Waterfront Toronto pushes back Sidewalk Labs deadline, responds to CCLA lawsuit


When BetaKit last checked in on the ongoing Sidewalk Labs’ Quayside project, the Alphabet company had released its Digital Innovation Appendix, laying out more details on its proposed innovations, shortly after Waterfront Toronto agreed to move forward with Sidewalk Labs on the development.

More recently, the deadline to decide whether or not to move ahead with Sidewalk Labs’ smart city development proposal has changed, and Waterfront Toronto is attempting to block a lawsuit filed in April. Here’s the latest on the smart city project.

Waterfront Toronto responds to CCLA lawsuit

This week, Waterfront Toronto, the agency overseeing the development of Sidewalk Labs, responded to the Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s (CCLA) lawsuit.

The CCLA has brought a suit against all three levels of government and Waterfront Toronto, all of which are overseeing the Quayside development. The CCL is seeking to abolish Sidewalk Labs’ partnership agreement with Waterfront Toronto. The suit, filed in April, also contends that Waterfront Toronto does not have the authority to create a digital governance policy for the Quayside project.

The Globe and Mail reports that in its response, Waterfront Toronto addressed the CCLA’s “charter challenge,” which argues that the Sidewalk Labs violates rights to privacy, liberty, and free association protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Waterfront Toronto’s legal team is asking the court to withdraw the charter challenge on the grounds that it is “speculative,” according to the Globe.

RELATED: Dan Doctoroff still believes Sidewalk Labs can build a smart city

The CCLA suit called the deal struck between Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk a “non-consensual surrender by the state,” adding it would dissuade or altogether block individuals from associating freely and anonymously. The suit also alleges that Waterfront Toronto does not have the authority to proceed with the development, a claim that is hotly contested by Waterfront Toronto.

“CCLA has never wavered in our resolve to stand up for the rights of people who would inevitably be subject to a range of data collection techniques and technologies in the testbed,” the CCLA wrote in a statement this month.

A spokesperson for Waterfront Toronto, Andrew Tumilty, told BetaKit the agency’s position is that it had “full authority” to enter into the Framework Agreement and Plan development Agreement.

“Given the current status of the project, the reviews being undertaken and the matters yet to be agreed if the Board of Waterfront Toronto elects to proceed with the project, we also believe that it is premature at this point in time for the courts to consider any detailed consideration of the project,” Tumilty said.

Sidewalk Labs pushes back project decision day

The deadline to decide whether to move ahead with Sidewalk Labs’ smart city development proposal has been pushed from March 31 until May 20.

“This board will not sacrifice the public good for expediency.”

Waterfront Toronto agreed to extend the date for a decision on moving forward with the Quayside project from March 31, until May 20. This extension is intended to allow the public “more time to offer input into Waterfront Toronto’s evaluation of Sidewalk Lab’s proposals for Quayside,” the agency said in a statement.

“This board will not sacrifice the public good for expediency,” Waterfront Toronto board chair Stephen Diamond said when the new date was announced.

In November, the board of Waterfront Toronto unanimously agreed that Sidewalk Labs’ plan to create a smart neighbourhood in Toronto’s Quayside district could advance to more formal evaluation and further public consultation. However, land usage, data oversight, and Sidewalk’s role as the lead developer were scaled back during that decision.

Sidewalk Labs’ proposal has been met with continual controversy since the project was proposed in 2016. Prominent former advisors, like Ann Cavoukian, have withdrawn from Sidewalk Labs and criticized the project over privacy and personal data concerns. Along with the CCLA, groups like Block Sidewalk, oppose Sidewalk Labs’ development over similar concerns regarding privacy.

UPDATE 02/03/2020: This story has been updated to include comments provided to BetaKit by Waterfront Toronto.

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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