By Norm Bond
Caribana, the celebration of Caribbean culture that brings more than a million people to the streets of Toronto each summer, has a new name. The 44th annual event will now be known as the Scotiabank Caribbean Carnival Toronto.
Some are arguing that Caribana is being treated like a “cultural outsider” by the different levels of Canadian government. The festival has the largest economic impact but is receiving the least amount of financial support. An Ipsos Reid study released last April showed Caribana generated $483 million for the provincial economy in 2009, drawing about 1.2 million festival-goers, including 300,000 from outside the country, and helped fill 85 percent of Toronto’s hotel rooms.
In May 2011, the Ontario Superior Court ruled the event can no longer use the name Caribana because it is trademarked by a group that founded the festival, but no longer runs it.
“There is no change to the festival,” said Chris Alexander, chief administrative officer of the Festival Management Committee, which has run Caribana for the past five years. “The only thing that has changed is the name”.
But it’s not that simple. In reality there’s an ongoing struggle for control over the massively popular celebration. In 2006, the city and province cut funding to Caribana stating that organizers failed to produce adequate financial statements.
Control was transferred from the Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC), which started the festival in 1967, to the newly created Festival Management Committee (FMC). After the transfer, the festival was officially called the Toronto Caribbean Carnival. With a new corporate sponsor, the 44th annual event was called the Scotiabank Caribbean Carnival Toronto.
None of this is sitting too well with Henry Gomez, the Caribana Arts Group’s current chair, said the organization was forced to take the FMC to court because control of the cultural tradition had been stripped from their hands. Further the Caribana trademark remains with his group. “(The FMC) were supposed to run the festival for one year only,” he said. “Since 2007, we’ve made innumerable attempts, but they’ve refused to acknowledge our ownership.
“We created it, conceptualized, nurtured, managed and produced it for 39 years. And we still own it.” Gomez added, the Caribana Arts Group will do everything in its power to prevent the festival from going forward.
“Caribana by any other name is still Caribana,” said Gomez, calling the festival the intellectual properly of his group. “We will fight vigorously against any theft by sleight of hand, because that’s what it would become if they tried to pass it off.
The Calgary Stampede is normally regarded as the largest “Canadian” festival, but its economic impact is merely $173 million versus the $438 million generated by Caribana over a two-week period. It is difficult for a reasonable person to not see race and culture mediating how government funding is distributing grants to certain cultural projects.
Toronto’s Ajamu Nangwaya describes the situation as “unsettling”. While the federal government’s Marquee Tourism Events Program gave the Calgary Stampede, Carnaval de Quebec, and Stratford Shakespeare Festival $1,001,625, $1,449,435 and $3 million in grant funding, respectively, Caribana didn’t get a penny in 2010.
The Celebrate Ontario fund obviously does not count Caribana as a true reflection of the cultural fabric of this province. Why would this provincial funding program give $300,000 each to the Hot Docs, Stratford Shakespeare Festival, TD Canada Trust Ottawa International Jazz Festival, Pride Toronto/Pride Week, Toronto International Film Festival, Luminato and Rogers Cup initiatives this year, but zilch to the best economic performer in this country?
A online effort is being launched to raise awareness and halt Canada’s “cultural racism” through an economic boycott. Jerome Almon has previously filed a $900 million lawsuit against Canada and the State Department that both attempted to settle three separate times related to racial profiling at the Canadian border. It seems a disproportionate number of African Americans are are being denied entry by Canadian Customs agents. Recently the rapper Cam’ron shared a video of his experience (watch below).
Now Almon is implementing a strategy that include utilizing social media tools. He says a new website is being launched.
“The site will call for Black Americans and all opponents of racial profiling to boycott Canada’s Caribana festival, Canadian tourism, goods, and sign an online petition.
Black Americans spend the equivalent to the Canadian GDP annually, and earn enough to make African American the 16th largest out of 226 nations based on consumer spending alone.