CCLA files suit over Sidewalk Labs, #BlockSidewalk holds rally

Sidewalk Toronto Quayside

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has filed a lawsuit against all three levels of government and Waterfront Toronto, all of which are overseeing the development of Sidewalk Labs.

“Toronto’s tech sector is booming, and will continue to do so with or without Sidewalk Labs.”
-Block Sidewalk

The suit seeks to abolish Sidewalk Labs’ partnership agreement with Waterfront Toronto, contending the organization does not have the authority to create a digital governance policy for the Quayside project. Sidewalk Labs was not named in the lawsuit, but CEO Dan Doctoroff has made a statement about stating the association is being too quick with its legal action since the project remains in the proposal stage.

After it was discovered that Sidewalk Labs was looking to redevelop an area 30 times larger than its original 12-acre Quayside proposal in February, the CCLA released an open letter addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Premier of Ontario Doug Ford, and Mayor of Toronto John Tory. The letter threatened litigation if the Quayside project is not reset.

The suit also claims that the collection of private data invades various civil liberties laid out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The suit called the deal struck between Waterfront Toronto and the Alphabet company a “non-consensual surrender by the state to Sidewalk Labs,” adding it would dissuade or altogether block individuals from associating freely and anonymously.

At a news conference announcing the suit, association executive director Michael Bryant called for a complete “shutdown and reset” of the partnership with Sidewalk Labs. Waterfront Toronto released a statement saying it cannot yet assess the suit’s claims, as it has not yet received Sidewalk Labs’ master plan for Quayside. According to the Canadian Press, a spokesman for Toronto Mayor John Tory said Sidewalk’s final proposal for Quayside will undergo “full public scrutiny” over a host of issues, including the issues raised in the lawsuit.

RELATED: Sidewalk Labs speaking with investors, Canada Infrastructure Bank about funding Quayside

The provincial government told the Canadian Press it would be inappropriate to provide comment on the legal action. A spokesperson for federal infrastructure minister, Francois-Philippe Champagne, also highlighted the absence of an actual proposal, saying to the Canadian Press the government was unswerving in seeing the Quayside project advance in “an ethical and accountable fashion.”

#BlockSidewalk leads rally

On Wednesday evening, approximately 150 people attended the first public meeting of citizens’ group Block Sidewalk, which opposes Sidewalk Labs’ development. Toronto councillor Paula Fletcher attended the first meeting at the Ralph Thornton Community Centre. Block Sidewalk was started by a group of about 30 Torontonians, including Nasma Ahmed, Sam Burton, April Dunford, Jennifer Evans, JJ Fueser, and Bianca Wylie.

“Toronto’s tech sector is booming, and will continue to do so with or without Sidewalk Labs,” the group writes on its website. “Economic development policy and how to manage its impacts on residents is for the city to decide, not Alphabet Inc.”

“The process they have followed to engage residents has lacked transparency and accountability,” the group’s website goes on to say. “It’s time to stop the project, assess the lessons learned, address the policy issues, and then consider a fresh start for the deal.”

Two months ago, the Toronto Star discovered that the Alphabet company was looking to redevelop 350 acres in the Port Lands area, nearly 30 times larger than its original 12-acre Quayside proposal. Other parts of this proposal included underground infrastructure, an LRT, and is also looking for a share of the property taxes, development fees, and increased value of the land in order to finance this concept.

Earlier this month, Doctoroff appeared before the federal government’s Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, defending the organization’s plans to develop the Quayside project. There, he emphasized the fact that while Sidewalk Labs has faced extensive criticism since winning the request-for-proposal by Waterfront Toronto, it is doing all its planning in the public eye, with public consultation.

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle is a Vancouver-based writer with 5+ years of experience in communications and journalism and a lifelong passion for telling stories. For over two years, she has reported on all sides of the Canadian startup ecosystem, from landmark venture deals to public policy, telling the stories of the founders putting Canadian tech on the map.

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