Hot Docs 2021: Meet the Toronto activists taking on Uber

Share:

RIDE FAIR (Javier Lovera), 7 minutes; THE GIG IS UP (Shannon Walsh), 88 minutes. Both films available Thursday (April 29) at 10 am to May 9. hotdocs.ca

In the short documentary Ride Fair, JJ Fueser, Brendan Agnew-Iler and Thorben Wieditz meet virtually to discuss how private tech companies are increasingly becoming entwined in public policy. 

The trio have successfully taken on tech giants Airbnb and Google-owner Alphabet, but their next target is perhaps trickier – Uber.

In a scene from the film, the trio throw ideas back and forth about how to enact genuine change, suggesting education and public policy targets that would contribute to further regulations for the ride-hailing app.

“The decisions that are being made by our government to enable these companies are not in the best interest of the public,” Wieditz tells the camera.

“It really takes an extraordinary amount of mobilizing and work in the community to make sure that the public interest is at the centre of policy making,” Fueser adds.

Directed by Javier Lovera, the documentary is part of a series called Citizen Minutes premiering at Hot Docs. It profiles Agnew-Iler, Fueser and Wieditz’s coalition RideFairTO (ridefair.ca), a group of transit advocates, environmentalists and gig workers who are pushing the city to regulate Uber and other ride-hailing companies.

RideFairTO already has two public policy wins. In 2017 under the name Fairbnb, the group lobbied for stricter regulations for short-term rental company Airbnb and similar platforms. Last September, new regulations came into effect in Toronto that require short-term rental operators register with the city and ban operators from listing properties on short-term rental sites that are not a principal residence. The goal was to crack down on illegal “ghost hotels” and free up long-term rental housing.

Members of the group were also part of the wider #BlockSidewalk opposition to Alphabet’s proposed Sidewalk Labs “smart city” on the waterfront, an initiative privacy watchdogs argued turns cities into “corporate surveillance states.”

Ride Fair is one of a handful of titles focusing on the gig economy at this year’s Hot Docs Festival. While Ride Fair focuses on the fight to regulate ride-hailing companies in Toronto, the feature-length documentary The Gig Is Up zooms out to examine gig work in a global context and localized campaigns to get gig workers classified as employees. (Another film screening at Hot Docs this year, The Big Scary “S” Word, profiles a couple, one working as a Lyft driver, who turn to socialism after realizing that capitalism is leaving them both in debt.) 

The films arrive as public health data shows essential workers in Ontario are bearing the brunt of the pandemic’s third wave, prompting calls greater worker protections, including paid sick leave, to reduce virus spread. At the same time, Uber Canada is lobbying provincial governments to change employment law to create a new classification for app-based workers. The move would impact many of the 1.7 million gig workers in the country – or 8.2 per cent of the workforce, according to Statistics Canada.