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Canadian Civil Liberties Association files lawsuit over Quayside project

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  • TORONTO — The Canadian Civil Liberties Association launched a lawsuit Tuesday against all three levels of government involved in a bid to bring a high-tech neighbourhood to Toronto’s downtown core.

    Federal, provincial and municipal governments are all named in the notice of application filed by the civil rights and freedoms group, which has been threatening since March to launch legal action over the yet-to-be-approved Quayside project.

    The suit also names Waterfront Toronto, a local organization that’s partnered with Google sibling company Sidewalk Labs to develop five hectares of waterfront land into a “smart city” with high-tech sensors built into nearly every aspect of its infrastructure.

    A notice of application announcing the suit alleged the project is replete with potential privacy breaches that violate Canadians’ constitutional rights.

    The association called for a complete “reset” of the partnership with Sidewalk Labs. 

    “Before developing or implementing the Quayside project, the respondent governments have the duty to develop a digital data governance policy to address the capture, collection, control, management, ownership, risks, exploitation and residency of the data collected,” the notice of application reads. “Instead, the respondent governments have abdicated their duty…have violated or will violate Canadians’ personal and collective privacy rights.”

    The provincial and federal governments named in the suit did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the legal action, which also names private citizen Lester Brown as a complainant alongside the association.

    A spokesman for Toronto Mayor John Tory said Sidewalk’s final proposal for Quayside will go through “full public scrutiny” for a variety of issues, including those raised in the lawsuit.

    Waterfront Toronto said in a statement that since it has not yet received Sidewalk Labs’ master plan for Quayside, it cannot assess the claims in the association’s suit.

    Word of the suit comes weeks after the association sent letters to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and the Toronto mayor warning it was considering legal action over the Sidewalk collaboration.

    The Quayside project, which still needs further approvals from all three levels of government, involves bringing affordable housing, heated sidewalks, so-called raincoats for buildings and autonomous vehicle infrastructure to the city’s waterfront.

    It has been mired in controversies over data and privacy concerns due to the vast amounts of information it could collect through phones, sensors and other devices imbedded in the neighbourhood’s infrastructure.

    The suit seeks to nullify Sidewalk Labs’ partnership agreement with Waterfront Toronto, alleging the local development organization does not have the authority to create a digital governance policy for the Quayside project.

    The suit also makes numerous arguments centred on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, alleging that the collection of personal data infringes on a host of civil liberties.

    “The data capture will be or will likely be carried out without the meaningful informed consent of its target individuals and for inappropriate purposes,” the notice reads.

    It also claims that the “non-consensual surrender by the state to Sidewalk Labs and/or others of private data” will discourage, limit or even make it impossible for individuals to assemble and associate freely and anonymously to pursue legitimate social goals, personal and public activities and civic engagements.

    “This curtails or negates critical freedoms in a democracy where collective behaviour plays an important political and social role,” it reads.

    Although Sidewalk Labs was not named in the suit, its chief executive officer said the association was being too hasty with its legal action since the project remains in the proposal stage.

    “I think what surprised me a little bit was that nobody was sort of prepared to give us the benefit of the doubt,” Dan Doctoroff said in a speech Tuesday at the Canadian Club in Toronto.

    Doctoroff said Sidewalk has promised not to use any data for commercial or advertising purposes, adding that an unspecified independent regime will be responsible for managing the data. He said that while he doesn’t know the details of the lawsuit, Sidewalk takes issues around privacy and surveillance seriously.

    The CCLA is not the first to raise issues with the project.

    In late February, about 30 concerned citizens, including longtime Quayside critics Bianca Wylie and Saadia Muzaffar, formed an organization called Block Sidewalk, calling for the end of the project.

    After it was revealed in February that Sidewalk was hoping to collect a cut of the city’s property taxes and development fees in exchange for funding a light rail transit line, some city councillors also expressed reservations about the project.

     

    Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press

    Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier story said Waterfront Toronto was partnering with Google on the Quayside project.


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    Ceremonies, vigils planned in Toronto to honour victims of deadly van attack

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  • TORONTO — Ceremonies and vigils are planned today to honour those killed or injured in last year’s deadly van attack in north Toronto.

    The City of Toronto is holding an event at the Mel Lastman Square Amphitheatre at 1:30 p.m. to coincide with the time of the April 23, 2018 incident that left 10 dead and 16 injured.

    In the hours before the ceremony, the city is expected to install temporary signs in the area to commemorate what it has dubbed the “Yonge Street Tragedy” until permanent memorials are created.

    The city says consultations on the memorials will begin this spring.

    Events are also planned elsewhere in the neighbourhood where the attack took place.

    The Willowdale community is hosting a moment of silence, an evening vigil and a free dinner, among other events.

    It is also bringing in trauma counsellors and therapy dogs for those who need support.

    The city was gripped with grief in the wake of the attack and more than $4 million was raised in support of the victims and their families.

    Alek Minassian, 26, is charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder.

    He is set to face trial next February. 

    The Canadian Press


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    New commemorative loonie marking ‘progress’ for LGBTQ2 people to be unveiled today

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  • TORONTO — The Royal Canadian Mint is unveiling a new commemorative loonie today meant to mark what it calls a key milestone for lesbian, gay, transgender, queer and two-spirited people in the country.

    The agency says the new one-dollar coin pays tribute to Parliament’s passing of legislation that “initiated the decriminalization of homosexuality in Canada.”

    It says the coin, which will be presented in Toronto today, celebrates “50 years of progress for LGBTQ2 Canadians.”

    But historians and advocates are raising concerns about the message behind the new loonie, saying it mistakenly suggests equality has been achieved and largely as a result of the federal government’s actions.

    A group of activists and academics is holding a news conference near the mint’s event today to challenge myths surrounding the 1969 Criminal Code reform.

    York University historian Tom Hooper, who is part of the group, says LGTBTQ people faced continued criminalization over the decades that followed the legal changes.

    He said discrimination against LGBTQ people persists today, noting as examples that trans and queer people of colour still face issues with policing and people with HIV remain subject to criminalization.

    The mint “could have consulted people who have knowledge of this history but they didn’t,” Hooper said, adding he hopes the agency will do so in the future.

    He acknowledged no campaign can compete with roughly three million coins but said the project is at least fuelling a public conversation about LGBTQ history.

    “As a historian, I’m hoping to inform as many people as I can about our history. So in some ways the coin is opening up that opportunity,” he said.

    The mint has said it is largely informed by the Department of Canadian Heritage and its “anniversaries of significance” when it comes to selecting commemorative themes for coins.

    The Canadian Press


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