Living in a city with no ambition

From this morning’s installment of newsletters in my mailbox, I read a short essay from 2008 called Cities and Ambition that brought up some uncomfortable emotions for me.

The premise of the essay is that a great city sends a message of ambition to its residents and this message matters greatly.

Now we could take up arms against this claim with scrutiny and evidence but instead I will ask you, dear reader, to instead, try this idea out. Let’s get into this premise, drive around in it, and see how far we can get.

Great cities attract ambitious people. You can sense it when you walk around one. In a hundred subtle ways, the city sends you a message: you could do more; you should try harder.

The surprising thing is how different these messages can be. New York tells you, above all: you should make more money. There are other messages too, of course. You should be hipper. You should be better looking. But the clearest message is that you should be richer.

What I like about Boston (or rather Cambridge) is that the message there is: you should be smarter. You really should get around to reading all those books you’ve been meaning to.

When you ask what message a city sends, you sometimes get surprising answers.

Cities and Ambition, Paul Graham, May 2008

Years ago, I heard Suzanne Vega telling an interviewer that whenever she finds herself in a new city, she asks herself, who would be the city, if the city was a person?

This is who Windsor is to me.

Windsor is a middle aged man who lives in the suburbs of South Windsor. He loves the Tigers and/or The Lions, college football, hockey, but stopped watching basketball when the Pistons fell from grace. Before these unprecedented times, his family would make regular shopping trips in Detroit. Well, not in Detroit proper. He only goes to downtown Detroit to watch professional sports and concerts. He thinks of Motown and Bob Seger as his music. He avoids walking and walking in downtown Windsor in particular. He has never taken his family to Uncle Tom’s Cabin but they go to the Kalahari Resort in Sandusky every winter. He can afford the fanciest golf courses in the area and that makes him feel chuffed. He loves the fact that Windsor has a long-standing history of supplying vice to Detroit: prohibition, casinos, strip clubs, but he doesn’t believe bringing retail cannabis to its neighbourhoods. He is boring.

Now before I continue, please do not reply with a ‘not all Windsor residents’ comment (otherwise known as “No Tall Men”). Yes, I know that you, dear reader, you are different. You are better than this. You have listened to Detroit techno. You go to the DIA to watch foreign films. You think we should invest in new industries in the area. You think the food scene of the region is grossly undervalued. You get really annoyed by people like me who are just so negative.

But I’m not talking about you. I’m talking about Windsor as a person. And let me tell you why I believe my characterization holds. Whenever I hear of a new initiative or project from our municipal government, I ask myself, Could this project happen in the 1950s? And if it is, then I know it will come to be. And if sounds even remotely progressive, it will fail or be kneecapped.

Every day, I read of another city that has recognized that it needs to open up its parks and its streets to its residents so they can enjoy the outside, safely. Every day, I read articles of cities that are adding miles and miles of bike lanes so that people can move freely without the ever-present gut-wrenching fear that a car will take their life or the life of a loved one.

I’m discouraged by our lack of ambition when it comes to building a better city. I’m discouraged that despite having natural habitats constitute the lowest percentage of any region in all of Ontario, we cannot seem to even maintain what little we have, much less talk about a future in which we restore and expand existing habitat. I’m discouraged when reports that suggest that Windsor could do much more to improve the quality of life of its women or that child poverty is a serious problem, the mayor and others respond by taking offense and questioning the numbers. I’m discouraged that our politicians constantly remind us of a fact is no longer true — “Windsor is the fourth most diverse city in Canada” — because this fact is not self-evident when you look at our police force or our civic leadership.

How much does it matter what message a city sends? Empirically, the answer seems to be: a lot. You might think that if you had enough strength of mind to do great things, you’d be able to transcend your environment. Where you live should make at most a couple percent difference. But if you look at the historical evidence, it seems to matter more than that. Most people who did great things were clumped together in a few places where that sort of thing was done at the time….

No matter how determined you are, it’s hard not to be influenced by the people around you. It’s not so much that you do whatever a city expects of you, but that you get discouraged when no one around you cares about the same things you do.

What do you think is the ambition of the city of Windsor?

The stories that I would like to see reported on in our community

Today is Day 8 of self-isolation for myself and my family.

More than ever, I rely on local journalism to keep me informed about what is happening in my community. Now, I recognize that journalism – like everything else – is under the strain of the presence of COVID19 (and I know it was in a fragile state to begin with) but still, I would like to share with you the stories that I would like to see reported on in our community.

Why is it apparently impossible for the government to ban “flushable wipes” that contribute to sewer backups because they create ‘fatbergs’ in the sewer systems?

The COVID-19 spike in demand for cleaning wipes are stressing sewer systems in Ottawa. How can we prevent soap blockages in Windsor’s sewers?

Is #TakeoutTuesday an appropriate gesture if we really want to support local businesses during this time of economic stress?

Is asking the entire city of Windsor to all order takeout on a single day really the best way to help local businesses? Or will it only add stress and possible exposure to employees that conflicts with current ‘avoid crowds’ messaging from public health officials?

To what extent are residents of Windsor-Essex engaging in self-isolation? I’m self-isolating, so I can’t tell.

But the story that I would most like journalists to press our officials on, is the matter of the Southwest Detention Centre.

Are local officials planning and acting aggressively enough to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 at the Southwest Detention Centre?

I’m not particularly well-versed with the inner workings of the local criminal justice system. However, I do follow local news somewhat closely and the stories about SWDC that I have read have given me pause:

The overcrowding at a facility opened in 2014 to alleviate serious overcrowding at the former Windsor Jail means that some cells designed to hold a maximum of two inmates now have to accommodate three. “I have (client) inmates who are sleeping on the floor,” said Carroccia. “I’ve heard lawyers say they couldn’t talk to clients because of lockdowns.”

Crowded Windsor jail causing headaches for lawyers, courts, inmates“, Doug Schmidt, Windsor Star, October 3, 2019

Joe Gratton, a 31-year-old Windsor man, died from one overdose Wednesday at the South West Detention Centre, and Blake Carter, 21, also of Windsor, remained in an intensive care unit with a police presence, the Windsor Star confirmed.

Windsor overdoses add to region’s drug toll behind bars, London Free Press, November 1, 2019

An inquest has been announced into the death of a 30-year-old woman in Windsor. Regional supervising coroner Dr. Rick Mann says an inquest will be held for Delilah Blair. She died in hospital on May 22, 2017, following transfer from the Southwest Detention Centre. An inquest is mandatory under the Coroners Act.

Inquest announced into death of woman at Southwest Detention Centre“, CTV Windsor, Friday, May 3, 2019

A former Ontario corrections officer is hoping to organize a panel discussion to talk about alleged harassment, racism and corruption that takes place in the corrections and law enforcement sector. Iosko Assenov resigned from his job in 2016 because of severe depression, which he attributes to working conditions at the South West Detention Centre in Windsor, Ont. where he said he was subjected to bullying and racial slurs.

Ex-corrections officer wants panel discussion on racism and harassment in sector“, CBC News, May 24, 2019

And then there’s this:

The Ministry of the Solicitor General has confirmed that a person performing maintenance work at the South West Detention Centre has tested positive for COVID-19. A spokesperson for the Ministry said the person “was not directly involved with the care or custody of inmates.”

South West Detention Centre maintenance worker tests positive for COVID-19″, CBC News · Posted: Mar 20, 2020

I don’t think it’s generally understood that the majority of those being held in detention centres (“jail”) have not yet faced trial. “Approximately 74 per cent of detained inmates are awaiting trial at detention centres across Ontario, while approximately 80 per cent of inmates detained at the SWDC are awaiting trial. ” ***

We – collectively – have not adequately prepared for this moment as well as we should have. We now know that we have to do more than hope for the best. We need to ensure that everyone is preparing for the worst. Journalists who ask difficult questions of leaders remain a important force of local accountability. I wish them well.

***Quick aside: at the 34 minute mark of the Wag The Doug podcast about the 2019 Annual Report from the Ontario’s Auditor General: #15 Dirty Money, Expired Eggs: The Auditor General’s Annual Shaming you can hear how broken the administration of the Ontario justice system really is.

No Ring Please

In September of last year, not long after I had shared my concerns that new police cameras could be used with facial recognition software, mayor Drew Dilkens told AM800 that he was in talks with Amazon to make Windsor the first city in Canada to have their police department connect to their Neighbors App which allows residents to readily share footage of their Ring security camera, without a warrant.

This rang alarm bells.

The mayor is the chair of the Windsor Police Services Board. It is unclear whether Dilkens is pursuing the partnership in this capacity or through his role as mayor. It is unclear whether an RFP would be necessary before such a partnership could be established. No one I have spoken to can tell me whether the matter would come to city council where residents like myself would have an opportunity to share their displeasure with the prospect of a partnership with one of the largest companies in the world.

My neighbour across the street has a Ring doorbell. He was an early adopter and years ago he encouraged me to buy one until he realized that my house doesn’t even have a doorbell. He is a good neighbour and he looks out for the people on our street. Last year – or whenever the first year when alcohol was permitted to be sold at Art in the Park – he was sitting on his front porch and saw a man who had, in broad daylight, decided he would relieve himself of piss on the tree in the front of my yard. My neighbour yelled at him until the drunk man’s friend pulled him aside and moved him up the street.

And that, my friends, is in a nutshell why I don’t believe the Ring doorbell is not the response that will lead to a safer Windsor. What is important is that we have neighbours who we know and look out for each other. Sending video footage of this pathetic man after the fact would not change the fact that he had exposed himself and peed on my tree. To send the footage as evidence to the Windsor Police Service would only add a burden to their workload as this is a crime that is clearly not worth pursuing.

Many people act on the impulse to share every transgression of what we think as normal and to share it online on Facebook. I belong to two neighbourhood Facebook groups and sadly, when people are not sharing pictures of the three wild turkeys that once roamed our hood, they are sharing footage of people engaging in suspicious or criminal behaviour. One person recently shared footage of a woman who was walking down the sidewalk at 4am until she stopped to walk up the steps of this person’s porch to see if there was a leftover cigarette in an ashtray. Seeing none, the woman stepped off the porch and moved on. The person who shared this footage was furious. A couple of years ago, a man wrote to warn people of a suspicious man who was taking pictures of people’s houses. A couple hours later, Andrew Foot of International Metropolis and author of Windsor Modern replied to say that the suspicious man in question was him taking photos of architecture that caught his eye.

My neighbors — on each side of my house and across the street — all use Amazon’s Ring doorbell. This sometimes raises opportunities to measure my commitment to privacy. For several nights in a row this past summer, some kids (I assume) were egging cars on our block. Eventually it was my “turn,” and I woke up to my neighbor knocking on my door to inform me that my car had been egged. He said he had footage from the incident captured by his Ring, and that, if I wanted, he could send it to the police. I thanked him, but politely declined the offer. I live in Dearborn, Michigan, which has the largest population of Muslims in the United States, and I am certainly not going to involve the police when there’s a strong possibility that it might endanger a Muslim kid over a problem that can be solved with white vinegar. Surveillance often encourages “solutions” that far outstrip the level of the infraction. Without a camera, it’s unlikely that someone would bother to call the police for a car egging, but the existence of footage — the fact that people have potentially actionable evidence they feel compelled to use — turns a minor instance of vandalism into a situation involving law enforcement.

Chris Gilliard, Caught in the Spotlight, Jan 09 2020

The above story was shared by Dr. Chris Gilliard of Detroit whose scholarship “concentrates on digital privacy, and the intersections of race, class, and technology.” Chris was our guest speaker for an event I helped organize with three fellow University of Windsor colleagues: Natalie Delia Deckard (Department of Sociology, Anthropology & Criminology), Bonnie Stewart (Faculty of Education) and Kristen Thomasen (Law). The evening of talks was entitled “Safer Communities in a ‘Smart Tech’ World” and it was on January 22nd, 2020 at The Performance Hall at the University of Windsor’s School of Creative Arts Windsor Armories Building. Bonnie Stewart was our host who introduced the topic to our audience. Kristen spoke to some of the legal context and I spoke about concerns using a network technology lens. Chris spoke directly to the issues at hand and then we had a great question and answer period with the audience.

Around the event we were in the media locally and nationally in hopes that we could start a larger conversation in Windsor to address our concerns. And we weren’t the only talking about this issue. On the February 14 2020 Friday Roundtable on the Dan Mac Donald Show, all three guests – city councillor Rino Bortolin, CEO of WeTech Alliance – Yvonne Pilon, & journalist and marketing specialist Jon Liedtke all raised problems with the potential partnership.

If you would like to raise concerns with this potential partnership with Amazon, I would recommend that you do so via the upcoming community consultation dates with the Windsor Police Service who are preparing to update their 3 year Business Plan as required by provincial law.

The Business Plan, is a Board oversight instrument that provides the Chief of Police with direction regarding priorities and objectives for the Service. It also provides a fiscal projection for the Board and Council beyond the current operating budget.

The Chief is responsible for the implementation of the business plan. In order to provide maximum flexibility and to encourage initiatives, the Chief is free to determine the best means to achieve the plan objectives.

Windsor Police Service – Business Plans

The consultation dates are

  • Saturday, Feb. 29 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Libro Centre (3295 Meloche Rd.) in Amherstburg
  • Monday, March 2 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at MacKenzie Hall (3277 Sandwich St. W.) in Windsor
  • Thursday, March 5 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Const. John Atkinson Memorial Community Centre (4270 Alice St.) in Windsor
  • Monday, March 9 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the WFCU Centre (8787 McHugh St.) in Windsor
  • Wednesday, March 11 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Windsor Water World (400 Wyandotte St. E.)

Questions about the community consultation sessions are to be addressed to Inspector Tammy Fryer at tfryer@windsorpolice.ca, or by phone at 519-255-6700 ext. 4440.

You might want to ask Windsor Police Service why they cannot follow the example of Sarnia Police who offers a simple webform for residents who have video cameras to facilitate information gathering in case of an emergency or criminal activity that requires a formal investigation.

To my mind, the Sarnia approach is much less risky than partnering with a behemoth of a company who 1) already indefinitely retains information of who enters and leaves the homes of Ring owners as well as footage from their Ring cameras; 2) once planned “Watch Lists” built on facial recognition of Ring footage of those deemed suspicious, 3) currently shares Ring user information with a variety of third-party trackers (including Facebook), 4) restricts sharing between neighbours using its app to only matters of crime and safety, 5) once contemplated that all Ring cameras would automatically record footage in response to 911 calls and 6) has had unreported data breaches and repeated reported data leakages of personal information from their Ring system because the company refuses to add additional security features on their devices. Oh, the irony.

When Windsor Police Chief Pam Mizuno was interviewed for the podcast Straight Outta Windsor, she was asked, how do you measure success? Pam states that there are statistics such as the crime rate which help give indication of success but she also goes on to say that public trust in the Windsor Police Service is very important as well.

An important aside: there is no substantial evidence that Ring cameras reduce the crime rate.

In 2007, David Murakami Wood, currently Canada Research Chair in Surveillance Studies at Queen’s University, helped write a report on the spread of CCTV for Britain’s information commission. Murakami, then at Newcastle University, told the New York Times that, “the idea of CCTV as a deterrent for something like this is no longer accepted.”

CCTV cameras don’t deter crime, so why does Ottawa want them?, Canadian Lawyer, Michael Spratt, 19 Jul 2019

Not only do I believe that a partnership between Windsor Police Service and Amazon’s Ring Service would erode public trust in our police services, I am very afraid that it could greatly harm the trust that we have between neighbours. It would make me feel less safe.

Why have the floodplain maps of Essex Country not been updated since the 1970s?

Over the Winter Break, I found myself with delicious stretches of time in which I had nothing that I had to do. I played board games with my family. I read books. I also carved out a little bit of time to do some civic engagement. From the Detroit River Cleanup The Current newsletter, I learned that…

The City of Windsor released their  2019 Draft Climate Change Adaptation Plan and Climate Change Impacts in Windsor – A Technical Document. These items are tabled for public comment until January 20, 2020, and any comments can be sent to emp@citywindsor.ca.

This is not going to a blog post about this report. Instead, I want to focus on one specific matter it touches upon that I simply cannot understand:

With flooding remaining widespread across the local area, the Essex Region Conservation Authority has called on the need to update flood mapping throughout Windsor and Essex County.

New modelling and land surveys, potentially at a cost of between $8 million to $15 million, needs to be done to better understand challenges that lie ahead in future years for every local municipality impacted by flooding, said Tim Byrne, ERCA’s director of watershed management services.

Flood mapping would allow areas of concern to properly prepare — including setting municipal budget funds aside — so flooding as it occurs can be properly addressed, he said. It would provide blueprint support for municipal planning, road building, infrastructure construction and residential development.

The last time flood mapping was completed in this region was in the late 1970s, Byrne said.

ERCA extends flood watch, calls for updated data mapping across local region“, Dave Battagello, Windsor Star, July 16, 2019

I intended to write a review of the draft Climate Change Adaptation Plan, but shortly after I started, I remembered reading the Windsor Star article quoted above. I broke off my reading to search for the word map in the Climate Change Adaption Plan and found this:

According to this document, The City of Windsor will encourage and support the completion of floodplain mapping of our region but the responsibility for this project appears to sit with the Essex Region Conservation Authority. So I went to check their budget to see if floodplain mapping would be addressed in ERCA’s budget, which was recently released.

When I reviewed ERCA’s budget, I immediately realized the problem at hand. To update our floodplain maps will take between $8 to $15 million dollars. ERCA’s total annual budget for 2020 is just over $10.5 million.

Last year, the Ford government cut their funding towards flood management.

Doug Ford’s government tabled its first budget last Thursday. The next day, the Ministry of Natural Resources informed conservation authorities about the new funding formula. For ERCA, the change represents the loss of $100,000 annually. In previous years, ERCA received $202,000 from the province for flood management and that amount is matched through municipal funding for a total flood management budget of $404,000.

Ford government slashes ERCA flood management funding“, The Windsor Star, Mary Caton, April 17 2019

The province only funds between two and three per cent of ERCA’s annual $7.8 million budget, but according to Wyma the Ontario government has regulatory control over conservation authorities.

Local municipalities fund about 30 per cent of the budget and the remainder is through federal grants, fees for service and individual sector support.

ERCA faces provincial funding uncertainty“, The Windsor Star, Jennifer La Grassa, September 16, 2019

Just short weeks ago, in November of this year, the City of Windsor proclaimed that we are experiencing a climate emergency. Essex County did the same and then, so did Amherstburg Town Council. I hope these declarations suggest that the City of Windsor, along with the other municipalities of Essex County, are ready and prepared to significantly invest in ERCA so we collectively can better understand, cope with, adapt to, and mitigate the effects of increased flooding in our region.

Otherwise we are going to keep running into scenarios like this one:

Restoration efforts on Peche Island trails that became submerged by a rising Detroit River will keep visitors’ feet dry for now, but rising lake levels could flood the paths again.

In an effort to combat the waterlogged walkways, which forced the City of Windsor to delay municipal boat tours to the island by two weeks, city workers have elevated affected trails with gravel by about seven inches (18 cm), said Trese MacNeil, the city’s co-ordinator of community sports services, recreation and culture. Workers also slightly rerouted some trails to keep them dry with “as little impact to the natural environment as possible,” she said.

The trails are now safe to welcome the first shuttle riders of the season on Wednesday, MacNeil said, but there’s “no way of knowing” if water levels forecasted to rise will flood the fixed paths.

City restores flooded Peche Island trails in advance of boat tours“, The Windsor Star, Taylor Campbell, July 2, 2019

No way of knowing if water levels will flood the fixed paths? I have a hard time believing that. There are GIS (Geographic Information Systems) that do this exact type of modelling. But these systems can only model information that has been captured and prepared. Or in other words, mapped.

We need to update our out of date, 40+ year old floodplain maps.

Addendum: It appears that Lakeshore has started contracting this work. They have “budgeted $40,000 to have Stantec Consulting Ltd. and Zuzek Inc. analyze and map municipal shorelines.” Work that that haven’t been done since 1976.

With new cameras, are we enabling facial recognition in the City of Windsor?

These are questions that activist Mariame Kaba regularly asks herself when she is outraged about injustice [ht]:

  •     What resources exist so I can better educate myself?
  •     Who’s already doing work around this injustice?
  •     Do I have the capacity to offer concrete support & help to them?
  •     How can I be constructive?

In this spirit, I’m going to dedicate one hour of today to look into the plan from the City of Windsor to use about $450,000 of that total to upgrade its camera technology from analog to digital, and look at installing new cameras across the city. I’m not so much outraged as concerned about surveillance cameras downtown. I’m worried that we are building an infrastructure that will support facial recognition in the city of Windsor.

What resources exist so I can better educate myself?

Mayor Drew Dilkens tells CTV News he believes the benefits are two-fold. He notes many of the cameras will be linked to the police communication centre, and it will allow the dispatcher to assess the scene before calling in officers. “If they see that it’s an issue involving 20 people, well then that provides and warrants a different response than if it’s one or two people,” says Dilkens. Dilkens adds the cameras will also allow for better traffic management. He says the initial focus of the new cameras, if approved, would be in the downtown core.

Windsor looking to install more surveillance cameras, Windsor CTV News, Bob Bellacicco, CTV Windsor News Reporter, Published Friday, September 20, 2019.

According to the Windsor Star, “there are currently 13 municipally operated surveillance cameras in Windsor’s urban core. Another 20 cameras are to be added soon”. Those interviewed also say the cameras are there for deterrence.

The money is coming from a one-time funding from the Federal Government.

The federal Gas Tax Fund (GTF) is a permanent source of funding provided up front, twice-a-year, to provinces and territories, who in turn flow this funding to their municipalities to support local infrastructure priorities. Municipalities can pool, bank and borrow against this funding, providing significant financial flexibility.

The federal Gas Tax Fund delivers over $2 billion every year to 3600 communities across the country. In recent years the funding has supported approximately 4000 projects each year. Communities select how best to direct the funds with the flexibility to make strategic investments across the following 18 different project categories:

public transit
wastewater infrastructure
drinking water
solid waste management
community energy systems
local roads and bridges
capacity building
highways
local and regional airports
short-line rail
short-sea shipping
disaster mitigation
broadband and connectivity
brownfield redevelopment
culture
tourism
sport
recreation

According to CTV and the Windsor Star, the matter of funding will come to City Council today. From item 7.2 in the Agenda as a matter of information.

THAT City Council RECEIVE FOR INFORMATION the amended 2019 approved Capital Budget inclusive of changes stemming from the formal announcement of the Federal Gas Tax one-time top-up payment and the Disaster Mitigation Adaptation Fund (DMAF) grant announcement….

Security Cameras Downtown:
This funding would be for the installation of cameras, which would enhance security in the downtown area and as well, provide benefits relative to traffic management.

That’s about 25 words and not a lot of information to go on. I particularly want to know more about what going from analog to digital means from the reporting of this story. I seriously doubt the police were developing film for their photos previously. So what do they really mean about this transition?

Concerns

I believe that the City of Windsor could better spend a half-million dollars in our community than deploying cameras. I don’t see any evidence that suggests the addition of cameras will prevent the petty crimes by those addicted to opioids. Windsor Police already has a budget of $89 million and in 2018, budgeted for a 6% increase of funding. I think there are many other needs that the City of Windsor could apply the funding to that would result in a much greater return on investment for the city. For one, the Federal Gas Tax could go towards Transit Windsor which has already made it’s case that it requires significant re-investment.

But there are other matters of concern. How are these cameras going to be employed in the future? My big question is this: is this system of cameras going to enable facial recognition? Will we be informed if the police of Windsor start engaging in the practice? How can citizens with concerns in regards to surveillance be assured that fair practices are in place when other Ontario police boards don’t believe that they have to reveal their surveillance practices, “citing a provision of the law that allows an institution to withhold information that could “reveal investigative techniques and procedures currently in use or likely to be used in law enforcement.”

Who’s already doing work around this injustice?

From a cursory search on the Internet, it appears that matter of regulating technology used by police have been handled by the courts and lawyers:

“We have recognized for some time now that new technologies have the potential to eviscerate privacy rights. Government has abdicated its important role to police the police. Almost every new protection has been a result of the courts making rules. That is not an effective way to develop broad-based policy,” says Hasan. Relying on individuals who have had privacy rights infringed, especially those who were not targets of a criminal investigation, is unrealistic, he adds.

“The new surveillance state: Police can capture an astronomical amount of information through new technologies, and privacy lawyers say there is little oversight or accountability”. Canadian Lawyer, By Shannon Kari, 02 Oct 2017

Cities across the United States are currently investing in facial recognition systems, like in Detroit. Other cities, such as San Francisco, are banning the use of facial recognition. The tech is already being employed by police in Toronto and its use was recently debated in Montreal.

I’m now looking into the work of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. and their advocacy in banning the use of facial recognition software by cities.

A communal response to bike theft

According to Facebook, the group Stolen Bikes of Windsor publishes approximately 6 posts a day. Bike theft is rampant in Windsor. And yet these thefts don’t make the news unless the situation is particularly damning.

For this post, I’m not going to go into the factors that make bike thievery essentially a risk-free crime, but instead highlight a community response to the problem from Bike Windsor Essex.

Windsor Police recommends registering your bike with their service although there have concerns have been raised in the past that the registry is not being employed by the Police as it should. If you belong to the University of Windsor, Campus Police employs a similar registry service.

I am going to recommend a third service to register your bike with: Project 529 Garage which bills itself as “the world’s largest community-powered bike recovery service.” And advocates say that the program works:

Yes! 529 Garage has already been rolled out in many cities and has a proven track record. Rates of bike theft are substantially reduced, and the likelihood that a stolen bike comes home increases dramatically. In Vancouver, bike thefts dropped by 30% in just 2 years. On Granville Island, when combined with other theft-deterrent measures, bike theft dropped by 70%. Over 2 years, Whistler has seen a 57% drop in rates of bike theft. Bikes are now routinely returned to owners in all cities that have an active 529 Garage system in place.

“529 Garage: End Bike Theft” Bike Ottawa

It’s free to register your bike for free using the 529 Garage App or website. But with the purchase of a Project 529 Shield (which comes free with membership with Bike Windsor Essex) there are additional services that you will be able to use.

One such feature allows you to release photos and a description of your bike once you report your bike stolen. Once you do so, nearby Project 529 users (who opt in for the service) will be alerted to be on the lookout for your stolen bike.

The Ottawa Police now use 529 Garage as their official Bike Registry Service. It would be great if Windsor’s Police considered doing the same.

Since living in Windsor, I have had three bikes stolen. Maybe when my fourth gets taken, I might actually get it back.

Addendum: What is the percentage representation of women on Windsor City Council & ABCs

For many years when I walked into a room I instantly counted the women. It told me a lot about what to expect from that room. One day, having lost my best friend over racial politics out of my control, I began to count people of color. That too was for safety, for understanding how my views would be taken. That too told me a lot I needed to know about the room. But it also hinted to me about a whole realm of experience I wasn’t having.

Count“, Quinn Norton

In my last post, What is the percentage representation of women of the City of Windsor’s Council, Advisory Groups, Agencies, Boards, and Committees? I came up with the number of 36%. But, my analysis wasn’t complete because I was still missing the membership of:

  • Street and Alley Closing Committee
  • Willistead Board of Directors

So I emailed 311 and found out that despite its inclusion on the City of Windsor’s website, “The City of Windsor does not have a Street and Alley Closing Committee. Street and Alley closures are dealt with at the Development & Heritage Standing Committee.” 311 also kindly gave me the membership of the current Willistead Board of Directors.

It’s not simple to edit an already published graph on Graph Commons, so I made a second, updated version with this last bit of information.

Of the 170 members of City Council and its related boards, 61 members are women. The percentage is unchanged from my original calculation: 36%


Now, you wouldn’t know it from The City of Windsor’s social media streams, but the City of Windsor is looking for interested persons to join a Development Charges Task Force:

City Council is seeking interested persons to serve on a task force for updating the Development Charges Background Study and the Development Charges By-law. Terms of reference for the Development Charges Task Force are attached. Deadline for submitting applications is Thursday, August 22, 2019.

Concerned about sprawl or the city of Windsor’s ability to pay for existing and future infrastructure costs? You might want to put your name forward.


This is what I ask: when you walk into a room, count. Count the women. Count the people of color. Count by race. Look for who isn’t there. Look for class signs: the crooked teeth of childhoods without braces, worn-out shoes, someone else who is counting. Look for the queers, the older people, the overweight. Note them, see them, see yourself looking, see yourself reacting. This is how we begin.

Count“, Quinn Norton

What is the percentage representation of women of the City of Windsor’s Council, Advisory Groups, Agencies, Boards, and Committees?

Before I answer that question, let’s break down the numbers first.

The City of Windsor has one mayor and ten councillors, each of whom represent a ward. City Council generally meets twice a month.

Councillors sit on four standing committees that meets once a month. They are:

1. Corporate Services Standing Committee
2. Development & Heritage Standing Committee
3. Environment, Transportation & Public Safety Standing Committee
4. Community Services and Parks Standing Committee

There are a number of Advisory Committees that report to a designated Standing Committee. For example, the Advisory Committees reporting to the Community Services and Parks Standing Committee are:

The Agencies, Boards and Commissions reporting to the Community Services and Parks Standing Committee are:

  • Windsor Public Library
  • Windsor Essex County Health Unit
  • Windsor-Essex Community Housing Corporation
  • Roseland Golf Club Board of Directors
  • Willistead Board of Directors

These committees do much important work. One of the reasons why I really appreciate my city councillor, Chris Holt, is that he regularly highlights the work of these groups and encourages residents to engage with them.

While the City of Windsor’s Open Data Portal has a spreadsheet of the contact information for the elected officials of the city, the membership of all of the advisory boards, agencies, committees and commissions are spread around the City of Windsor website. So I tried to bring the information together in a table.

Please note: my table is not complete. I don’t know who the reps are for the 9 BIAs in the city and I’m still looking for the membership lists of the following:

  • Street and Alley Closing Committee
  • Willistead Board of Directors

And then I turned the table above into a network / graph using the wonderful Graph Commons:

network graph of membership

My goal of this graph was not to visually demonstrate board interlocks but to better represent the scope and the size of all the representatives of our city government.

And I also was curious about the gender make up of this collective.

At the moment, my table lists 43 organizations, which looks likes this:

There are 158 people who are members of these organizations. 101 are male. 57 are female. That’s 36%.

If you use the filter option, you can select for gender and see which committees have the most women on them – the Community Public Art Committee, the Housing Advisory Committee and the Windsor Cycling Committee – and which committees have one woman or none.

Graph of city membership of women

And this is what the graph looks like of only men:

Men on committees and council

I would like to know the best way to suggest to council when they select for the next set of resident representatives they should do a better job in regards to gender parity on more boards.

‘We must speak with one voice’ is just another way to say ‘you must be silenced.’

The politics of the City of Windsor is in a dismal state. In Windsor, it is not good enough for the status quo to keeping on winning. Those who voice criticism or exercise their legal right to challenge decisions must be silenced so that the city can speak in a united voice.

Those who suggest that it is essential that we need to speak with only one voice are not those opting to take a vow of silence. They are those already speaking and don’t want anyone else to interrupt. We should be deeply concerned that the mayor and some of our city counselors repeatedly choose to try to gag the voices of residents elected to speak to and work for our interests.

Last year, the Integrity Commissioner stated that Councillor Rino Bortolin publicly made a false remark and he was rebuked by City Council for criticizing City Council decisions, in contravention to 16.4 of the Code of Conduct [pdf] that the City of Windsor revised in 2014.

(Council’s interpretation of the Code of Conduct is being challenged through the process of Judicial Review. It is absolutely normal and necessary that the law allow for decisions to be challenged. That is how our legal system works.)

This year, the Mayor held a press conference and made the false remark that Windsor BIAs cannot use their funds “to fund a third-party appeal of a city decision” for their own interests. When the BIAs being targeted sought legal counsel they found precedent from other BIAs in the province that proved the Mayor wrong. Eventually the matter was resolved informally.

However, when the budget approval of the Windsor BIAs were brought to council, Councillor Irek Kusmierczyk asked to amend a forthcoming report from the City Solicitor on BIA governance so that it would include the possibility of bylaw language from the City of Toronto that states that BIAs cannot take a position that contravenes the decisions of City Council.

While it may not be possible that this sort of restriction on language can be adopted as the City of Toronto has powers, outlined in the Toronto Act, that are greater than the other 443 municipalities of the province, whose governance is described in the Municipal Act, it is still shameful that Kusmierczyk is pursuing legal language to curtail the activities of concerned business owners and operators in the City of Windsor. It also feels strangely out of character that he is seeking to eliminate the speech of entrepreneurs while simultaneously being employed as Director of Partnerships at WETech Alliance whose purpose is to develop new and existing businesses in the Windsor Essex region.

And yet, despite the fact that the city is only supposed to act as the conduit by which BIAs can receive and distribute the levee funding of all the businesses in the designated area, the Windsor City Council has a history of over-stepping their responsibility of overseeing the budgets of our local BIAs. Last year the previous Windsor City Council threw away hundreds of hours of labour, tens of thousands of dollars, and extinguished much goodwill when it refused to fund a streetscaping project of the Wyandotte Town Centre that had been in the works since 2013. The reasons given why the project could not go forward were flimsy at best. Perhaps the BIA’s plan would interfere with the mayor’s visions for districts in the city. According to reporting, the Wyanotte Town Centre’s BIA’s members wanted their area to be marketed as a World Marketplace whereas the mayor wants it to be districted as Middle Eastern.

Why is the mayor’s office setting up a separate system to invest in various areas of the city to create themed districts when BIAs already exist to do this work? Don’t the people who work and invest in these neighbourhoods have a better understanding of what their needs are? I can think of no better reason why the mayor’s office involvement in theming neighbourhoods should be minimized than the fact that the mayor wants to add ‘Asian’ flair (presumably pagodas and dragon gates) to the other end of Wyandotte Street and call it Asia Town. As someone of Asian flair, I find this proposal ahistoric, cartoonish, and othering.

It is very telling that when the mayor called a press conference to threaten three Windsor BIAs with dissolution, he referred to both a silent majority and a loud minority.

The mayor and some of our city councilors would rather silence the hundreds of entrepreneurs and business people who volunteer their time and contribute their hard earned money to make Windsor a more attractive place to shop, work, and live, rather than allow BIAs to act independently of the city, as they were intended to by law. They would rather curb all future speech of BIAs because they take issue with the BIAs in the present, who are supporting legal action that is in the interest of their membership.

And that might happen, unless we speak up.

Rebuilding from a Teardown

My last post wasn’t intended to be about the public viewing of a professional basketball game. I meant for that story to be an introduction to the related matter of the freedom of speech of Windsor BIAs in the larger context of how politics is currently in play in Windsor. And in that story I wanted to bring in insights that I picked up from Dave Meslin’s Teardown: Rebuilding Democracy from the Ground Up.

But then I decided I didn’t want to cloud my positive review of Dave’s work with my take on what I see as the negative political scene in Windsor.

Teardown is not a tightly executed manifesto that diagnoses a particular social ill and then prescribes a strict regime for its cure. Politics is messy and to a certain extent, so is Teardown. Each chapter of Teardown takes on a different perspective of politics in Canada today. Sometimes a chapter resembles a case study, as when Meslin recounts his experiences fighting illegal billboards in the City of Toronto. Sometimes a chapter more closely resembles a lecture in political science, as when Dave explains the different models of voting reforms we could pursue in order to move past the first past the post system. Sometimes Meslin recommends getting involved in political parties. Sometimes Meslin suggests that the current structure of the political party is irremediable. This diversity of tactics and perspectives is not a failing of the book. It is an expression of the variety of the work and the experiences, both in politics and in active citizenship that Dave has shared with us.

I recommend the book and as I am confident that readers will find something that strongly resonates with them (for myself, that was Meslin’s critique of how Canadian political parties organize their get out the vote campaigns). We all know our political system is in a deeply and maddeningly troubled state but we don’t all understand the reasons why as well as Dave Meslin. I also recommend this book because I strongly believe in what I think is Dave Meslin’s overall message: we need to find more ways to share more power with more people. The winner take all mentality of our current state of politics is at the heart of most people’s dissatisfaction and our current dismal state of citizen participation.

The city of Windsor is a case study of a dismal state of politics. We have a political leadership that has no interest is sharing decision making with anyone else. In Windsor, it is not good enough for the status quo to keeping winning. All those who voice criticism or exercise their legal right to challenge decisions are silenced so that the city can speak with one voice.

That’s the topic of the next blog post.