out and Some Assembly Required. Two years ago he moved to Los Angeles, hoping for his big break.

Houde admits it’s been difficult — like many who are trying to find their feet in Hollywood, he was counting on a part-time job to make ends meet. But then the coronavirus hit. Days before his first shift at a neighbourhood restaurant, California’s governor issued a stay-at-home order.

“I texted my new boss and he’s like, ‘Yeah, we’re closed.’ So I’m like, yikes, this is not good. I need to figure something out,” Houde said.

WATCH | Harrison Houde’s YouTube compilation of what he did in 2019 

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Since California issued the order on March 17, thousands of Canadian entertainers who live in the Los Angeles area find themselves in the same boat — one that has now run aground.

Those who can’t rely on royalties or residuals from past work to tide them over during the shutdown are struggling without many of the safety nets that protect other Canadian workers.

With few prospects and no income, Houde says he can no longer afford his rent in Los Angeles. So this week he gathered dozens of study boxes and a roll of tape.

“I’m making the move back to Vancouver because … there’s no work,” Houde says. “I might as well move back and try to save some money if I can.”

‘I’m a Canadian in America’

Many Canadian entertainers in the U.S. are now caught betwixt and between: ineligible for many U.S. unemployment benefits because they’re not American citizens, but also ineligible for many Canadian benefits because they’re living abroad.

Singer Sarah Daye worries that the loss of gigs might mean more than the loss of revenue – namely, that her working visa in the U.S. might be in jeopardy, too. (Sarah Daye)

The Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), for instance, is only available for citizens who reside in Canada. And the government says it offers no income support program for Canadians who reside abroad.

“I’m not American. I’m a Canadian in America,” says R&B singer Sarah Daye. “I don’t have a green card and I’m on a visa, so I’m not eligible.”

The Toronto native has been nominated for a Grammy, fronted the Kevin Eubanks Band (formerly the house band on The Tonight Show) and opened for Lenny Kravitz. But now, her shows are cancelled and she’s forced to chase people down for cheques she’s owed.

“So I’m kind of at the point where I’m having to be very creative about how am I going to make money,” Daye says.

That includes trying to find platforms “where they actually pay you” for performing, and even reaching out to fans for donations.

“You’ve got to kind of humble yourself and put yourself out there and ask for the support.”

‘Hoping and praying’

As if worrying about food and rent weren’t enough, many Canadians working stateside in the entertainment industry share another pressing concern: their immigration status.

Many, like Daye, are allowed to work in the U.S. thanks to an O-1 non-immigrant visa, which is reserved for those who have demonstrated an “extraordinary ability or achievement” in the arts.

However, to maintain their visa status, they have to prove they’re working continuously. In February, the Trump administration tightened immigration rules to further restrict entry to those deemed likely of needing social assistance.

Daye says she’s already on a visa extension and is scared she might not be able to renew it.

“I’m just really keeping the faith that it’s all going to work out,” Daye says. “And I’m hoping and praying that there is some support, you know?”

According to one Canadian immigration lawyer in Los Angeles, Canadian artists in the U.S. may be eligible for more support than they realize.

Zoe Kevork, managing attorney at Kevork Law and president of Canadians Abroad in Southern California, says there’s a lot of confusion about how the shutdown will affect the visa status of Canadians working in the U.S. (Zoe Kevork)

Zoe Kevork, managing attorney at Kevork Law and president of Canadians Abroad in Southern California, says she is being bombarded with questions from Canadian clients worried about how they can renew or extend their visas if the projects they’re working on are shut down.

The answer isn’t simple. “There are varying opinions on at what point are you considered to be out of status or that your visa is no longer valid,” Kevork says, especially for workers who have been furloughed.

“Is that a material change to your status where now you need to plan for another visa? There is no guidance. It’s unclear.”

Few supports for artists in U.S.

Kevork says Canadian artists on an O-1 visa for extraordinary ability are allowed a 60-day grace period without work. But if they believe they’ll be out of work for longer, “definitely people should be consulting with their immigration lawyers.”

But there is some good news. Kevork says Canadian artists in the U.S. need not fear that applying for unemployment insurance will impact their immigration status. And those $1,200 stimulus cheques from the Trump administration for coronavirus relief?

“If you’ve paid your taxes, then you are eligible for it,” she says.

There are few Canadian-based programs for artists living south of the border.

Rodney Murphy, who manages all of SOCAN’s U.S. activities, believes those who ‘have the talent to succeed will find a way to rise above this.’ (Jeff Knights/SOCAN)

The Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN), for example, says it’s helping its 800 or so members who live in the L.A. area.

“I’ve been in contact with quite a few of them,” says Rodney Murphy, who manages SOCAN’s U.S. activities. “There definitely is a loss of revenue there.”

To help offset those losses, SOCAN created a $2-million Cdn royalty advance program for its members. “So if someone applies for an advance today [the money] is in their bank within a week,” Murphy says.

David Hope, the executive director of the Actors Fund Canada, says the focus of their programs is helping Canadians in Canada, and that the U.S.-based Actors Fund might be in a better position to help Canadians stateside. (When asked for comment, the Actors Fund did not reply.)

The Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) isn’t offering any specific relief for U.S.-based members. In an email, the organization says it’s “been sharing information with our 27,000-plus members,” and points to its website, which catalogues a list of financial benefits like CERB, most of which are only available to Canadian residents.

Comic Renée Percy, seen performing in Las Vegas in November 2019, insists that if you can’t find ways to laugh during the current shutdown, then ‘you’re just going to cry all the time.’ (Tina Compise/Quickstyle Photography)

“There’s no union for us,” says comedian Renée Percy. “It’s a solo thing from beginning to end, for better or for worse.”

Adapting to the situation

Percy, who is from Toronto, settled in Los Angeles 10 years ago. She says before the current shutdown, she was doing six to eight shows a week. Now, she says, life is like a day off — but it’s the same day, over and over again.

“Normally, I’m on stage every night and now I’m on my couch every night,” Percy says. “I was supposed to be doing a tour of Europe next month and being in Barcelona and Luxembourg and all these amazing places. And now I’m just doing a tour of my house: from the bathroom to the kitchen to the bedroom and back.”

Some Canadian entertainers are able to eke out a living during the shutdown by adapting and improvising, something that comes naturally to Percy. She continues to teach improv, but now her class is online instead of in person.

“People don’t have to worry about traffic or parking … or pants even, because they’re mostly sitting down,” Percy says. “It doesn’t even have to be people in L.A. Now I have somebody in South Africa who might be joining my class.”

Percy says she tries not to think about how dire her situation is or she’ll “freak out,” concentrating instead on finding material amid the madness.

Renée Percy, top right, takes a picture of the improv class she has begun teaching online. (Renee Percy)

“If you can’t laugh, then yeah, you’re just going to cry all the time,” Percy says. “There is humour and comedy out there and there always will be. And I think the darker the situation, the more we need it.”

Getting creative ‘to rise above this’

Despite the challenges facing the Canadian artists he represents, Murphy believes those who “have the talent to succeed will find a way to rise above this.”

“This experience will help them create great work and great art, and re-wire the creative brain to do new and better things,” Murphy says.

Even though he’s in the middle of packing for his move to Vancouver next week, Harrison Houde still finds time to collaborate online with his writing partner Dakota Daulby on their first film.

If there is any good news hidden amid the chaos in Houde’s Los Angeles apartment, it’s that his writing, he says, has never been better.

“It’s been kind of therapeutic to some degree,” Houde says. “Maybe our writing has improved because we’ve been locked inside and we just have a lot of time to just think.”

Houde is hoping the worst of the pandemic is over by the end of the summer. Then, he says, he’d like to come back, get another apartment in L.A. and pick up where he left off.

He’s versatile, open to anything. But there’s one project he says he wants no part of.

“I’m certain there’s gonna be like 10 Hollywood films next year called ‘Quarantine’ that all take place in one room, and I’m dreading that.”

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Man with 39 wive dies in India

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A 76-year-old man who had 39 wives and 94 children and was said to be the head of the world’s largest family has died in north east India, the chief minister of his home state said.

Ziona Chana, the head of a local Christian sect that allows polygamy, died on Sunday, Zoramthanga, the chief minister of Mizoram and who goes by one name, said in a tweet.

With a total of 167 members, the family is the world’s largest, according to local media, although this depends on whether you count the grandchildren, of whom Ziona has 33.

Winston Blackmore, the head of a polygamous Mormon sect in Canada, has around 150 children from 27 wives – 178 people in total.

Ziona lived with his family in a vast, four-story pink structure with around 100 rooms in Baktawng, a remote village in Mizoram that became a tourist attraction as a result, according to Zoramthanga.

The sect, named “Chana”, was founded by Ziona’s father in 1942 and has a membership of hundreds of families. Ziona married his first wife when he was 17, and claimed he once married ten wives in a single year.

They shared a dormitory near his private bedroom, and locals said he liked to have seven or eight of them by his side at all times.

Despite his family’s huge size, Ziona told Reuters in a 2011 interview he wanted to grow it even further.

“I am ready to expand my family and willing to go to any extent to marry,” he said.

“I have so many people to care for and look after, and I consider myself a lucky man.”

 

(Reporting by Alasdair Pal and Adnan Abidi in New Delhi; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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Huawei CFO seeks publication ban on HSBC documents in U.S. extradition case

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Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou on Monday will seek to bar publication of documents her legal team received from HSBC, a request opposed by Canadian prosecutors in her U.S. extradition case who say it violates the principles of open court.

Meng’s legal team will present arguments in support of the ban in the British Columbia Supreme Court.

Meng, 49, was arrested at Vancouver International Airport in December 2018 on a warrant from the United States, where she faces charges of bank fraud for allegedly misleading HSBC about Huawei Technologies Co Ltd’s business dealings in Iran and potentially causing the bank to break U.S. sanctions on business in Iran.

She has been under house arrest in Vancouver for more than two years and fighting her extradition to the United States. Meng has said she is innocent.

Lawyers for Huawei and HSBC in Hong Kong agreed to a release of the documents in April to Meng’s legal team on the condition that they “use reasonable effort” to keep confidential information concealed from the public, according to submissions filed by the defense on Friday.

Prosecutors representing the Canadian government argued against the ban, saying in submissions filed the same day that “to be consistent with the open court principle, a ban must be tailored” and details should be selectively redacted from the public, rather than the whole documents.

A consortium of media outlets, including Reuters News, also opposes the ban.

The open court principle requires that court proceedings be open and accessible to the public and to the media.

It is unclear what documents Huawei obtained from HSBC, but defense lawyers argue they are relevant to Meng’s case.

Meng’s hearing was initially set to wrap up in May but Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes granted an extension to allow the defense to read through the new documents.

Hearings in the extradition case are scheduled to finish in late August.

 

(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Vancouver; Editing by Howard Goller)

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NATO takes tough line on China at first summit with Biden

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NATO leaders designated China as presenting “systemic challenges” in a summit communique on Monday, taking a forceful stance towards Beijing at Joe Biden‘s first summit with an alliance that Donald Trump openly disparaged and ridiculed.

The new U.S. president has urged his fellow NATO leaders to stand up to China’s authoritarianism and growing military might, a change of focus for an alliance created to defend Europe from the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

The language in the summit’s final communique, which will now set the path for alliance policy, comes a day after the Group of Seven (G7) rich nations issued a statement on human rights in China and Taiwan that Beijing said slandered its reputation.

“China’s stated ambitions and assertive behaviour present systemic challenges to the rules-based international order and to areas relevant to alliance security,” NATO leaders said in a communique after their summit.

Biden also told European allies the alliance’s mutual defence pact was a “sacred obligation” for the United States – a marked shift in tone from his predecessor Trump, who had threatened to withdraw from the alliance and accused Europeans of contributing too little to their own defence.

“I want all Europe to know that the United States is there,” said Biden. “NATO is critically important to us.”

BALANCING THREAT

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, at her last summit of the alliance before she steps down in September, described Biden’s arrival as the opening of a new chapter. She also said it was important to deal with China as a potential threat, while keeping it in perspective.

“If you look at the cyber threats and the hybrid threats, if you look at the cooperation between Russia and China, you cannot simply ignore China,” Merkel told reporters. “But one must not overrate it, either – we need to find the right balance.”

Biden said both Russia and China were not acting “in a way that is consistent with what we had hoped”.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said China’s growing military presence from the Baltics to Africa meant nuclear-armed NATO had to be prepared.

“China is coming closer to us. We see them in cyberspace, we see China in Africa, but we also see China investing heavily in our own critical infrastructure,” he said, a reference to ports and telecoms networks. “We need to respond together as an alliance.”

Stoltenberg also said the leaders had agreed to increase their contributions to the alliance’s small common budget. The vast bulk of military spending in NATO is handled separately by member countries.

G7 nations meeting in Britain over the weekend scolded China over human rights in its Xinjiang region, called for Hong Kong to keep a high degree of autonomy and demanded a full investigation of the origins of the coronavirus in China.

China’s embassy in London said it was resolutely opposed to mentions of Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan, which it said distorted the facts and exposed the “sinister intentions of a few countries such as the United States”.

“China’s reputation must not be slandered,” the embassy said on Monday.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, arriving at the summit, said there were both risks and rewards with Beijing.

“I don’t think anybody around the table wants to descend into a new Cold War with China,” he said.

DEEP ECONOMIC TIES

From China’s investments in European ports and plans to set up military bases in Africa to joint military exercises with Russia, NATO is now agreed that Beijing’s rise deserves a strong response, although envoys said that would be multi-faceted.

Allies are mindful of their economic links with China. Total German trade with China in 2020 was more than 212 billion euros ($257 billion), according to German government data. Total Chinese holdings of U.S. Treasuries as of March 2021 stood at $1.1 trillion, according to U.S. data, and total U.S. trade with China in 2020 was $559 billion.

Biden will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday in Geneva.

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said that Russia was trying to “swallow” Belarus and that NATO needed to be united in deterring Moscow. Nauseda also said the Baltic nations would push for more U.S. forces in their region to deter Russia.

($1 = 0.8255 euros)

(Additional reporting by Mark John, Sarah Young and Elizabeth Piper in London, Andrius Sytas in Vilnius, and Kate Abnett, Gabriela Baczynska, Marine Strauss and John Chalmers in Brussels; Editing by Catherine Evans, Peter Graff, Bernadette Baum and Alex Richardson)

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