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Blue Jays unveil completed Phase 1 of Rogers Centre renovations ahead of home opener


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From left, Toronto Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro, Rogers Chairman Edward Rogers, and Rogers CEO Tony Staffieri, cut a giant ribbon in the outfield to unveil new renovations completed to the Rogers Centre stadium, home of the Toronto Blue Jays, in Toronto, Thursday, April 6, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston

By Tyler Griffin in Toronto

Toronto Blue Jays fans can expect new ways to experience a baseball game live this season, after the first phase of renovations at Rogers Centre were unveiled Thursday.

The new features were revealed following a ribbon-cutting ceremony led by Blue Jays president and CEO Mark Shapiro, along with Rogers chairman Edward Rogers and CEO Tony Staffieri. The Blue Jays are currently on a 10-game road trip to start their season, due to the ballpark renovations.

“We’ll try to create experiences for every type of fan, not just one type of fan. We’re going to get our fans closer to our players, probably closer to the visiting players than they want, but that’s OK,” said Shapiro ahead of the ceremony.

“We’re going to allow them to connect with each other and with our fans in ways they never have before … an opportunity to modernize fan experience.”

All 500-level seats have been replaced largely to make room for open social spaces, including the family-oriented Park Social over left field, a colourful and childlike area designed to replicate sitting in one of the city’s many parks. Another notable new feature in the 500s is the Corona Rooftop Patio, a spacious social area which will allow fans to take in Toronto’s impressive skyline and have a drink while watching a game.

Lower down, the stadium’s outfield walls and bullpens have been raised, meaning relief pitchers will be warming up within metres of fans. The Catch Bar in the 100 level hangs right above the visitor’s bullpen.

When asked if there were any security concerns surrounding the proximity and access of fans to players, senior manager of project management for the Blue Jays Sanj Perera said they have increased their security control.

“To say there won’t be heckling, that’s probably not the fair thing to say,” Perera said. “But we’re confident that we’ve got a good group of fans in Toronto and everyone’s going to abide by the rules.”

By closing the gap between the bullpen and stands, the outfield walls appear significantly higher. The lower outfield decks have also been removed, with new ones built lower to the field.

“The outfield was very symmetrical before. We’ve now raised most of the outfield,” said Perera. “We’ve done a lot of modelling. We believe that it’s going to stay net-neutral. We’re not expecting any major changes in terms of playability.”

Drastically changing the outfield seating has allowed the BlueJays to create the new “Outfield District,” featuring five “neighbourhoods” that encompass the rooftop patio, park and bars, as well as a 100 level bar area called The Stop in centre field.

The Stop is an ode to Rogers Centre’s history, as it was first designed in the 1980s to hold a transit station in the stadium’s north end. Although those plans fell through, the name will persist as a bar that showcases the many different neighbourhoods that Toronto’s transit system runs through.

The new Outfield District also comes with the introduction of a variety of different foods, intended to reflect the diversity of Toronto’s fan base. They include cultural offerings like Banh Mi and tacos, as well as new twists on classic ball game fare, like the much-anticipated poutine hotdog. A new “Tap N’ Go” automated shop will let fans quickly grab a beverage or snack, without having to wait in long lines and potentially miss gameplay.

The WestJet Flight Deck in the 200 level has been refreshed with retro arcade games and a new brewery-style menu.

The Blue Jays have already introduced new $20 general admission tickets for the new Outfield District, though single game tickets provide fans with a reserved bowl seat in addition to access to the outfield areas.

This completed first phase of renovations, which began in October 2022, focused on spectators and the second step — slated for next off-season — is concerned with behind-the-scenes and players-only areas.

Perera said that Phase 1, while successful, was challenging because the major overhaul was done on a tight schedule.

“We will continue to work with our partners to get the best schedule, best sequencing, best phasing, and move that into Phase 2,” he said. “There’s a lot of work on Phase 2.”

The entire multi-year renovation project comes with a price tag of approximately $300 million, according to a media handout.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 6, 2023.

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India suspends visa services in Canada and rift widens between countries

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India’s visa processing centre in Canada suspended services Thursday as a rift widened between the countries after Canada’s leader said India may have been involved in the killing of a Canadian citizen. The High Commission of India is seen in Ottawa, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Patrick Doyle

New Delhi

India’s visa processing centre in Canada suspended services Thursday as a rift widened between the countries after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said India may have been involved in the killing of a Canadian citizen.

Trudeau told Parliament on Monday that there were “credible allegations” of Indian involvement in the assassination of Sikh independence activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who had been wanted by India for years and was gunned down in June outside the temple he led.

Canada also expelled an Indian diplomat, and India followed by expelling a Canadian diplomat on Tuesday. It called the allegations being investigated in Canada absurd and an attempt to shift attention from the presence of Nijjar and other wanted suspects in Canada.

“Important notice from Indian Mission: Due to operational reasons, with effect from 21 Sept. Indian visa services have been suspended till further notice,” the BLS Indian Visa Application Center in Canada said. It gave no further details. BLS is the agency that processes visa requests for India.

India’s External Affairs Ministry did not immediately comment.

The Canadian High Commission in New Delhi said all its consulates in India are open and are continuing to provide services, but staff safety is being assessed.

“In light of the current environment where tensions have heightened, we are taking action to ensure the safety of our diplomats. With some diplomats having received threats on various social media platforms, Global Affairs Canada is assessing its staff complement in India,” it said in a statement.

It said Canada expects India to provide for the security of its diplomats and consular officers under the Vienna conventions.

In 2021, 80,000 Canadian tourists visited India, making them the fourth largest group, according to India’s Bureau of Immigration.

On Wednesday, India’s External Affairs Ministry issued an updated travel advisory urging its citizens travelling in Canada and especially those studying in the North American country to be cautious because of “growing anti-India activities and politically condoned hate-crimes.”

Indians should also avoid going to venues in Canada where “threats have particularly targeted Indian diplomats and sections of the Indian community who oppose anti-India agenda,” the ministry said.

Nijjar was working to organize an unofficial referendum among the Sikh diaspora on independence from India at the time of his killing. He had denied India’s accusation that he was a terrorist.

The second stage of B.C. voting on whether a Sikh homeland should be established in India’s Punjab province is scheduled to be held on Oct. 29.

The Vancouver Police Department beefed up security outside India’s Consulate after Trudeau’s announcement this week.

Const. Tania Visintin, Vancouver police media relations officer, said in a statement Wednesday that police are “closely monitoring the situation.”

“We’re doing significant work behind the scenes, which includes continuous risk assessments, with a goal of maintaining public safety and preventing violence,” Visintin said in an emailed statement.

Visintin said Vancouver police were not aware of any specific threats to Indian consular officials, but have increased their presence at the downtown Vancouver consulate.

Demands for an independent Sikh homeland, known as Khalistan, started as an insurgency in India’s Punjab state in the 1970s that was crushed in an Indian government crackdown that killed thousands. The movement has since lost much of its political power but still has supporters in Punjab, where Sikhs form a majority, as well as among the sizable overseas Sikh diaspora.

India’s National Investigation Agency said Wednesday it has intensified its crackdown on Sikh insurgents operating in India.

It announced rewards of up to 1 million rupees (CAD$16,240) for information leading to the arrest of five insurgents, one of whom is believed to be based in neighboring Pakistan.

The agency accused them of extorting money from businesses for a banned Sikh organization, the Babbar Khalsa International, and of targeted killings in India. “They also have established a network of operatives in various countries to further their terrorist activities in India,” it said in a statement, without naming any country.

India accuses Pakistan of supporting insurgencies in Kashmir and Punjab, a charge Islamabad denies.

— with files from The Associated Press

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Cross-country rallies against ‘gender ideology’ in schools met with counter-protests

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People hold signs during a demonstration on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023. Protests and counter-protests for and against Canada’s trans and LGBTQ community are being planned across Canada on Wednesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick


Heated exchanges between protesters and counter-protesters are taking place across the country today over school policies on gender identity.

Posters created by a group called “1MillionMarch4Children” say rally participants are standing together against what they call “gender ideology” in the nation’s schools.

The protests are linked to policies across the country, including in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan, that require young people to get parental consent before teachers can use their preferred first names and pronouns.

But the rallies are being met with counter-protesters who say those policies are a violation of children’s rights and that transgender youth should not be outed to their parents by teachers.

Protests are occurring across the country, including in Montreal, Fredericton and Ottawa — where thousands of people are facing off in front of Parliament Hill and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh led a group of counter-protesters down Wellington Street.

In Fredericton, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs — whose government helped spark the national debate about gender policies in schools — told reporters today that parents must be informed if their children are questioning their gender identity.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 20, 2023.

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