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Meet the Santas: Inside the holly jolly world of professional Kris Kringles

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Saint Nick isn’t the only white-bearded man gearing up for the holidays.

Across Canada, hundreds of professional Santas don the big red suit at malls, parties and private houses — inhabiting not only the clothes but the mystique of the magical man who delivers gifts to many millions of children around the world in a single night.

The appropriately named Ted Carroll, a Santa-for-hire based out of Halifax, says nothing beats seeing the smile on children’s faces when they see the man of the month on their doorstep.

“I’ve had kid pee themselves, I’ve had one kid say profanely, ‘Holy beep, it’s Santa Claus!”‘ said Carroll, 53, during a phone interview from his home in Halifax. “This stuff, if it doesn’t warm your heart or make you laugh, something’s wrong.”

While Santa is traditionally a Christian figure, Toronto professional Santa Kerry Burns said he’s been embraced by people from all sorts of different religious backgrounds, adding that the magic of Santa “transcends all sorts of different cultures.”

“I get to learn more about life by playing Santa than anything else, because you see people from all different walks of life,” said Burns, 56. “I get to see people every age, every nationality … all the externals disappear, and there’s just love in that moment.”

Burns, who’s been performing as a Santa for the past 15 years both in Toronto and his hometown of Halifax, said a good Santa needs to have three qualities: “You have to have the ho-ho-ho, you have to have the look, and you have to have the heart.”

The “heart” aspect is what matters most to Rozmin Watson, the “North Pole operations manager” with Hire A Santa.

The British Columbia-based company matches up eligible Santas with people holding parties and events. The company works with more than 100 Santas from across the country.

It also holds a one-day “North Pole Santa School” program each fall to help aspiring Santas get off the ground — without the help of a magic sleigh.

While looking the part is important, Watson said what really makes a good Santa is how passionate he is about his job.

“A lot of people say, ‘We want a real bearded Santa versus a designer bearded Santa,”‘ she said.

“But it’s not about their beards. It’s about what’s in their heart.”

For Carroll, it’s something of a family tradition: Carroll’s late father, who was a volunteer deputy fire chief in the Halifax-area community of Rockingham, used to perform as Santa during Christmas parties at the fire department and around the region.

When Carroll was in his mid-20s, his father asked him to dress up and attend an event in his place because he was sick, igniting a passion that led to Carroll “carrying the torch” by playing Santa Claus for the past 25 years.

In 2016, Carroll’s wife, Kim, created a Mrs. Claus costume so she could tag along.

“I was taking him to the different events, and I’d be sitting in the car and freezing my tushie off while he was inside,” she said. “One day it came in my head: What am I doing sitting out here when I could be having fun with him? So I made my own costume and away I went.”

The Carrolls used to mostly make house calls, but they’ve recently begun performing at charity events and Christmas parties. Ted estimates the couple saw close to 2,000 kids last year.

A couple of years ago, Carroll got to give a little girl the present she wanted the most: her father.

He was a member of the Canadian Armed Forces and had been deployed overseas. He and Carroll devised a plan to surprise the girl.

“I put him in my extra Santa Claus suit, and when they weren’t looking, we switched places. She lost her mind,” recalled Carroll.

“I came back out after he took the beard and the wig off, and I said, ‘Santa did it all this year.’ The little girl just hugged onto her dad and cried tears of joy. I will never forget that.”

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LIFESTYLES

University of Windsor establishes first Canadian transportation cybersecurity centre

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The University of Windsor will be the site of Canada’s first organization dedicated to countering threats to the connected transportation marketplace.

The SHIELD Automotive Cybersecurity Centre of Excellence will focus on developing the skills, innovations and policy to secure connected and autonomous vehicles.

Researchers will partner with industry, government and community stakeholders.

Co-founding and heading up the centre will be Dr. Mitra Mirhassani of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Dr. Ikjot Saini of the School of Computer Science.

In the past year, the two University of Windsor professors were both recognized as being among Canada’s top talents in the automotive cybersecurity field.

“Hardware and software vulnerabilities could put personal information and vehicle safety in jeopardy,” said Mirhassani.

“Transportation systems are especially susceptible to attacks from malicious actors due to the complexity, implementation costs and lifecycles of equipment and platforms.”

The SHIELD centre is a continuation of the Windsor region’s focus on developing its cybersecurity ecosystem.

The province has already designated the area as the regional tech development centre for cybersecurity and border logistics.

The cybersecurity centre got a further boost this week with the announcement of a memorandum of understanding with the Automotive Parts Manufacturing Association (APMA).

APMA and SHIELD will collaborate to develop market-based technologies to meet the needs of producers and consumers and build academic programs to address industry’s evolving requirements.

“We hope that this partnership will help to advance a cybersecurity culture shift in the industry in Canada,” said APMA president Flavio Volpe.

“There is much work to be done to protect our collective interest in advancing this country’s globally competitive automotive sector.”

The centre will also promote the sharing of knowledge among parties to advance standards and enhance policies in the field.

Part of the plan is to offer micro credentialing through the university’s Continuing Education programs.

“We plan to offer consultation and test services to small- and medium-sized Canadian companies that will help them stay up to date,” said Dr. Saini.

“Open-access publications and public webinars will widely share the latest information.”

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Hamilton police charge ‘Hugs Over Masks’ protest organizers in two separate events

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TORONTO — Hamilton, Ont., police say they have charged two organizers of an anti-mask protest group for holding events that allegedly violated public health rules.

Police say the events were held in downtown Hamilton on Jan. 3 and Jan. 10.

The force alleges that 40 people attended first event and 60 attended the second.

Current provincial restrictions limit gatherings to a maximum of 10 people outdoors.

Police say they informed the “Hugs Over Masks” organizers that the planned Jan. 10 gathering would result in charges, but they went ahead with the event.

They say a 27-year-old man and 38-year-old woman are facing charges under the Reopening Ontario Act that carry a minimum fine of $10,000 if convicted.

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Ontario issues stay-at-home order to start Thursday as Ford declares state of emergency

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Premier Doug Ford is declaring another state of emergency, effective immediately, in response to surging COVID-19 infection rates.

In a news conference on Tuesday, Ford announced Ontario is issuing a stay-at-home order, effective 12:01 a.m. Thursday.

It requires people to stay home except for essential activities such as accessing health care or shopping for groceries.

The new measures also include restricting the hours of operation for non-essential retail stores such as hardware stores to between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Addressing big box stores, which are allowed to remain open, Ford said an inspection blitz is coming to ensure they are following proper protocols.

“I’m going to come down on them like an 800-pound gorilla,” he said.

Schools in Hamilton, Toronto, York, Peel and Windsor-Essex will not return to in-person learning until Feb. 10.

Other public health regions, including Halton and Niagara, will find out when students can return to class by Jan. 20.

Schools will now require students in grades 1-3 to wear masks and masks will be required outside where physical distancing can’t be maintained.

Child-care centres for non-school aged children will remain open.

The premier announced the restrictions shortly after the province released new projections that show the virus is on track to overwhelm Ontario’s health-care system.

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