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Waterfront Toronto panel member resigns over public trust

Waterfront Toronto is mandated to deliver a revitalised waterfront which includes a smart city development

Visualisation of how parts of Waterfront Toronto will look
Visualisation of how parts of Waterfront Toronto will look

Tech entrepreneur Saadia Muzaffar has resigned from the Digital Strategy Advisory Panel of Waterfront Toronto, describing its “apathy” and “utter lack of leadership regarding shaky public trust and social license” as “astounding”. She also cites concern around its partnership with Sidewalk Labs, a division of Google-owner Alphabet Inc.


In her resignation letter, which can be read on she also said that: “I have yet to see evidence that Waterfront Toronto shares the urgency and concern that has been raised in multiple fora”.


The Tech Girls Canada founder added that the most recent roundtable in August displayed “a blatant disregard for resident concerns about data and digital infrastructure”.


Major infrastructure project


Waterfront Toronto was created by the Governments of Canada and Ontario and the City of Toronto and is mandated to deliver a revitalised waterfront which includes a smart city development that aims to position Toronto at the forefront of global cities. It represents one of the largest infrastructure projects in North America and one of the largest waterfront redevelopment initiatives ever undertaken in the world.


A Canadian Press story on Global News and other websites reported that Muzaffar’s resignation from the panel follows that of Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System executive, John Ruffolo, and “comes as controversy surrounding the project from Sidewalk Labs, a division of Google-owner Alphabet Inc, continues to mount”.


The story goes on to report that concerns have reached the office of Toronto Mayor John Tory, which told the Canadian Press “that the mayor had met with former Alphabet Inc executive chairman Eric Schmidt and Sidewalks Labs founder Dan Doctoroff and discussed "the need for Google to give Toronto residents a better understanding of the details of its plans for urban innovation and their data privacy commitments as soon as is practical."


Waterfront Toronto has given the following response to Muzaffar’s resignation:


In April, 2018, Waterfront Toronto assembled Canada’s leading experts on digital technology, privacy and governance. Waterfront Toronto’s Digital Strategy Advisory Panel’s (DSAP) mandate is to help guide the Corporation on how best to incorporate data privacy, digital systems, and the safe and ethical use of new technologies in the next phase of waterfront revitalisation, most specifically at Quayside.


“We are committed to helping shape the future of data and digital policy in Canada, and I will be working with Waterfront Toronto and my fellow panel members to make sure that the DSAP can achieve what it set out to do, namely to provide expert advice on emerging issues related to privacy and data ownership” said interim chair Michael Geist. “The panel is in its early days and now is the time to get it right,” Geist added.


“We are unwavering in our commitment to serving the public interest and look forward to receiving the advice of the panel.” said Michael Nobrega, acting CEO of Waterfront Toronto. “We are also well supported by external privacy and legal experts including a former Federal Privacy Commissioner, and continue to welcome the comments and interest of a broad base of community members.”


The next meeting of the DSAP will be October 18, 2018.


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