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Revenue Canada's political activity audits biased, think-tank says

Written By doni icha on Selasa, 21 Oktober 2014 | 22.40

The Broadbent Institute is calling for an independent probe of the Canada Revenue Agency, saying tax auditors are targeting critics of the Harper government while letting right-leaning groups off the hook.

The self-style "progressive" think-tank released a research report Tuesday citing recent public statements by 10 "right-leaning" or "conservative" charitable groups that it says are political, yet the groups reported no political activities in their mandatory annual statements to the tax agency.

The report says many charities that have opposed government policies have been hit with political-activity audits while other groups, such as the C.D. Howe Institute and the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, have escaped such scrutiny despite their apparently political statements in the past.

"The findings in this report serve to deepen suspicions of the Harper government's continued and deliberate silencing of critical voices," says the document.

"The mounting evidence of a politicized CRA merits the establishment of an independent inquiry into its processes to ensure transparency and fairness."

At issue are a series of 52 political activity audits first launched in 2012 under a new $8-million, two-year program announced in the federal budget that year, a program later topped up to $13.4 million and made permanent.

Net cast more widely

Auditors first targeted a group of environment charities which have been critical of energy and pipeline policies and who were vilified by several cabinet ministers at the time as radicals and money launderers. The net has been cast more widely since, selecting charities that promote social justice, poverty reduction and religion.

Kerry-Lynne Findlay 20140710

Revenue Minister Kerry-Lynne Findlay has repeatedly rejected any suggestion that she directs which charities the Canada Revenue Agency will audit for political activities. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Charities are permitted to devote up to 10 per cent of their resources to political activities, but critics say the definitions in the regulations can be complicated and unclear. Partisan activities are forbidden entirely, such as endorsing a candidate for public office.

The Canada Revenue Agency and National Revenue Minister Kerry-Lynne Findlay have each dismissed repeated allegations that the government directs which charities to audit, saying the choice is made by competent public servants based on objective evidence, drawing on material posted on websites and other sources.

The agency will not release a list of targeted charities, but most of the groups who confirm they are being audited for political activities have made public statements in the past taking issue with Harper government policies. Two charities, the C.D. Howe Institute and the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, have confirmed they are not being audited, but others — such as the Fraser Institute — have declined to comment.

Cites 10 groups

The Broadbent Institute report examines the public statements of 10 groups and claims to have found many that are overtly political, yet none of the groups reported any political activity to the CRA.

"The evidence presented here is not intended to question whether these charities should or shouldn't be engaged in political activity," says the report.

"Rather, it is meant to raise questions about how the CRA's definition of political activity is being interpreted and the transparency of the CRA's process for determining which groups to audit."

'Whether CRA is being even-handed or not, or is being used as a tool of harassment by the federal government directed at critical charities is an important question for the health of Canadian democracy.'- Rick Smith, executive-director of the Broadbent Institute

The report cites a 2013 statement by the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, for example, that calls on the federal government to "wind down Canadian content requirements and foreign ownership restrictions in the communications sector." The institute has not responded to questions about whether it is being audited for political activities.

"There's clearly wildly varying interpretations of what CRA means by political activity," Rick Smith, executive director of the Broadbent Institute, said in an interview from Toronto.

"Whether CRA is being even-handed or not, or is being used as a tool of harassment by the federal government directed at critical charities, is an important question for the health of Canadian democracy."

The institute's call for an independent inquiry repeats an earlier call by New Democrat MP Murray Rankin, the party's revenue critic, who has said a retired judge or other credible person with no link to government should be called in to review the program.

No charity has so far been stripped of its charitable registration under the new political-activity audit program, though the CRA has imposed some onerous conditions on some groups. Targeted charities say the audits drain them of scarce cash and resources, such as staff time, and critics say the audits have led to "advocacy chill" as some groups fear speaking out.

The Broadbent Institute reports follows a CBC News report that the CRA has been scrutinizing a small birdwatching group in Kitchener, Ont., for its alleged political activities.

The group, with revenues of just $16,000 a year, was sent a five-page "reminder letter" earlier this year after agency auditors determined some comments on their webpage to be political, and warned they were not ruling out an audit.

Follow @DeanBeeby on Twitter


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Oscar de la Renta, legendary fashion designer, dead at 82

At his Fashion Week runway show in New York City in September, Oscar de la Renta sat in his usual spot: in a chair right inside the wings, where he could carefully inspect each model just as she was about to emerge in one of his sumptuous, impeccably constructed designs.

At the end of the show, the legendary designer himself emerged, supported by two of his models. He didn't walk on his own, and didn't go far, but he was beaming from ear to ear. He gave each model a peck on the cheek, and then returned to the wings, where models and staff could be heard cheering him enthusiastically.

De la Renta, who dressed the wives of presidents, socialites and Hollywood stars for more than four decades, died Monday evening at his Connecticut home at age 82, only six weeks after that runway show, but not before another high-profile honour was bestowed on him: Lawyer Amal Alamuddin wore a custom, off-the-shoulder de la Renta gown to wed actor George Clooney in Venice. Photos of the smiling designer perched on a table at the dress fitting appeared in Vogue.

De la Renta died surrounded by family, friends and "more than a few dogs," according to a handwritten statement signed by his stepdaughter, Eliza Reed Bolen, and her husband, Alex Bolen. The statement did not specify a cause of death, but de la Renta had spoken in the past of having cancer.

Oscar de la Renta

Fashion designer Oscar de la Renta has died at age 82. (Danny Johnston/Associated Press)

"While our hearts are broken by the idea of life without Oscar, he is still very much with us. Oscar's hard work, his intelligence and his love of life are at the heart of our company," the statement said. "All that we have done, and all that we will do, is informed by his values and his spirit."

Dressed American fashion icons

The late '60s and early '70s were a defining moment in U.S. fashion as New York-based designers carved out a look of their own that was finally taken seriously by Europeans. De la Renta and his peers, including the late Bill Blass, Halston and Geoffrey Beene, defined American style — and their influence is still spotted today.

'It's like the end of another generation.'- Philip Ing, MAC cosmetics

Laura Bush and U.S. President George W. Bush

First lady Laura Bush wore an ice blue Oscar de la Renta gown at the 2005 inaugural ball for her husband, U.S. President George W. Bush. (Jason Reed/Reuters)

De la Renta's specialty was eveningwear, though he also was known for chic daytime suits favoured by the women who would gather at the Four Seasons or Le Cirque at lunchtime. His signature looks were voluminous skirts, exquisite embroideries and rich colours.

Earlier this month, U.S. President Barack Obama's wife, Michelle Obama, notably wore a de la Renta dress for the first time. De la Renta had criticized her several years earlier for not wearing an American label to a state dinner in 2011.

'We will always remember him as the man who made women look and feel beautiful.'- Laura Bush, wife of former president, on Oscar de la Renta

Among Obama's predecessors favouring de la Renta were Laura Bush, who wore an icy blue gown by de la Renta to the 2005 inaugural ball, and Hillary Rodham Clinton, who wore a gold de la Renta in 1997.

"We will miss Oscar's generous and warm personality, his charm, and his wonderful talents." Bush said in a statement. "My daughters and I have many fond memories of visits with Oscar, who designed our favourite clothes, including Jenna's wedding dress. We will always remember him as the man who made women look and feel beautiful."

A statement from former President Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, and Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky, said: "Oscar's remarkable eye was matched only by his generous heart. His legacy of philanthropy extended from children in his home country who now have access to education and health care, to some of New York's finest artists whose creativity has been sustained through his support."

Stellar red carpet style

De la Renta made just as big a name for himself on the Hollywood red carpet — with actors of all ages. Penelope Cruz and Sandra Bullock were among the celebrities to don his feminine and opulent gowns. His clothes even were woven into episodes of Sex and the City, with its style icon, Carrie Bradshaw, comparing his designs to poetry.

Jennifer Garner

Actress Jennifer Garner arrived at the 86th Academy Awards in Hollywood in a glittering Oscar de la Renta gown. (Adrees Latif/Reuters)

One actor who wore a de la Renta gown to this year's Oscars was Jennifer Garner.

"Mr. de la Renta loved women," she said on Monday evening, wiping away tears. "And you saw it in every design that he did. He honoured women's features, he honoured our bodies. He wasn't afraid to pull back and let the woman be the star of the look."

De la Renta was also deeply admired by his fellow designers. "He set the bar," designer Dennis Basso said on Instagram Monday night. "But most of all he was a refined elegant gentleman."

The designer's passing was also top of mind at World MasterCard Fashion Week currently underway in Toronto.

"He's part of a pantheon of designers who are legendary in New York," Philip Ing of MAC cosmetics told CBC News. "Him, and Valentino, and Karl Lagerfeld​. These are gentlemen in their 80s who have been at the top of their game in fashion for 40, 50, 60 years. So, with him going it's like the end of another generation."

Cutting an unconventional path

The designer's path to New York's Seventh Avenue took an unlikely route: He left his native Dominican Republic at 18 to study painting in Spain, but soon became sidetracked by fashion. The wife of the U.S. ambassador saw some of his sketches and asked him to make a dress for her daughter — a dress that landed on the cover of Life magazine.

That led to an apprenticeship with Cristobal Balenciaga, and then de la Renta moved to France to work for couture house Lanvin. By 1963, he was working for Elizabeth Arden couture in New York and in 1965 had launched his own label.

He told The Associated Press in 2004 that his Hispanic roots had worked their way into his designs.

"I like light, colour, luminosity. I like things full of colour and vibrant," he said.

'Like travelling with the president'

While de la Renta made Manhattan his primary home, he often visited the Dominican Republic and kept a home there. Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour was a frequent visitor and she has said travelling with him was like travelling with the president.

At his country home in northwestern Connecticut, gardening and dancing were among his favourite diversions from work. "I'm a very restless person. I'm always doing something. The creative process never stops," he said.

As a designer, de la Renta catered to his socialite friends and neighbours — he and his wife, Annette, were fixtures on the black-tie charity circuit — but he did make occasional efforts to reach the masses, including launching a mid-priced line in 2004 and developing a dozen or so perfumes.

FASHION

Oscar de la Renta and his wife Annette arrive at the White House for the state dinner in honour of French president Jacques Chirac in 1995. (Reuters)

He was an avid patron of the arts, serving as a board member of The Metropolitan Opera and Carnegie Hall, among others, and he devoted considerable time to children's charities, including New Yorkers for Children. He also helped fund schools and day-care centres in La Romana and Punta Cana in his native country.

The Dominican Republic honoured de la Renta with the Order of Merit of Juan Pablo Duarte and the order of Cristobol Colon. In the United States, he received the Coty American Fashion Critics Award twice, was named womenswear designer of the year by the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 2000 and also received a lifetime achievement award from the CFDA — an organization for which he served as president in the 1980s.

Besides his own label, de la Renta spearheaded the Pierre Balmain collection from 1993-2002, marking the first time an American designed for a French couture house, and he was awarded the French Legion of Honor with the rank of commander. He also received the Gold Medal Award from the king and queen of Spain.

De la Renta gave up the title of chief executive of his company in 2004, handing over business duties to the Bolens, but he remained active on the design end, continuing to show his collections during New York Fashion Week.

De la Renta also is survived by an adopted son, Moises, a designer at the company.

De la Renta's first wife, French Vogue editor Francoise de Langlade, died in 1983.


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Airbag inflator problem prompts plea from U.S. safety agency

A potential safety crisis over defective airbags widened Monday as the U.S. government issued an urgent plea to more than 4.7 million people to get their cars fixed, saying inflator mechanisms in the airbags can rupture, causing metal fragments to fly out when the bags are deployed in crashes.

Safety advocates say at least four people have died from the problem and there have been multiple injuries. They also say more than 20 million vehicles in the U.S. are equipped with the faulty airbags.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration warned people whose cars have been recalled during the past two years for faulty airbag inflators to take them to dealers right away. The inflators are made by Takata Corp., a Tokyo-based supplier of seat belts, airbags, steering wheels and other auto parts.

So far, automakers have recalled about 12 million vehicles worldwide, including Canada, because of problems with the airbag.

Airbag safety message 'comes with urgency'

"This message comes with urgency," NHTSA said in a statement. The agency has been investigating the problem since June, and has cited reports of six inflators rupturing, causing three injuries.

The warning covers cars made by Toyota, Honda, Mazda, BMW, Nissan, General Motors and Ford. Passenger or driver airbags or both could be affected depending on the vehicle.

Takata recall

Japanese auto parts maker Takata Corp. is dealing with a widening recall of airbag inflators. (Yuya Shino/Reuters)

Toyota issued the latest recall Monday, covering passenger airbags in 247,000 older model vehicles including the Lexus SC, Corolla, Matrix, Sequoia and Tundra.

Like many of the other recalls, the Toyota recall covers vehicles in South Florida, along the Gulf Coast, in Puerto Rico, Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, Saipan and American Samoa — all areas that have high absolute humidity. Toyota, in documents posted on the NHTSA website, said the company and Takata are still trying to pinpoint the cause of the rupture and to gauge the influence of high absolute humidity.

Absolute humidity is a measurement of water vapour in the air, while relative humidity, which is commonly used in weather reports, measures air moisture content relative to the air temperature.

Toyota has been testing the airbags, and it found an unusually high incidence of inflator failures along the coasts, according to spokesman John Hanson. The investigation continues and the recall could be expanded to more areas, Hanson said.

Toyota says it knows of no crashes or injuries from the cars it has recalled.

Neither Toyota nor NHTSA could say exactly how far inland the recall area goes or what states it covers.

NHTSA urged people to check if their car has been recalled by going to https://vinrcl.safercar.gov/vin/and typing in their vehicle identification number.

Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the non-profit Center for Auto Safety, estimated there are 20 million to 25 million cars in the U.S. alone that are equipped with the faulty airbags.

Toyota said repairs will be done for free and notices will go into the mail starting around Oct. 25, according to documents. People who live in areas that are outside of the recall zone who are afraid of driving their cars should contact their dealerships, Hanson said.

Are regional recalls the right response?

Last week, two U.S. senators questioned why the safety agency is allowing the recalls to be done on a regional basis because cars could be driven to, or people could move to the high-humidity states.

They also cited the May 27, 2009, death of 18-year-old Ashley Parham of Oklahoma City. She was driving a 2001 Honda Accord across a high school parking lot in Midwest City, Oklahoma, when it hit another car. The airbag inflated and sent shards of metal into her neck, causing her death.

"Based on NHTSA's open investigation, the agency will take appropriate action, including expanding the scope of the recall if warranted," an agency statement said.

Takata has said it recognizes the critical role that government plays in public safety, and it is supporting safety regulators.


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New Brunswick premier backs Energy East pipeline on Alberta visit

New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant told his Alberta counterpart Jim Prentice that he favours the Energy East pipeline reversal project to allow exports of Alberta crude oil to his province's ports.

Gallant began a four-day trip to Alberta on Monday by meeting with Premier Prentice in Calgary. He will also meet with oil industry and other business leaders during his visit.

The TransCanada Pipelines Energy East project would use 3,000 kilometres of existing gas pipeline and would require the construction of 1,400 kilometres of new pipeline. It would change the direction of flow in the existing pipeline and would bring crude oil from northern Alberta to refineries in Quebec and then on to an export terminal in Saint John, New Brunswick.  

Despite having the support of Prentice and Gallant, the pipeline is far from a done deal. There remains a great deal of opposition to the project, particularly in Ontario and Quebec.

Prentice said his talks with premiers in central Canada have been constructive.

"I think at the end of the day, they will see this project as the kind of nation building project that's in the interests of their provinces as well, and in the interests of all Canadians. Just in the same way that Premier Gallant and I see it that way," he said. 

Gallant said communication will be key.

"I think it's important for us to show that we're open for the dialogue, to explain why we think this is going to benefit both our provinces and the country, and how we plan on doing it the best way so we're sure that we're respecting the environment," he said. 


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B.C. LNG tax regime announcement coming today

The B.C. government is expected to unveil today how it plans to tax companies that operate liquefied natural gas plants.

Both critics and investors have said the tax regime will play a big role in determining whether new B.C. LNG projects will go ahead.

Minister of Finance Mike de Jong has hinted the long-awaited legislation he'll introduce today will be similar to what he talked about last February—a two-tiered tax, balanced between taxpayer benefit and affordability for companies.

"The basic principle around ensuring there is a balance between being competitive on the one hand but deriving a fair return for the owners of the resource, British Columbians, will reveal itself," de Jong said Monday.

Last February, de Jong said the first tier would be a 1.5 per cent tax, which would rise up to seven per cent once companies have paid off the capital investment cost of building the LNG facilities.

But Bruce Ralston, the NDP's LNG critic, thinks the second-tier tax increase will never happen.

"Given what integrated multinationals can do with moving money around internally, I doubt the province will ever see revenue from the second tier," he said.

Today's legislation follows yesterday's announcement by B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak on the new rules governing greenhouse-gas emissions for LNG.

Polak said her Greenhouse Gas Industrial Reporting and Control Act will permit companies to purchase carbon offsets and contribute to a technology fund to reach emission benchmarks that will be the lowest in the world.

Earlier this month, the B.C. LNG Alliance warned the window is closing on the province's trillion-dollar gas dream and it is worried about the industry's global competitiveness.

The CEO of one of the largest potential investors, Petronas, also threatened shelve his company's plans for a multibillion dollar LNG facility if the tax regime is not favourable.


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Content streaming could leave Bell and Rogers only providing the 'pipe'

Written By doni icha on Senin, 20 Oktober 2014 | 22.39

Canadians who want to view specialty channels and watch their favourite shows must go through their cable providers, like Bell and Rogers.

But some industry experts say that may change. They suggest that Canadians will inevitably have access to American content streamed online when online streaming becomes the norm and more and more people abandon their cable providers.

It's already happening south of the border. Last week, HBO announced that it will allow Americans to stream its programming online next year without having to subscribe to the cable channel. 

While HBO won't be streaming its service into Canada, at least not yet, the experts say the pressure from the public and from some content providers to allow more streamed foreign content is bound to grow. And that could mean that Bell and Rogers may eventually be relegated to essentially providing the "pipe" —  or the actual cables, connecting to households that facilitate internet or wireless service. 

"[Rogers] controls the pipe as does Bell. They will come to the realization, that's their model, forget about content, and all this other nonsense, they don't really have anything of propriety there to offer," said Fred Lazar, an economics professor at York University's Schulich School of Business. "Focus on the pipe, control that, and essentially increase the rates charged there as people start migrating."

'Try and slow the migration'

Earns Netflix

Companies like Netflix, which provide quick online streaming access to films and TV shows and cater to binge viewers, have roared to success, putting the future of cable in jeopardy. (Paul Sakuma/Associated Press)

"What [Bell and Rogers are] going to do is try and slow the migration as much as possible and try and better position themselves through different types of pricing to take advantage of the inevitable migration [from cable to online]," he said.

In a sense, cable companies were the Netflix of their time, Lazar said, mostly providing cable subscribers programming (much of it American) that had been created by others, while also supplying a healthy dose of Canadian content.

But then the internet came along, providing a more direct distribution forum for content that allowed customers to pick and choose what they wished to view. Companies like Netflix, which provided quick online streaming access to films and TV shows and catered to binge viewers, roared to success, putting the future of cable in jeopardy.

This is why content entertainment companies like HBO are also getting into the streaming business (CBS similarly announced that it too would start a streaming service.)

"Whether it's the NFL or whether it's Universal Studios programming or HBO programming … why on earth should you share your revenue with third party cable companies and aggregators and the TSNs of this world and The Movie Networks of this world," said Dvai Ghose, cable and media research analyst at the Toronto-based investment bank Canaccord Genuity.

"Surely the most profitable model for you is to go directly to the customer."

Streaming will allow content providers to cut out the cable middlemen and provide their shows directly to the customer.

"Netflix won't be necessary, the The Movie Network won't be necessary, you'll go directly to these content producers," Lazar said, adding this is why Netflix, ironically has begun creating original content, fearing it may eventually get squeezed out.

Lazar predicts this could begin to take shape in five to 10 years, as the cable companies contracts with content providers begin to expire.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, which is responsible for protecting Canadian content, will initially make it difficult for foreign-produced programming like HBO to be streamed via the internet to Canadians, Lazar said.

However, the broadcast regulator will be overwhelmed by a public demanding those foreign restrictions be removed and their powers will diminish, he said.

Change business model

So with fewer and fewer cable subscribers, analysts say Bell and Rogers their business model would need to evolve. For instance, more data usage would produce higher fees, meaning the telecom companies would stand to generate a lot of revenue.

"I think whether it's Bell or Rogers, they're looking at it and saying 'cable has essentially matured,' and they're going to start changing their pricing models for internet realizing more and more content will be going by the internet regardless of what the CRTC does," Lazar said, "So to protect their revenue sources as more people cut the link to cable, they're going to start increasing the rates for the internet connection."

Ghose said Bell and Rogers should embrace the role of becoming just "a dumb pipe provider."

"What is wrong with that? You will need that more than ever," he said.


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Manufacturing sales inch up 0.2% to $53B

The Canadian Press Posted: Oct 20, 2014 9:41 AM ET Last Updated: Oct 20, 2014 9:41 AM ET

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TSX COMPOSITE

Oct 20, 2014 11:15 AM ET Oct 20, 2014 11:15 AM ET Oct 20, 2014 11:15 AM ET Oct 20, 2014 11:20 AM ET Oct 20, 2014 11:15 AM ET

Index Last Trade Change
TSX COMPOSITE 14235.87 8.19
DOW 16343.53 -36.88
NASDAQ 4286.18 27.74
SP 500 1893.94 7.18
TSX-VENTURE 809.86 -0.27

The data on this site is informational only and may be delayed; it is not intended as trading or investment advice and you should not rely on it as such.

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Apple Pay goes live as company readies to reveal quarterly earnings

Apple rolls out its Apple Pay mobile payment system today in the U.S., with hundreds of banks signed on for the new technology.

While mobile payments aren't new, Apple's entry into the field is expected to change consumer habits so there is an expectation to pay via cellphone. It's also a strategic shift into a whole new area for the tech giant that could position Apple as an intermediary in dozens of transactions.

To use Apple Pay at a retail store, consumers need an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus and must enter a credit card – they may have a card already registered at the iTunes store. 

Cards from the largest U.S. banks, such as Citi, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Capital One and JP Morgan Chase, are already hooked into the Apple Pay system.

Apple has also managed to sign on 500 regional and local banks, whose cards should work by early next year, according to Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Fingerprint sensor

The tech giant aims to replace the traditional credit card swipe in retail stores with a mobile payment, verifying the user's identity with a fingerprint sensor. But the merchant also needs to be onboard — with McDonald's , Whole Foods and Walgreen signed up for the service.

Gartner tech analyst Van Baker says consumers are increasingly worried about the security of traditional credit and debit cards, after high-profile hacking of Target and Home Depot computer systems. This provides an alternative with a biometric backup system – the TouchID feature that works with a user's fingerprint.

The Apple Pay system also has an app-based version that extends to online sales made through an iPad Mini 3, iPad Air 2 or iPhone 5s. Each of those devices also has TouchID.

The service is "hugely important" says Forrester Research analyst Frank Gillett, as it puts Apple in the middle of a wide range of consumer transactions, underscoring Apple's value as a brand.

Slow rollout expected

It not only encourages consumers to buy the newest Apple products, it also demands that retailers and financial institutions strike relationships with the company. 

"It's a strategic advance not just because it may be a new revenue source, but because it injects Apple into a whole different value stream" for customers and the company's business partners, Gillett says.

But the service will be slow rolling out, in part because not everyone has the newest devices, but also because Apple needs to win over more retailers.

Apple Pay is not yet offered in Canada.

The company is set to reveal it's fourth-quarter and year-end results for its fiscal year after stock markets close at 4:30 p.m. eastern time on Monday.


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Rogers, Netflix team up to make their 1st show together

6-part dramatic series to focus on mystery disease that wipes out everyone in a town except under-21s

CBC News Posted: Oct 20, 2014 9:14 AM ET Last Updated: Oct 20, 2014 10:00 AM ET

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Latest Business Headlines

TSX COMPOSITE

Oct 20, 2014 11:15 AM ET Oct 20, 2014 11:15 AM ET Oct 20, 2014 11:15 AM ET Oct 20, 2014 11:20 AM ET Oct 20, 2014 11:15 AM ET

Index Last Trade Change
TSX COMPOSITE 14235.87 8.19
DOW 16343.53 -36.88
NASDAQ 4286.18 27.74
SP 500 1893.94 7.18
TSX-VENTURE 809.86 -0.27

The data on this site is informational only and may be delayed; it is not intended as trading or investment advice and you should not rely on it as such.

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Google thwarts piracy with search algorithm changes

Google, which has been blasted by Hollywood and other content owners for not doing enough to purge links to pirated material from its dominant Internet search engine, says it's taken new steps to make search results more copyright-friendly.

In a white paper released Friday updating its anti-piracy efforts, Google said that earlier this month it improved its search-engine algorithms to more effectively demote sites in its rankings that have received a large number of Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notices — something the MPAA and others have been urging Google to do for more than two years.

In addition, Google said it recently enhanced "autocomplete" and "related search" functions to prevent terms "closely associated with piracy" from appearing in those results, and that it has introduced new advertising products to further promote authorized sources of content in search results.

'Piracy often arises when consumer demand goes unmet by legitimate supply.'- Google

However, in the 26-page report, Google maintains that the best way to battle piracy is for content owners to distribute their works via legitimate digital services.

"Piracy often arises when consumer demand goes unmet by legitimate supply," the company says in the report. "As services ranging from Netflix to Spotify to iTunes have demonstrated, the best way to combat piracy is with better and more convenient legitimate services. The right combination of price, convenience and inventory will do far more to reduce piracy than enforcement can."

Asked for comment on Google's report, an MPAA rep said: "Everyone shares a responsibility to help curb unlawful conduct online, and we are glad to see Google acknowledging its role in facilitating access to stolen content via search. We look forward to examining the results of Google's algorithm changes to see if they reduce the appearance in search results of stolen content and the sites that profit from it."

The RIAA, for its part, said it "will be evaluating how these steps measure up. We look forward to working with Google and other search engines on additional initiatives that bolster creators and the fan experience."

224 million content removal requests from copyright owners

In 2013, Google received about 224 million DMCA takedown requests for links in its search results. It removed 222 million of those, and the average turnaround time in responding to copyright-removal notices is less than 6 hours, the company claims.

Based on that data, starting this month, Google has "improved and refined the DMCA demotion signal in search results."

"Sites with high numbers of removal notices may appear lower in search results," Google said. "This ranking change helps users find legitimate, quality sources of content more easily."

However, the company noted, it doesn't remove pages from results unless it receives a specific removal request for a given page — and doesn't block sites categorically from results. "Even for the websites that have received the highest numbers of (DMCA) notices, the number of noticed pages is typically only a tiny fraction of the total number of pages on the site. It would be inappropriate to remove entire sites under these circumstances," Google said. Furthermore, Google said, it's vigilant about preventing abuses of the DMCA removal process and that it rejects inaccurate or unjustified copyright-removal requests.

As far as making legitimate sources of copyrighted material more visible in search results, Google called out its recent introduction of an ad module in the right-hand panel, that appears in searches for certain movies, TV shows, musicians, albums and other content. For example, a query for the artist "Lorde" on a desktop will display a panel for the artist on the right-hand side of the page. "Within that panel we may show 'Listen now' links from advertisers like Spotify or Beats Music," Google said.

Ads served based on piracy-related search terms

The search giant also is serving ads based on piracy-related search terms. For example, the queries "expendables download" or "expendables torrent" returns an ad format at the top of the page linking to downloads from Google Play, Vudu and Amazon.com. The example Google cited is not merely hypothetical: This summer, a high-quality copy of Lionsgate's Expendables 3 hit torrent sites more than three weeks before the film's theatrical debut, resulting in more than 5 million downloads from piracy sites.

"While relatively few users search in this way compared to root queries like 'expendables,' we are happy that these new ad formats are driving traffic to legitimate sources of media," Google said.

In the report, an update to the anti-piracy white paper released last year, Google also outlines other measures it has taken to fight piracy.YouTube's Content ID system — which identifies copyrighted material and gives owners the option to remove it or serve ads against it — has produced more than $1 billion US in revenue for partners in the last seven years, according to Google. In fact, it says that more than one-third of ads served on YouTube now come via Content ID, which is used by 5,000 studios, TV networks, record labels and other copyright holders.

Google also noted its July 2013 agreement with the White House's Office of the U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator (IPEC), along with Microsoft, AOL, Yahoo and other ad networks, to commit to policies prohibiting advertising from piracy websites. At the time, the MPAA criticized the announcement as insufficiently addressing a narrow subset of the piracy problem and because it place a disproportionate burden on rights holders.


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