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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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National

Trudeau to push trade pact in EU leaders’ summit as France moves ahead on CETA

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MONTREAL — Lawmakers in France begin their ratification of the comprehensive trade agreement between the European Union and Canada as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomes the leaders of the 28-country bloc to Montreal today.

Trudeau has been pushing hard for a win on trade and foreign policy after two difficult years marked by a rough renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement with the Trump administration and the deterioration of political and trade relations with China.

Trudeau will talk up the merits of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA, with European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in a series of events in Montreal over the next two days.

But Wednesday’s legal development when the French National Assembly begins its consideration of France’s ratification bill is also a prime focus for Canada’s Liberal prime minister, who will be fighting a federal election this fall.

Sources in France and Canada, who were not authorized to speak publicly about the talks, say Trudeau lobbied French President Emmanuel Macron for more than a year to introduce the bill, and that those efforts finally paid off last month in Paris during their most recent face-to-face meeting.

Almost all of CETA — in excess of 90 per cent — went into force in September 2017 under what is known as provisional application, but individual ratifications by EU member countries will bring it fully into effect.

That would mean a win for the international trading order that has been under assault by U.S. President Donald Trump.

“It’s an essential step. We’re very pleased with our co-operation with the French government,” International Trade Minister Jim Carr said in an interview.

Carr will be meeting his EU counterpart Cecilia Malmstrom in Montreal. He said the French move towards ratification is a significant step in Canada’s broader goal of diversifying Canada’s export markets.

Trudeau was in Paris in early June after attending the 75th anniversary commemorations of D-Day in France and Britain, and he and Macron emerged with news that France would move forward with CETA’s ratification. The introduction of the bill in the National Assembly is a first step in a process that the French government hopes will lead to full ratification by the end of 2019.

Macron and Trudeau have talked about the agreement repeatedly — in Paris in April 2018, in a telephone conversation a year later, and other face-to-face meetings. Macron is a staunch Europhile and open supporter of CETA, but he has had to tread cautiously because of populist opposition to trade deals in France and across Europe.

Canada has lobbied French lawmakers, businesspeople and farmers, an effort that included more than two dozen visits to various regions of France by Isabelle Hudon, the Canadian ambassador.

Trudeau also made a direct appeal to French lawmakers in an April 2018 speech to the National Assembly, the first time a Canadian prime minister addressed that body.

“Let us ask ourselves this question: If France cannot ratify a free-trade agreement with Canada, what country can you imagine doing it with?” Trudeau asked.

CETA gives Canadian businesses preferred access to 500 million European consumers, and a $24 trillion market. In 2018, Canada’s exports to the EU increased by seven per cent to more than $44 billion.

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press


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National

Uncompetitive nomination races weaken parties and Canadian democracy, study warns

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OTTAWA — Nominations for federal elections are strikingly uncompetitive and opaque, according to a new study, which says that has profound consequences for Canadian democracy.

New research by the Toronto-based Samara Centre for Democracy shows only 17 per cent of more than 6,600 federal candidates from 2003 to 2015 faced competitive nomination races, while 2,700 candidates were directly appointed by parties.

“If you see the nomination as a moment in a chain of democratic moments” leading to the election of a member of Parliament, said Michael Morden, the director of research at Samara, “I think it’s notable that, in an overwhelming majority of cases, there’s no real decision being made by local people.”

Morden said through exit interviews with MPs Samara has found there is “broad, quiet understanding” in political circles of the deficiencies of the nomination process. 

But he said most Canadians have little access to or ability to scrutinize the “black box” of party nominations, despite the stake they have in how parties run their internal elections.

Political parties are private organizations, the Samara study says, but they’re also “public utilities” that have a profound effect on Canadian democracy.

And a lack of competition might signal a worrying disconnect with the Canadian public, the study suggests.

There are several reasons the study proposes for why races are so often uncompetitive. Snap elections account for some of it, while rules that benefit incumbents are also a factor. Then’s there’s the reality that many local party associations are just too disorganized or small to attract multiple candidates.

But the trend extends even to larger parties that are competitive across the country, Morden said.

“In our mind, that is still a stunning lack of competition,” he said.

Beyond the lack of competition, the study also found nominations rules also have significant effects on the diversity of nomination candidates and, consequently, the diversity of members elected to the House of Commons.

Morden noted parties occasionally justify appointing candidates on the basis of diversity, but this was not borne out in the data.

In particular, the study suggests appointed candidates were less likely to be from visible-minority or Indigenous backgrounds.

The issue of female representation in the nomination processes was even more stark.

In line with findings that women win elections at around the same rate as men, the study suggests female nomination candidates are just as likely to win internal races as men are.

But just 28 per cent of nomination contestants covered by the study were women.

“That shifts the focus right back to recruiting, to the general openness of the process, to the intangible factors that cause some people to find their way in and others to self-select out or to never have the option,” Morden said.

The study found that longer nomination races and races that didn’t require monetary investment were correlated with higher female participation.

Morden said parties essentially close themselves off from a majority of Canadians through rules that make it more difficult to participate in nomination processes: short races, monetary costs, lack of information and protections for incumbents.

The study recommends corresponding changes in party policies: standard opening and closing dates for races, the obligation to report the number of votes candidates receive, and holding contests even where there are incumbent MPs.

These changes are in the best interests of parties that want to stay internally strong and remain connected with the Canadian public, Morden argued.

The study also considers a potentially expanded role for Elections Canada in administering or regulating the races, something Morden acknowledges is not popular among the parties.

Parties can also be reticent to even provide information about their nomination processes, Morden said. For example, only the Green party provided information about how many candidates it screened out of its nominations in 2015.

“There’s just not a culture of openness,” Morden said. “The nomination process is still seen as a very internal one, rather than a vehicle for mass political engagement.”

The first step in a reform process is convincing Canadians to care, Morden said, because otherwise “you’re not going to convince parties to do much.

“It’s hard to regulate parties, because parties make the law.”

Christian Paas-Lang, The Canadian Press

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