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October 25, 2019

An Open Letter to Waterfront Toronto’s Board of Directors Re: Indigenous Consultation and
Sidewalk Labs MIDP Proposals for Toronto’s Waterfront

Dear Members of the Waterfront Toronto Board of Directors,

On November 16, 2018 Sidewalk Labs hosted a one-day Indigenous Consultation workshop that
brought together a focus group of Indigenous People from the sectors of architecture, urban design,
art and education to review Sidewalk Labs’ preliminary concepts for the Quayside lands and to provide
recommendations to address some of the needs of the Indigenous community that could be
incorporated into the Sidewalk Labs plan for the Quayside Project. The workshop was organized by the
Indigenous Design Studio/Brook McIlroy with Dr. Duke Redbird as the Elder in attendance.

The workshop resulted in a report entitled ‘Sidewalk Labs Indigenous Design Consultation’ dated
December 12, 2018 which identified 14 core recommendations as well as Indigenous Design Principles
to guide Sidewalk Labs work in preparing their proposal to Waterfront Toronto (see Appendix).

Sidewalks Labs released its MIDP in May 2019. None of the recommendations that resulted from this
Indigenous consultation process have been acknowledged or carried forward in any substantial
manner in the Sidewalk Labs’ proposals.

Despite Sidewalk Labs’ apparent dismissal of the Indigenous input it asked for, the MIDP is littered with
references to Indigenous consultation; to ‘working together’; an ‘inclusive’ process; and to the
Indigenous organizers of the workshop. This resulted in a grossly misleading implication of
endorsement by the Indigenous community of Toronto.

Ironically, the first page of the 1,524 page MIDP contains a Land Acknowledgment which includes the
statement: “We are mindful of a history of broken treaties, and of the urgent need to work continuously
towards reconciliation...” 1 Indigenous Peoples are accustomed to tokenism when it comes to
consultation – ‘check the box’ gestures – that are labelled as inclusive because a meeting was held, but
the scope of Sidewalk Labs’ insincerity reflected in its MIDP and media campaign is truly shocking. It
should be emphasized that the Indigenous community did not ask to be included in the consultation
process but were rather invited assuming that a valuable contribution could be made. It appears that
instead the process was used to manufacture a politically correct endorsement.

Corroboration of the dearth of Indigenous inclusion in the MIDP can be found in Waterfront Toronto’s
68-page synthesis of the Sidewalk Labs proposal: Waterfront Toronto’s Guide to Reading the draft
Master Innovation and Development Plan proposal submitted by Sidewalk Labs, wherein the word
‘Indigenous’ appears once2.

MIDP Overview, Page v,
Waterfront Toronto’s Guide to Reading the draft Master Innovation and Development Plan proposal submitted by Sidewalk
Labs, Page 21

On October 16th, 2019 a second gathering was convened to review the MIDP attended by members of
the November 2018 Indigenous workshop as well as other Indigenous community members. This 3-1/2
hour session was convened by the Indigenous Design Studio/ Brook McIlroy and was not sponsored by
Sidewalk Labs.

The following additional concerns were discussed:

• This so-called Indigenous consultation process, cursory and non-inclusive of the 70,000 plus
Indigenous residents of Toronto, reinforces a pattern of tokenism and insincere engagement of
Indigenous Peoples in the planning process;
• Sidewalk Labs stated commitment to reconciliation is hollow and tokenistic;
• The MIDP’s overview of the history of the waterfront commences 100 years ago – ignoring
15,000 years of Indigenous presence and settlement on these lands and waters;
• While none of the Indigenous consultation recommendations have been carried in Sidewalk
Labs’ proposal numerous references are made to Indigenous consultation and inclusion. This
reveals a practice of manipulation which is unacceptable but foretelling of the type of
relationship Torontonians can expect if Sidewalk Labs becomes Waterfront Toronto’s partner;
• Sidewalk Lab’s proposal to increase the scope of the project from the Quayside site at 12 acres
to 190 acres – co-opting both sides of the publicly funded $1.2 billion Mouth of the Don project
is absurd – especially considering Sidewalk Labs is a U.S company with no experience in urban
development or construction;
• The project appears to be motivated by the inappropriate use of surveillance data and avoids
critical policies in the Canadian public interest pertaining to data collection, data ownership,
data governance, and intellectual property rights;
• The MIDP itself at 1,524 pages is a marketing document. It is not a plan with clear
commitments. It is obtuse, repetitive, full of distractions, far too long and seems purposely
designed to discourage public review and input;
• While mass timber buildings are appreciated and are being built throughout Toronto, the
depiction of wood buildings in the MIDP is misleading and unrealistic: exposed timber on
building exteriors deteriorates rapidly and weathers poorly in our climate, we fear this is one of
many ‘bait and switch’ tactics.
• There is potential that Sidewalk Labs’ $80 million investment in a mass timber plant and its
‘patient capital’ will undermine the emerging Ontario mass timber industry which is providing
employment to Indigenous Peoples.
• Sidewalk Labs aggressive lobbying campaign of government officials and the business sector is
• Waterfront Toronto should seriously consider the implications of this U.S based entity which is
the third largest company in the world wielding enormous financial power and influence over
the city building and city governance sectors in Toronto.

Waterfront Toronto, as the entity responsible for the protection of Toronto’s waterfront lands and its
equitable disposition in the public interest, must reevaluate its relationship with Sidewalk Labs. We are
deeply concerned by the manipulation of the public consultation process and the blatant insincerity in
the claim to be inclusive of Indigenous perspectives.

This disappointing experience underscores the need for Waterfront Toronto to finally establish a
formalized and meaningful partnership with Indigenous Peoples who have been stewards of these
lands and waters for 15,000 years.

The exclusion of Indigenous Peoples in waterfront planning and development cannot continue.
Waterfront Toronto must embrace the reality that these are Treaty lands, that all Canadians are Treaty
People and that the spirit of shared stewardship of Toronto’s land and waters is critical to the
waterfront’s future.


Dr. Duke Redbird

Calvin Brook

For further information, please contact:

Jocelyn Squires, Director of Marketing at Brook McIlroy
(416) 504-5997 x240


Recommendations from the document: ‘Sidewalk Labs Indigenous Design Consultation –

December 12, 2018’ vis MIDP Indigenous proposals

1. Support the creation of an Indigenous school/Indigenous education programs at Quayside’s

proposed school site on the waterfront as an Indigenous pilot project for the city for land-
based learning and Indigenous language teaching, accessible to Indigenous Peoples living in
2. Include outdoor education spaces, pilot land-based learning for an Indigenous curriculum,
Indigenous educators as a focus of open space programming;
3. Ensure that there is dedicated, affordable housing (live/work) for urban Indigenous People;
4. Sidewalk Labs to review the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) 94 Calls
To Action and demonstrate how the actions can be meaningfully addressed within the
5. Create a long-term governance and stewardship plan that embeds Indigenous community
involvement through all phases;
6. Work with Waterfront Toronto to establish a holistic Indigenous policy framework;
7. Design a park and open space management system that positions Indigenous people with
land-based knowledge to apply their sustainable design knowledge to land/water
8. Integrate requirements for Indigenous content in RFP’s and vendor contracts across all
sectors of employment;
9. Expand partnerships with local Indigenous organizations/ stakeholders;
10. Establish a core group of local Indigenous knowledge holders to review guiding design
principles and implementation;
11. Support Indigenous authorship/engagement on design elements;
12. Commit to having Indigenous authorship on public art, landscape and project design
elements that are meant to reflect Indigenous culture;
13. Incorporate in the project design recognition that this is Treaty land;
14. Embody Indigenous history and presence in gathering places across the site.

The specific proposals in the MIDP that reference Indigenous Peoples are as follows:

a. Outdoor, temporary, winter installations that ‘could be’ designed by Indigenous artists at Silo
b. 10 percent of construction hours for low-income and racialized youths, women, and Indigenous

MIDP Volume 1 page 153
MIDP Overview, Page 171

c. 55 percent affordable housing units with priority to people with disabilities, families, veterans,
youth, seniors, newcomers and Indigenous residents.

The relegation of Indigenous representation solely to a single temporary, winter, cultural

installation is blatantly tokenistic.

The proposals for affordable housing and construction hours are meaningless given their
aggregation of Indigenous Peoples within a long list of disadvantaged sectors.

While the MIDP claims 40% of housing is below market, analysis by others concludes that only 5% of units would actually
be affordable.