Media

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, June 24, 2019

Release of MIDP “draft” a new chapter in Sidewalk Labs’ quest to take over Toronto’s waterfront

Plan designed to drown the public in detail, while deflecting attention from a corrupt process, says #BlockSidewalk

TORONTO, ON – Today, Sidewalk Labs’ long-overdue Master Innovation and Development Plan (MIDP) is being released to the public as yet another “draft”, adding another 1,500 pages to what has been the least transparent chapter of waterfront planning in the City of Toronto's history. 

For #BlockSidewalk, the story today should be about Sidewalk Labs, aka Google's efforts at an aggressive corporate takeover of public land, public process, public services and public funds through a multi-million-dollar campaign of manipulation and obfuscation.  This project was never about a small 12-acre site on Toronto's waterfront, and the plan Sidewalk Labs has presented us with is proof of that.  This is about Google trying to get access to hundreds of acres of Toronto's prime waterfront public land.  This is as much about privatization and corporate control as it is about privacy 

The release of Sidewalk Labs’ MIDP comes less than a week after the federal New Democrats became the latest organization to warn the Government of Canada, Ontario and Toronto to take great care before making any long-term commitments on their citizens’ behalf.

Torontonians, Waterfront Toronto, Toronto City Council, and the Government of Ontario need to stand up for our city and say no to this takeover.  Because if we don't say no now, there will be no way for any of us to opt out later.  

The review of the MIDP will shift focus away from the critically serious governance issues at the heart of this project and its evaluation.  Sidewalk Labs is planning to capitalize on this distraction and fuel it even further with an intensive public-relations blitz.  And to that we have only one comment: If the plan was actually good for Toronto, there would be no need for a massive PR and lobbying campaign.

Unfortunately, Sidewalk Labs has succeeded in pressuring Waterfront Toronto to consider this plan as a "draft," even though they'd already bought months and months of extra time by saying they needed it to "get it right."  They used that time to lobby politicians and cut side deals, and now they're doing it again.  Waterfront Toronto needs to tell Sidewalk Labs that they have had more than enough time to "get it right" and that this will be considered the final version of the plan.

#Blocksidewalk will hold a public event to discuss Google’s MIDP with the community on July 3rd, 6:30-8:30pm, at the Ralph Thornton Community Centre, located at 765 Queen Street East.  Everyone is welcome.

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For more information, contact: Thorben Wieditz at 647-409-8997 or thorben@metstrat.ca

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, June 4, 2019

#BlockSidewalk asks Waterfront Toronto board to not delay and say no to any future business deals with Sidewalk Labs, aka Google; delivers letter on behalf of over 1,000 campaign supporters

TORONTO, ON – Today, the #BlockSidewalk campaign delivered a letter to the Waterfront Toronto board.  With the backing of over 1,000 campaign supporters, the letter asks the tri-government agency to say no to any future business with Sidewalk Labs beyond the receipt of their long delayed Master Innovation and Development Plan. 

#BlockSidewalk’s initiative comes on the heels of the International Grand Committee on Big Data, Privacy and Democracy meeting held in Ottawa last week, where legislators from all three of Canada’s major parties expressed concerns that companies like Google have become more powerful than governments.

Shoshana Zuboff, author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, testified that “the war between surveillance capitalism and democracy is being waged in Canada, specifically in the City of Toronto…where surveillance capitalism wants to prove that it can substitute computational rule for the messiness and beauty of municipal governance and democratic contest.”  Others, such as venture capitalist and early Facebook investor Roger McNamee testified that he “would not let Google within one hundred miles of Toronto.” Then days ago, the Wall Street Journal reported that the US Justice Department is rumoured to be starting an anti-trust investigation into Google. 

#BlockSidewalk members have long asked for a reset of this project. As Bianca Wylie says: "Falling into the trap of assessing Sidewalk Labs' plan is an error.  The structure of the deal is fatally flawed. In proper governance in a democracy you set the rules first, then procure second.  You don't make policy with a vendor.  Waterfront Toronto brought this idea into our home and Waterfront Toronto should be the ones to take it out - they can stop this from going any further once they receive the plan.  Why should the City now be forced to claw its way out of a fatally flawed deal?  The City and its residents have wasted enough time on this already."

“As governments around the world struggle to comprehend the challenges to democracy that unregulated big technology companies pose, Waterfront Toronto has the power to lead right now, to show confidence in a different and more democratic future for local government” says #BlockSidewalk organizer Milan Gokhale.  "Waterfront Toronto plays a role of global significance.  It can stop Google’s “smart city” testbed in Toronto and prevent this project from spreading into other parts of the world.”

#BlockSidewalk’s next stop will be the City of Toronto’s Executive Committee meeting held in North York on June 6, where City Staff will deliver an update on the project.  

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For more information, contact:

Thorben Wieditz at 647-409-8997 or thorben@metstrat.ca

 

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MEDIA ADVISORY
Monday, April 16, 2019

#BlockSidewalk Holds 1st Campaign Meeting

Please be advised that #BlockSidewalk, the campaign launched to ensure any future waterfront development will be created with the public interest as the number one priority, will hold its first campaign meeting at the Ralph Thornton Community Centre.

Location: Ralph Thornton Community Centre, 765 Queen St. E, 2nd floor

Date: Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Time: 6:30 – 8:30 PM

Agenda and Speakers:

6:30                 Welcome, Background, and Agenda Review

                        Melissa Goldstein & Bianca Wylie, #BlockSidewalk

6:50                 Background on the Port Lands

                        Councillor Paula Fletcher, Ward 14 Toronto-Danforth

7:10                 Waterfront Toronto Quayside Process Update

                        Aaron Barter, Waterfront Toronto

                        Nicole Swerhun, Swerhun Facilitation

7:30                 #BlockSidewalk Campaign

                        #BlockSidewalk Organizers

  • Community concerns to date

  • Current actions

  • Next steps and how to join

7:50                 Q&A and Comments

                        Facilitated full-room session

8:20                 Next Steps and Sign-up Stations

8:30                 Adjourn

For more information, contact: Thorben Wieditz at 647-409-8997 or thorben@metstrat.ca

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, April 11, 2019

#BlockSidewalk encouraged about Waterfront Toronto’s announcement to release Sidewalk Labs’ Master Innovation and Development Plan within 7 days of receiving it

Turning it over to the public as fast as possible a step in the right direction

TORONTO – Today, Waterfront Toronto released a statement saying it will publicly release the Quayside proposal within seven days of receiving it from Google’s sister company Sidewalk Labs.

This is a change in their position. When this request was made of Waterfront Toronto in December 2018 at the last public meeting the answer was a definitive no.

Waterfront Toronto’s announcement comes on the heels of an organizing drive by #Blocksidewalk, the resident driven campaign to stop the company's overreach in Toronto’s Port Lands.

"We have been getting organized, hundreds of concerned Torontonians have joined our effort and signed a petition asking Waterfront Toronto to share Sidewalk Labs’ Master Innovation and Development Plan (MIPD) with the public immediately after receiving it," explained JJ Fueser.

“We are encouraged by this announcement,” says Ana Serrano of #BlockSidewalk. “It shows that Waterfront Toronto recognizes that the public has been waiting long enough and that we have a right to know exactly what Google's sister company has been working on behind closed doors for far too long already.”

#Blocksidewalk will hold its first public event on April 17th, 6:30-8:30pm, at the Ralph Thornton Community Centre, located at 765 Queen Street East. Everyone is welcome.

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For more information, contact: Thorben Wieditz at 647-409-8997 or thorben@metstrat.ca

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, April 2, 2019

#BlockSidewalk launches at Toronto City Hall, announces future plans

Toronto – Today, #BlockSidewalk, the campaign launched to shut down the Google-affiliated Sidewalk Labs project on Toronto’s waterfront, held its first press conference at City Hall. “Our waterfront must be developed for the benefit of the citizens of Toronto, not the shareholders of a Google-affiliate,” said Julie Beddoes, waterfront resident and #BlockSidewalk supporter.

Roger Keil, an urban governance scholar and the former Director of The City Institute at York University (CITY) agrees: “Let’s build cities from our civic needs up, not from the internet on down. Corporations tend to build dystopias, not communities.”

Organizers explained that the immediate goal of the campaign is to inform the public about what the project is, and why it should be reset. They also outlined the work the group is doing to imagine alternative futures, and how Waterfront Toronto can move on from this problematic smart city initiative that is ultimately undermining its own rich history of innovation and success.

“Many people in the City of Toronto don’t know what Sidewalk Toronto is. After 17 months of paying close attention to the deal, #BlockSidewalk knows this project should have ended a long time ago. And while we don’t have the $11 million USD communications budget that they have, we have resident and organizing capacity, and a lot of global support, to bring the public up to speed on what has happened so far and what’s at stake,” said Bianca Wylie, #BlockSidewalk organizer and chair.

Toronto’s resistance to this deal is internationally recognized as the knife’s edge of urban questions in the age of big tech.

"Toronto's #BlockSidewalk campaign marks the frontline of a historic contest between surveillance capitalism and democracy. The city has been and must remain the public space in which citizens learn and practice democracy as neighbours with shared and varied interests,” said Shoshana Zuboff, scholar, activist and Professor Emerita at Harvard Business School.

The campaign will hold its first public event on April 17th, 6:30-8:30pm, at the Ralph Thornton Community Centre, located at 765 Queen Street East. Everyone is welcome.

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For more information, contact:
Thorben Wieditz cell: 647-409-8997 thorben@metstrat.ca 

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday February 27, 2019

 “Sidewalk Labs will be sent packing, and Surveillance City will not be built in Toronto, says newly founded grassroots organization #BlockSidewalk"

Toronto – Yesterday, the Toronto Region Board of Trade (TRBOT) released a statement in support of Google sister company Sidewalk Labs. The Toronto Region Board of Trade represents the interests of its members. While business is definitely an important stakeholder in any city-building discussion, it is but one of many.

“This poll was commissioned before leaked information revealed the scope and scale of Google’s land grabbing attempt, which had clear impact on public sentiment” says Melissa Goldstein, a supporter of #BlockSidewalk and local Toronto resident.

#BlockSidewalk was founded in response to the news of the scope and scale of Sidewalk's plans as leaked to the Toronto Star. Its members believe in fair, democratic, inclusive, transparent and accountable city building processes.

In its press release, TRBOT also acknowledges months of bad press for Sidewalk Labs, which was mostly related to questions surrounding data and its future use.

"If people are going to say the public endorses "this", they need to ensure the public knows what "this" is! We need to shake this endless corporate marketing campaign off of our city; it's steamrolling actual discourse. We need to press the reset button on this process.” said Jennifer Evans, serial entrepreneur and member of the campaign.

Toronto is at a crossroads. “Our autonomy and local democracy is being undermined by the Ford government on the one hand, and corporate surveillance capital on the other,” says Mariana Valverde, Professor at the University of Toronto and a #BlockSidewalk supporter.

If the Google affiliate were allowed to develop a key piece of Toronto’s waterfront, the city could lose decision-making power and financial resources. “No one in their right mind would want to forego billions to Google's parent company in return for it to privatize our waterfront and record our every move. No one wants to live in a lab.” says James Turk, Director, Centre for Free Expression, Ryerson University and member of the campaign.

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For more information, contact:
https://www.blocksidewalk.ca/contact

 

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BLOCK SIDEWALK PRESS RELEASE
Monday, February 25, 2019

Concerned Torontonians Launch #BlockSidewalk Campaign

Toronto -- A group of concerned Torontonians have launched a public campaign to stop Sidewalk Labs from ploughing ahead with a controversial proposal for the development of a large plot of waterfront land in downtown Toronto. The campaign, called Block Sidewalk, is inviting residents to sign a petition at blocksidewalk.ca, after leaked documents revealed that Google’s sister company Sidewalk Labs has its sights set on the Port Lands, a plot of land roughly the size of downtown Toronto, and not just the much- discussed 12 acre Quayside lands. The public was not made adequately aware of the potential scope of the project and how it tied to Sidewalk Labs’ business model until the documents were leaked.

In addition, the documents revealed that Sidewalk Labs may seek to take a cut of property taxes and development fees in exchange for financing a range of infrastructure in the Port Lands district, even though their project is only made possible by a recent 1.2 billion dollar taxpayer funded investment in flood protection and environmental remediation. Block Sidewalk believes Sidewalk Labs has orchestrated a misleading, undemocratic engagement process that harms the public interest. The campaign comes in response to mounting public anger over the overwhelming lack of transparency and accountability with the project. At this point, 16 months into the process, the Toronto residents still have far more unaddressed questions than answers, even after having participated in all public roundtables and having persistently tried to get answers and clarity on what should be very basic facts about the project.

"We have had enough, we need to block Sidewalk," said Alejandra Ruiz-Vargas, a leader at ACORN Canada and supporter of the Block Sidewalk campaign. "The process has not been transparent, the people have not had a real say in the corporate-run consultation process. We are in the middle of a housing crisis and they say only a minuscule amount of real affordable housing would be built on this public land", she added. "The icing on the cake is they want to transfer property tax revenue over to their corporation. This undermines guaranteed public money the city depends on for public services. We need to block Sidewalk," Ruiz-Vargas said.

“How much do residents need to know in order to make an informed decision about a complex project like this?” said Nasma Ahmed, Director of the Digital Justice Lab, and a participant in the Block Sidewalk campaign. “Digital governance is something that cities are only now grappling with, and residents are being rushed to figure it out. How do we protect our digital rights? Allowing a private company to shape how this works is unacceptable and puts all Torontonians at risk,” said Ahmed.

Bianca Wylie, co-founder of Tech Reset Canada and a participant in the Block Sidewalk campaign, stresses that there are major governance problems with the project: “The Sidewalk Toronto project is setting a dangerous precedent for local government. What has happened over the last 15 months cannot be normalized. There is nothing okay about how we got to where we are. The responsible thing to do right now is stop the project,” Wylie said.

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For more information, contact:
https://www.blocksidewalk.ca/contact