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Canada lifts lifetime ban on gay men giving blood
Wed, 22 May 2013 10:23:43 EDT
OTTAWA—The federal blood donor agency is lifting its lifetime ban on gay men giving blood, but serious restrictions mean few gay or bisexual men are likely to start offering up their veins.
Canadian Blood Services announced Wednesday it has received approval from Health Canada to reduce its restriction on men who have sex with men donating blood from indefinitely to five years.
“We do not anticipate that this will bring a large number of gay men forward to the blood donor pool,” Dr. Dana Devine, vice-president of medical, scientific and research affairs at the federal blood donor agency said in a telephone news conference Wednesday.
“We know that they are still going to be deferred and we do recognize that there is a need for us to continue to understand what the right boundary for this deferral is, but in order to get to that place we need to collect some data, so this really is a first step,” Devine said.
“What we’re asking people to do is bear with us as we work through this process,” Devine said.
The new policy will come into effect this summer as soon as the agency finishes updating and reprinting the forms and training materials to include the change.
The new screening criteria will involve asking potential male donors whether they have had sexual intercourse with another man in the past five years.
Potential male donors are currently asked if they have had sex with another man even once since 1977, a policy meant way to curb the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS from blood transfusions.
“The change means that any man who has not had sex with another man in the last five years and meets other screening criteria may be eligible to give blood,” the Canadian Blood Services said in a news release Wednesday.
Devine said keeping a five-year deferral in place will allow the agency to collect the data it needs to support any further change in policy.
“What we’re lacking in terms of the science in Canada is a sense of exactly what the impact of the change is,” Devine said.
Devine said the agency will be collecting data on any change to the number of blood donations that test positive for infectious diseases — all blood being tested before it goes to hospitals — as well as closely monitoring whether anyone becomes infected from a blood transfusion.
“That has not occurred in Canada in the past many years, so it is a very unlikely event, but obviously they would be looking for that as well,” Devine said.
The release noted there is no medical consensus on screening practices for men who have sex with men.
Both the United States and some European countries have kept their lifetime bans, while the United Kingdom and Australia have reduced the restriction to a one-year deferral.
“We ended up sort of in the middle of that collection of time frames to have a first look at what any changes to our infectious disease rates would be,” Devine said.
Devine also said the agency will consider new technologies as they become available in Canada and study whether they could have any impact on the policy.
The Star revealed in January 2011 that the agency was considering changing its policy, a decision which ironically stemmed from an Ontario Superior Court decision the previous fall that upheld the ban.
The ruling said giving blood is not a constitutional right on par with marrying and that there is epidemiological evidence to support the notion that HIV and other sexually transmitted infections are more prevalent in homosexual and bisexual men.
At the same time, Justice Catherine Aitken said there is insufficient evidence to support an indefinite deferral period that grows longer with every passing year.
Canadian Blood Services began considering the change, and in September 2011, its board of directors agreed to re-examine the policy in aim of reducing the prohibition from forever to anywhere between five and 10 years.
The agency submitted a request to change the policy to Health Canada and Héma-Québec last December, it said in its statement Wednesday.
Devine said she is aware not everyone will be happy with the change.
“We do recognize that many people will feel that this change is not going far enough, but we see this as a first step in a change process. It is a prudent, first step for us to make,” Devine said Wednesday.
“We made a commitment to continually review the policy as additional data emerges from this first step down the change path that we have made,” Devine said.
“Canadian Blood Services’ first priority does continue to be patient safety, as it is the patients who bear 100 per cent of the risk of the blood system and any changes that we make to it,” Devine said.
Jon Stewart, Jimmy Kimmel crack wise over Toronto's Rob Ford
Wed, 22 May 2013 07:40:00 EDT
WARNING: Video links contain explicit language
Mayor Rob Ford returned to late-night TV last night as the crack-video scandal continued to draw attention south of the border.
Both Jimmy Kimmel and The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart discussed the controversy at the tops of their shows.
Stewart told his audience about some of the remarkable moments in the Toronto mayor’s career.
“… [He] has become very popular in Toronto for his love of sports and his warm relations with the press,” Stewart said. “Yes, the camera just absolutely loves this mayor,” he continued, cutting to a clip of Ford walking into a TV camera during a scrum last month.
“You have to wonder, is this dude on crack?” Stewart said.
On Jimmy Kimmel Live, Kimmel “interviewed” Ford, played by Jim O’Heir (Jerry on sitcom Parks and Recreation), who donned an over-the-top Canadian accent in both Kimmel’s version of the video and the interview, which featured a moose waving a Canadian flag.
Ford last appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live last month after his face-to-camera crash.
Jay Leno also mentioned Ford on Monday’s Tonight Show, joking that if the allegations are true, he’d still be qualified to be the mayor of Washington, D.C.
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Cleveland kidnapping victims say they are ‘happy and safe’
Wed, 22 May 2013 10:52:37 EDT
CLEVELAND—The three women rescued after being held captive in a house in Cleveland for about a decade want everyone to know they are doing fine and appreciate offers of help.
The message was relayed in a letter released Tuesday by their attorneys.
The letter said Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight are happy and safe. A charity fund to help the women has raised more than $650,000 from more than 6,800 donors.
Berry broke through a locked door on May 6, yelled to neighbours for help and enabled Knight and DeJesus to escape.
“These three brave women have asked us to give this message to everyone who has expressed concern and support,” said the attorneys, who are representing the women for free. “Amanda, Gina and Michelle want you to know they are doing well. They are happy and safe and continue to heal, a process that requires time and privacy.
“To have complete strangers offer loving support in the form of money, goods and services, reaching out to help like a family member, is appreciated in ways that are impossible to put into words.”
Ariel Castro, a 52-year-old former school bus driver, has been charged with three counts of rape and four counts of kidnapping, one for each of the three women and one for Berry’s 6-year-old daughter fathered by Castro.
His defence team says he will plead not guilty. The case is pending before a Cuyahoga County grand jury.
Cannes 2013: Ryan Gosling a no-show, booed at festival for debut of Only God Forgives
Wed, 22 May 2013 09:50:33 EDT
CANNES, FRANCE—Canada’s Ryan Gosling has become The Man Who Wasn’t There at the Cannes Film Festival, both physically and in the ultra-violent character he plays in his controversial new movie.
The star of Only God Forgives, a slow-motion bloodbath with disturbing Oedipal overtones that was booed at its Wednesday morning press preview, begged off a festival appearance to walk the red carpet at the evening world premiere. Fest chief Thierry Frémaux read out a letter of regret from Gosling, in which the actor said filming commitments were preventing him from travelling.
It’s possible that Gosling feared facing a firing squad of disappointed journos, since his reteaming with Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn is proving to be the biggest dud so far at Cannes 2013. Hopes were high because their first movie together, the wheel-squealing Drive, rocked the Croisette in 2011 and won Refn that year’s Best Director prize.
Only God Forgives is a whole other matter, and it manages to be even more brooding and bloody than Drive. Set in the red-light district of Bangkok, and running almost in slow motion, it has Gosling as a nearly mute drug dealer, zombie-like in his manner, with a sexual psycho for a brother and a foul-mouthed harridan for a mother. The mom is played against type by the usually demure Kristin Scott Thomas, whose character Crystal talks like a stevedore and who is seeking revenge for a brutal act perpetuated against her family. They’re all facing the wrath of a samurai-swinging and karaoke-crooning ex-cop, played by Thai actor Vithaya Pansringarm, who considers himself avenging God Almighty.
The gore quotient in the film is high even for Winding Refn. It includes eye gouging, head piercing and an appalling act of desecration of a body that can’t be described here, other than to say it might well have sent Sigmund Freud calling for his mommy. Only God Forgives is in competition for the Palme d’Or come Sunday, but it’s hard to imagine Steven Spielberg’s jury panel finding anything to like in it.
It’s possibly the least glamorous role Gosling has ever had — he doesn’t remove his shirt at all — and it’s not likely to expand his fan base much, to say the least.
Winding Refn made no apologies for any of this, and actually seemed to revel in it all at the press conference. Peering imperiously through his black glasses, he chided a British female journalist for bringing up the topic of movie violence: “You sound like my mother!”
“Art is an act of violence,” he continued. “Art is about penetration. … I approach things very much like a pornographer. It’s about what arouses me. And certain things turn me on more than other stuff, and I can’t supress that. … I have surely a fetish for violent emotion and violent images and I can’t explain where it comes from.”
Scott Thomas described Only God Forgives as “hyper-violent and quite disturbing” and agreed with a journalist’s observation that her role as the bloody mama is far different from her usual civility and elegance.
“This kind of film is really not my thing,” she said.
But she was eager to do a different kind of role, and she also wanted to work with Winding Refn, whose earlier film Bronson, about a psychopath British prison inmate, really intrigued her.
She said she had a lot of trouble learning to say the crude sexual reference for female anatomy that comes as one of many jolts in the film. The term was offered up by Gosling, the director said, after he’d asked him, “What’s the worst thing you can call a woman in America?”
But Scott Thomas got into the groove, and the result is a character that will change the mind of anyone who thinks of her as a Goody Two-Shoes type.
“She has no problem turning on the bitch switch,” Winding Refn says.
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Mike Duffy billed two Tory campaigns $510 during 2011 election while claiming Senate allowance
Wed, 22 May 2013 06:00:00 EDT
OTTAWA—Sen. Mike Duffy billed two Conservative campaigns $510 for appearing alongside candidates in Nova Scotia during the 2011 federal election, while also receiving an allowance for being in Ottawa on Senate business.
The new details of apparent double-dipping are contained in documents from Elections Canada that include invoices Duffy submitted to the 11 local Conservative campaigns he helped out during the last federal election.
The invoices show that Duffy arrived in Truro, N.S., on April 20 that year, spent the night in a hotel and then campaigned the next day with Conservative MP Scott Armstrong there and in Amherst, N.S.
Duffy billed the Armstrong campaign $409.91 for two hotel rooms (one for him and one for a policy adviser travelling with him on his campaign tour through the Maritimes), room service, gas and its share of a rental car spread out between the seven ridings he visited on that trip.
The invoices from Duffy show up in the returns of only six Conservative candidates for that period, but it is possible a seventh campaign covered expenses directly rather than waiting for the senator to submit an invoice.
He also campaigned that day with Conservative candidate David Morse in Kentville, N.S., billing that campaign $100.33 for gas and the rental car.
An examination by auditors at Deloitte of his spending and travel patterns, meant to establish how much time he spent at his declared primary residence in Cavendish, P.E.I., revealed Duffy had also claimed to be in Ottawa on Senate business that day, billing taxpayers to cover his mortgage, meals and incidentals.
Duffy refused to meet with the auditors or provide the additional documentation requested.
Armstrong said his campaign complied with Elections Canada rules by claiming the Duffy expenses in its financial return, but noted the senator should not have also been collecting money from the federal government.
“If you’re not on parliamentary business, you shouldn’t be claiming a per diem,” Armstrong said in an interview Tuesday.
Armstrong said the tour of the Maritimes was organized by the Conservative Party of Canada.
Party spokesman Fred DeLorey said in an email Tuesday the Conservative campaign was not aware Duffy was collecting a per diem from the Senate while campaigning in Nova Scotia and having his expenses covered by the campaign.
Duffy resigned from the Conservative caucus last Friday in the wake of a revelation he had accepted a personal cheque from Nigel Wright — who has since stepped down as chief of staff to Prime Minister Stephen Harper — to cover $90,172 in improperly claimed expenses.
Elections Canada documents show at least five more days on the campaign trail for which Duffy had his expenses covered by Conservative campaigns while, according to Deloitte, he also claimed to be on Senate business.
The Deloitte review does not say whether Duffy, who has not responded to multiple requests for comment, was also claiming a Senate allowance for those days.
Duffy submitted an invoice for $209.01 to the campaign for Conservative candidate Sandy Lee in Yellowknife, N.W.T., that included two taxis and airport parking associated with both a tour of the GTA with Harper and a trip up north.
The invoice says the unspecified hotel costs were charged directly to the campaign and the flights from Ottawa to Toronto, to Yellowknife and back to Ottawa were covered by the Conservative party.
The days listed for the taxis in Toronto are April 5 and 7, days when the Deloitte review says he was outside Ottawa on Senate business.
According to a Twitter post from Lee, he was with her on April 8, another day the Deloitte review says he was on Senate business.
The Elections Canada documents also show Duffy received $169.45 each from the campaigns of GTA Conservatives Joe Oliver, Wladyslaw Lizon, Gin Siow and John Carmichael for flights between Ottawa and Toronto, taxis and a night at the Holiday Inn in Yorkdale for a tour of the region on April 27 and 28, both days the Deloitte review says he was outside Ottawa on Senate business.
The invoice says the total cost of $1,355 would be split between the eight ridings he visited, but only four candidates named Duffy as a supplier in their Elections Canada returns.
The includes April 29, when Duffy claimed to be in Ottawa on Senate business and collecting a per diem, but the receipt shows it was for a taxi from the Ottawa airport to his home in Kanata just after midnight.
Target Corp. profit plunges 26 per cent in first quarter
Wed, 22 May 2013 10:01:00 EDT
Retailer reports poor start to 2013
Target Corp.’s earnings per share were down in the first quarter of 2013, even after accounting for the costs of opening 24 stores in Canada beginning in March, the company reported Wednesday.
“Target’s first quarter earnings were below expectations as a result of softer-than-expected sales, particularly in apparel and other seasonal and weather-sensitive categories,” said Gregg Steinhafel, chairman, president, and chief executive officer of Target, in an earnings statement released Wednesday.
“While we are disappointed in our first quarter performance, we remain confident in our strategy, and we continue to invest in initiatives, including Canada . . . that will drive Target’s long-term growth.”
First-quarter net earnings were $498 million (U.S.), or $0.77 per share. Canadian operations reduced Target’s earnings per share (EPS) by 24 cents.
Target opened its first 24 Canadian stores in Ontario in March and April. They generated sales of $86 million in the first quarter, with a gross margin rate of 38.4 per cent. That was offset by $238 million in start-up expenses, operating expenses, depreciation and amortization related to the company’s market entry, according to the statement.
Even accounting for the expense of Canadian operations, EPS was down at Target in the first quarter. Adjusted earnings per share were $1.05 in the first quarter, down five per cent from $1.11 in 2012.
In the U.S., sales increased 0.5 per cent to $16.6 billion from $16.5 billion last year, reflecting a 0.6 per cent decline in comparable-store sales combined with the contribution from new stores, according the company release.
Target returned $779 million to shareholders through dividends and share repurchases in the quarter.
As a result of the poor performance, the company revised down earnings guidance for fiscal 2013.
For full-year 2013, the company now expects adjusted earnings per share of $4.70 to $4.90, compared with prior guidance of $4.85 to $5.05.
GAAP EPS is expected to be $4.12 to $4.32, approximately 58 cents lower than adjusted EPS. That includes losses related to
The company plans to open 124 stores in Canada by the end of this year.
Tim Bosma homicide: Missing woman’s parents buoyed at renewed police interest in her disappearance
Tue, 21 May 2013 23:07:48 EDT
The last sign of life was a shaggy, white dog.
Clayton and Linda Babcock arrived home last June to find their daughter’s two-year-old Maltese, Lacey, had been dropped off without warning.
Laura Babcock, 23, was last seen in Toronto on June 26, 2012. She hasn’t been heard from in almost a year.
Her last phone call, according to phone records, was to Dellen Millard, the 27-year-old Etobicoke man charged with the murder of Ancaster resident Tim Bosma.
Toronto police are now investigating Babcock’s disappearance in connection to Millard, something his lawyer dismissed as “speculation”.
“I would almost think the dog has kept us sane,” Clayton Babcock told the Star at the family’s Toronto home. “Laura wanted to be a free spirit.”
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After graduating from high school with honours and earning a degree in English and drama from the University of Toronto, Laura — a “social butterfly” — became restless under her parents’ roof.
She was crashing at friends’ houses, hanging out with girls she met through her sorority, the Babcocks said. She would float in and out of the family home. But then she missed Christmas, and her birthday in February.
Linda Babcock remembers Millard would come to the house to pick up her daughter — who started using the name Elle Ryan — for parties or to hang out.
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But police never interviewed Millard in connection with their daughter’s disappearance, the Babcocks said. After the detective assigned to her file was reassigned, they weren’t sure what had happened to the case.
“All this information was in their hands,” Linda Babcock said, tearing up as she spoke about Laura. “We don’t know anything more than we’ve known since the beginning.”
Shawn Lerner, Laura’s ex-boyfriend, last saw her on June 26, 2012, when she called looking for a place to stay. Lerner put her up at a hotel in the Queen St. W. and Roncesvalles Ave. area and took her out for dinner. He wouldn’t hear from her again.
“It’s so uncharacteristic of her,” he said. “For her to just escape and hide somewhere and not tell anyone, it just doesn’t make sense.”
Lerner said Laura was bubbly, a kid at heart who worked in a toy store and loved board games.
Linda Babcock is hopeful the renewed attention to the case will help bring her daughter home. “They have to find her now.”
As police probe Laura’s disappearance they appear to be wrapping up the extensive ground search that followed the discovery of Bosma’s charred body.
Police confirmed for the first time on Tuesday that his remains were found at the sprawling Waterloo farm purchased by Millard in May 2011.
At the rolling, grassy property partly covered in dense woods, a search was concluded on Tuesday, said Hamilton police Const. Debbie McGreal.
Large tents had been taken down and only two cruisers guarded the scene. Outside the front gate, a small memorial held now-withered flowers.
Police have denied earlier reports that additional remains were found at the farm over the weekend.
A spokesperson for the coroner’s office said Bosma’s body had not been released as of Tuesday afternoon. The remains will likely be absent at a funeral the family has scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday.
Police confirmed they are looking for two outstanding suspects in Bosma’s death, after he took two men for a test drive in his 2007 Dodge Ram on May 6. It is believed he was followed by a second vehicle.
Earlier, police said they were looking for at least two suspects, but have not explained how they came to the definitive number.
Hamilton police’s lead homicide investigator, Det.-Sgt. Matt Kavanagh, told the Hamilton Spectator he does not believe the public is in any danger.
“You’ll just have to trust me on this,” he said when asked to explain.
While investigators continue their search, a legal spat has erupted between Millard’s lawyer and another high-profile law firm.
Deepak Paradkar, who is defending Millard, said a Derstine Penman associate visited his client at the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre without his consent, contravening the Law Society of Upper Canada’s rules of professional conduct.
“He did not solicit their services nor did he solicit a second opinion,” Paradkar said. “The family has full confidence in my ability to represent him.”
Dirk Derstine, a partner at the firm, said they did visit Millard in jail and tried to contact Paradkar afterward.
“Our contact with Mr. Millard was above board,” Derstine said. “It was not unsolicited.”
With files from The Canadian Press
FBI agent kills friend of Boston Marathon bombings suspect
Wed, 22 May 2013 08:43:47 EDT
ORLANDO, FLA.—An Orlando, Fla., man who was shot and killed by an agent with the FBI early Wednesday morning was friends with one of the Boston bombings suspects, according to a friend of the victim.
That man, Khusn Taramiv, thinks it was his friend — Ibragim Todashev — who was shot this morning in the 6000 block of Peregrine Avenue in Orlando.
Todashev, 27, was arrested by the Orange County, Fla., Sheriff’s Office on May 4 and charged with aggravated battery with great bodily harm.
Todashev was arrested after getting into a fight over a parking spot with a 54-year-old man and his 35-year-old son over a parking spot at an Orlando shopping mall. The 35-year-old man was hospitalized with a split upper lip and several teeth knocked out, according to a report from the Orange County Sheriff's Office.
“Also by his own admission Todashev was recently a former mixed martial arts fighter,” the arresting deputy said in his report. “This skill puts his fighting ability way above that of a normal person.”
Todashev was released on $3,500 bond after his May 4 arrest. His attorney, Alain Rivas, didn't immediately respond to a phone inquiry Wednesday.
Police tape blocked off the complex of townhomes near Universal Studios where Todashev was shot.
Jared Morse, who lives in the next building from Todashev's unit, said he had been watching an NBA game when he heard loud bangs that sounded like gunfire.
“It's crazy, especially in this neighbourhood,” Morse said as he walked his dog. “Nothing like this ever happens here.”
Taramiv told several television outlets his friend was being investigated as part of the Boston bombings and knew bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev because both were mixed martial-arts fighters.
In a statement Wednesday, the FBI said the man being questioned was fatally shot when he initiated a violent confrontation, according to the Associated Press.
FBI special agent David Couvertier told the Toronto Star in a statement that the shooting occurred in the early morning hours.
The FBI agent who fired on the victim wasn’t interviewing the victim alone.
With the agent were two Massachusetts State Police troopers and other law enforcement personnel.
They “were interviewing an individual in connection with the Boston Marathon bombing investigation when a violent confrontation was initiated by the individual,” Couvertier said.
“During the confrontation, the individual was killed and the agent sustained non-life threatening injuries. As this incident is under review, we have no further details at this time.”
Tsarnaev, 26, one of the suspects in the Boston bombings died in a gun battle with police. He had been on a U.S. government database of potential terrorism suspects and the United States had twice been warned by Russia that he might be an Islamic militant, according to U.S. security officials.
His brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, is in police custody.
With files from The Associated Press, Orlando Sentinel
‘Sickening and barbaric’ attack near London’s military training barracks leaves 1 dead, 2 injured; could be terror-related
Wed, 22 May 2013 12:41:40 EDT
LONDON—Two men attacked another man near a London military barracks Wednesday, in what British authorities were investigating as a possible terror act. One man is dead and two others were injured.
While details were scant, Prime Minister David Cameron called the killing “truly shocking” and said he had asked Home Secretary Theresa May to call an urgent meeting of the government's emergency committee.
A British government official who spoke only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the investigation said the details that had emerged were indicative of a “terrorist-motivated attack.”
May said she had been briefed by Britain's domestic security service, MI5, and by police on what she called a “sickening and barbaric” attack.
Britain's Ministry of Defence said it was urgently investigating reports that a serving soldier was involved in the incident.
Police said armed officers responded to reports of the assault Wednesday afternoon just a few blocks from a military training barracks in southeast London.
Commander Simon Letchford said reports indicated that one man was being assaulted by two other men, and that a number of weapons — including possibly a firearm — were used in the attack.
He confirmed that one man was found dead at the scene and that two men were shot by police and taken to separate London hospitals. One of them is in serious condition, according to London Ambulance Service.
Live television images of the scene showed a trail of blood staining a pavement, cordoned off streets and crime scene investigators marking the scene.
David Dixon, head teacher of a nearby primary school, said police told him there was a serious incident. He said he saw body lying in the road outside.
He told the BBC that he then made sure children were inside and put the school into lockdown mode. He said he then heard shots fired.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission, which is called in when officers are involved in shootings, confirmed that it is investigating the incident, which took place near the Royal Artillery Barracks.
The barracks — which house a number of the King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery and independent companies of the Grenadier and Coldstream Guards — were the site of shooting events during the 2012 London Olympics.
Tim Bosma funeral: Live coverage as hundreds mourn Ancaster father
Wed, 22 May 2013 10:18:07 EDT
Hundreds of people will gather Wednesday for a public funeral celebrating the life of Tim Bosma.
A team of writers and photographers will be there to cover the memorial, starting at 11 a.m., for the Ancaster father who was killed after taking two men for a test drive when he tried to sell his truck online.
On mobile? Follow our coverage here.
Via Rail adopts airline pricing model
Wed, 22 May 2013 07:00:00 EDT
Train fares used to be almost as standard as train schedules, with predictable discounts for booking a month or a week in advance or on a weekday.
Lately train fares look a whole lot different, with VIA Rail offering $127 last-minute return fares between Montreal and Toronto, taxes in.
That’s cheaper than half-price fares on Porter Airlines, which sometimes runs $200 return fares, taxes included, between the two cities.
The cheapest VIA fare between Montreal and Ottawa is $29 one way, $33.34 with taxes.
That’s because VIA has ripped a page from the airline handbook when it comes to setting fares. Now they’re handled like airline ticket sales – some tickets go high, some tickets go low, depending on the month, the day, even the hour of travel.
“We decided we wanted to develop a revenue-management team and follow the airline model. We put a team together of people experienced in that area, some from the airline industry,” said Steve Del Bosco, chief marketing and sales officer for VIA Rail Canada.
He said customers have accepted the change well.
“The airline style of pricing is I think, pretty much understood in the public and it’s expected.”
The system is called revenue management, and hotels, car rental agencies and airlines have been using it for years.
It means doing everything to get as many people on a trip as possible, at the highest fare the market will bear in each fare category.
Revenue management computer software optimizes pricing itineraries every day, crunching historical booking data and current market conditions to respond quickly to shifts in market conditions and maximize returns.
The system was implemented at VIA last June, helping drive an increase in ridership of 10.4 per cent in the Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto triangle in the last quarter of 2012, compared to a year earlier, according to the Crown Corporation’s annual report.
“It helps us push people to trains where we know we have room, and have people pay more for trains we know are in high demand,” said Del Bosco.
The new system allowed VIA to eliminate advance purchase requirements for discount fares and launch a new economy fare to attract more customers who may have otherwise have travelled by car.
The railway has also benefitted from making schedule adjustments across networks, reducing the number of trains in markets where ridership was low, and reallocating resources to markets where demand is high and growing.
It’s added free Wi-Fi for all passengers and simplified Web booking. It’s ramped up its social media campaign – offering free cross-Canada tours to people who Tweet about the contest.
The revenue management system has also helped boost ridership and revenues on some of the more expensive routes, popular with Canadian and foreign tourists.
The new system allows VIA to offer promotions of 50 per cent off, and occasionally, 75 per cent off.
“We manage the inventory so we don’t discount every single seat. Last time we looked, 20 per cent were sold at a discount. Our average fares have been maintained very well,” said Lynn Lefebvre, product manager for VIA long-haul services.
In 2012, 112,000 passengers took The Canadian, compared to 109,000 in 2011; and 106,000 in 2010.
Competition through the Rockies comes from the privately owned Rocky Mountaineer train travel service, which runs rail tour packages in Western Canada that start at $900 per person for two days.
“My feeling is that any way that VIA can increase ridership and maximize revenue is great, so I’m open to flexible fares,” said Jason Shron, president of Rapido Trains Inc., Canada’s largest model train company and a board member of the Toronto Railway Historical Association.
Shron often travels by train with his family.
“I want them to succeed. Under 800 kilometres, it’s the most environmentally sound way of transporting large groups of people.”
Xbox One: 10 questions about the new Microsoft console
Wed, 22 May 2013 11:17:43 EDT
The next generation console wars truly got underway on Tuesday, as Microsoft unveiled the Xbox One, which the company has positioned as an all-in-one entertainment device.
Here’s what we know so far, and what we’re still curious about.
What is the Xbox One?
It is Microsoft’s next console, the follow-up to the monstrously successful Xbox 360. Beyond games, the company is positioning it as a living room hub and all-in-one entertainment device, with access to music and video services. It will still play games, but the company is pushing it as a media device, which you can watch live TV through.
In actuality, not that much, but it looks like a lot has been upgraded or improved. It looks to be able to switch between games and content incredibly fast. Kinect, the company’s motion control sensor will be necessary for it to work, and it looks to be much more advanced, with the ability to read a player’s heart beat. Improved voice control looks to be a feature. The controller has been slightly redesigned. The innards have been improved. For gamers, there is a dedicated digital video recorder, which can easily capture and share gameplay footage. Then there’s all the new live TV stuff. The current Xbox has been transitioning to more than just games, with apps for several TV services. Now live TV is being added to the mix.
How was the launch?
To be honest, a bit underwhelming, particularly from a gamer perspective. TV, TV, TV was the big push, with very little focus on games. The company says there will be more on that at E3 in three weeks, but the execs focused Tuesday on reinventing TV and online guides, something that the Wii U already does.
Didn’t I hear something about Steven Spielberg being involved?
The mega producer appeared during the launch via video, as it was revealed that he will be producing a live-action Halo series that will air on Xbox Live, the console’s online network.
What about rumours it will need to be always online?
Before yesterday’s event, Microsoft was dealing with contentious rumours and consumer backlash about the device needing to always be online. That is not the case, but the device will need to connect once a day for some of its online services to work. The company also said that used games will work on the next console, although some executives couched it in terms about “licenses.” This is something to continue to bear watching.
Is it better with Kinect?
Hardcore gamers have yet to warm to Xbox’s motion control peripheral, but the company is charging ahead and the new console will require it to work. The improved camera will be able to sense all of the people in the room and will be able to recognize you. A big part of the presentation was the use of the voice control and improved gesture control, so you will be able to grab content or swipe it away. These are thing the current version can do in a less sophisticated manner. More intriguing — or unsettling — is the talk that Kinect will always be on monitoring at all times, even if the particular activity or game doesn’t need it.
What about the games?
Microsoft says we’ll hear more about games at Electronic Entertainment Expo in L.A. in three weeks, but the company showed off the next Call of Duty: Ghosts (which will be available on many consoles), the sequels to EA’s sports games and Quantum Break, a new live-action TV-video game hybrid.
One issue for both the PS4 and Xbox One is that many of this year’s biggest blockbusters, such as Grand Theft Auto 5, Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag and Watch Dogs, will come out for the new devices, but also on the older consoles, too.
Microsoft’s internal studios are working on 15 games, eight of which are new franchises, although we have no idea when they’ll come out. The Xbox One will not be backwards compatible with 360 games. How the company manages the migration between its existing console and this new one will be interesting to watch.
How does it compare with the PS4?
Microsoft actually showed what its console looks like. Despite giving details about the new device in February, Sony has yet to reveal what the PS4 looks like. Both are launching new architectures that are a bit more similar to PCs, which should make development easier for the devices. Beyond that, Sony seems to be focusing more on the social elements, allowing you to peek on friends. Microsoft definitely is going for more living room, control your TV strategy. Both have slightly redesigned their controllers. Of the two, Sony seems to currently be focused a bit more on core gamers.
What still don’t we know?
Date and price. Expect it to come out in November, as that’s right in time for Christmas. Price remains the biggest question.
For Canadians, the other big question revolves around the content deals Xbox is signing and which, if any, will be available here.
Is their a compelling reason to upgrade?
Not knowing the price of either the PS4 or the Xbox One, it is really hard to say. The new devices will certainly have more horsepower, but if all of this year’s big holiday games will still be available for the PS3 and the Xbox 360 then it might be smart to wait until the libraries of exclusives games start to fill out, likely sometime next year. Both look to be evolutionary upgrades, improving on existing tech and perpetuating older ideas, as opposed to really bringing something entirely new. Neither has yet to demonstrate an interesting or new killer feature. Neither will be backwards compatible, which is unfortunate for consumers.
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Tim Bosma: Hamilton police arrest second murder suspect
Wed, 22 May 2013 12:45:16 EDT
Police have made a second arrest in the killing of Ancaster man Tim Bosma.
The suspect’s name was not immediately released. Hamilton police Supt. Dan Kinsella will update the media at 2:30 p.m., police said in a statement.
Bosma went missing on May 6 after he took two men for a test drive in his 2007 Dodge Ram and never came home. While investigators believe he was targeted and followed by a second vehicle, they have not revealed what they think the motive for killing Bosma might have been.
On May 14, police announced Bosma’s remains had been found on a farm in Waterloo, burned beyond recognition. A source told the Star police believe Bosma was killed inside his truck and later burned.
Dellen Millard, 27, was arrested on May 11 and later charged with first-degree murder in connection to Bosma’s death. Millard purchased the sprawling North Dunfries farm in May 2011.
Police said Tuesday they were seeking two other suspects in Bosma’s disappearance and death.
On Wednesday, Det.-Sgt. Matt Kavanagh, the homicide investigator in charge of the case, told the Hamilton Spectator there was not a fear of public safety over the outstanding suspects, but would not elaborate.
“You’ll just have to trust me on this,” Kavanagh said.
A ground search that at one time consisted of some 120 officers was winding down on Tuesday after large search and rescue tents were removed from the farm, and there were only two cruisers seen guarding the property.
Police have also searched Millard’s childhood home in Etobicoke and the Waterloo Regional Airport hangar where the family company, Millardair, was headquartered.
Bosma’s truck was found inside a trailer belonging to Millard at the Kleinburg, Ont., home owned by his mother, Madeleine Burns. Police have cleared the woman of any involvement.
Bosma’s family held a public service for the husband and father in Hamilton Wednesday morning, attended by hundreds who sang and prayed in unison.
Toronto police have said Millard now also being investigated in connection to the disappearance of Toronto woman Laura Babcock, 23, who was last seen on June 26, 2012. Her last phone call was with Millard, according to phone records. Her parents and ex-boyfriend said the two were friends before she went missing.
Toronto police have also re-opened an investigation into the apparent suicide of Millard’s father, Wayne, who died inside the Etobicoke home the two shared in November 2012. Police had earlier cleared the death of any foul play, but a coroner’s investigation remained open.
With files from Liam Casey
Rob Ford crack video scandal: What can Toronto council do about it?
Wed, 22 May 2013 09:00:00 EDT
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Reports of a video seemingly showing
Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack
have gripped city hall since the story broke last Thursday. Since then there have been questions about just what powers council has and doesn’t have in the scandal. Here are some answers.
Can council vote or pass a motion to make Ford step down?
No. Toronto’s mayor and councillors are elected for a fixed four-year term. A mayor must be 18, a Canadian citizen, live or own land in the city, and not be disqualified by any legislation from holding office. A mayor could potentially lose office by running afoul of the law, but can’t be removed by council.
Is it business as usual at council?
Yes. Council decisions are made after issues wind their way through the committee system, and that process continues. The mayor is the head of council and acts as the city’s chief executive, so the role is key. However, council has a speaker so the mayor doesn’t have to chair council meetings. Under the rules, council can appoint a member of council to take over the duties if the mayor is out of town, ill or has vacated the office.
If he loses council support, can the mayor simply shift into campaign mode for the Oct. 27, 2014, municipal election?
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Some observers say Ford already has begun campaigning. One clear sign was his decision to distribute Rob Ford Mayor fridge magnets to cars outside a community meeting last week on the controversial Humbertown redevelopment.
In February, Ford told the Toronto Sun: “We’ve got the casino, we’ve got the Gardiner (Expressway) and we’ve got the election,” he said. “I think a lot of people are already in that election mode and just wrapping up a few loose ends, and we’re going to be on the campaign trail.”
The official campaign period for the next election begins Jan. 2, 2014.
Where does the mayor’s support lie on council?
The powerful 13-member executive committee is chaired by the mayor. It weighs in on major policy issues before they hit council. The executive is made up of the mayor, deputy mayor and chairs of seven standing committees who are appointed by the mayor and automatically serve on the executive. There are also four members appointed to the executive committee by council.
In addition to whatever support the mayor enjoys from executive committee members, the mayor must reach out to other councillors to achieve a majority of votes needs to move issues forward. A majority is 23 votes, assuming all 45 members of council are present.
Under city rules, does the mayor have to comment on an issue?
As outlined by the city, the role of mayor includes providing leadership, acting as the city’s representative, and promoting the city’s interests. But nowhere does it say the mayor must comment publicly about anything.
Does Ford have to show up at city hall?
The official list of the Toronto mayor’s role and duties and powers contains 16 points. None specifically states the mayor must attend regularly at his city hall office.