By RON FANFAIR
The Caribana Arts Group (CAG), which replaced the Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC), is claiming ownership of the annual Caribana festival which it ran up until 2006 when the City of Toronto withdrew its funding and created the Festival Management Committee (FMC) to run the event.
It is public knowledge that the festival was mired in controversy and debt. The city and the Toronto Mas Bands Association (TMBA) – the organization of carnival bandleaders who produce the Caribana parade – established the FMC in order to have a more professionally run festival and to attract sponsorship.
CAG chair Henry Gomez maintains his organization has cleaned up its act and is ready to reclaim the festival, but FMC chair and chief executive officer Joe Halstead believes otherwise, adding that he does not have the right to hand over the festival to the CAG.
He said the FMC, which was approved by the funding bodies, was set up as an independent entity to avoid the legal challenges and other problems associated with the troubled CCC at the time.
“There was no agreement that the FMC would be a subsidiary to the CAG,” Halstead told Share. “There was no such understanding because we were not even talking to them…I can’t close up the FMC and say here are the keys and it’s yours…It’s not my festival and it’s not mine to give because I don’t own it. I have never been part of its history and I can’t say it’s yours or it’s not yours.
“What I can say is that they have a right to the trademark that we are using. We agreed that it belonged to the CCC and, I don’t know, but it legally may belong to their successor organization (CAG). I do know we are using a trademark for which they should be compensated. The issue now becomes how much should be the compensation and how it should be calculated.”
When asked if a process was in place for someone to determine if and when to make a transition from the FMC to the CAG, Halstead said he doesn’t know.
“It’s not me,” he added bluntly. “I can do one thing which is to step away and let somebody else take on that responsibility…That would be the easiest thing for me to do. But that would be irresponsible. I do believe it would be wise to help them transition properly.”
Gomez, who succeeded lawyer Charles Roach as the CAG chair last May, said it was his understanding that the FMC was a caretaker organization established to manage the festival until the CAG was ready to step back into the fold.
“In our view, the FMC is a subsidiary of the CAG according to our organizational chart,” said Gomez, an educator and calypsonian who performs under the sobriquet, King Cosmos. “Until earlier this year, I and the other directors operated with that mindset until we had a rude awakening from the FMC that they are a fully independent body. It was only when I became chair and started to ask questions did it become clear to me that the FMC was set up with a different purpose in mind.
“In our minds, it’s clear that we are the owners of the festival and trademark and the legal advice that we have tells us the same thing….The CAG and the FMC are at a stalemate because they, in our minds, are contesting the ownership of the festival. I would go so far as to say that this may well be theft by stealth and we have to hold (the city) complicit in this because it’s the city through (Councillor) Joe Mihevc, who unilaterally moved to transfer the festival to the FMC which was not an original idea of the city or Joe Halstead. We, the CCC, had that on the books for quite sometime. It’s just that it took the crisis that we had for someone to come in and say O.K., it going to happen. We were told that the FMC would manage until we got our house in order which we have done to a great extent.”
Gomez said his organization was disappointed with the response it received from councilor Mihevc, the city’s liaison to the Caribana festival for the past 12 years, when it approached him last July with concerns about the festival’s ownership.
“He said it’s between us (the CAG) and the FMC and it has nothing to with him,” said Gomez. “It was made clear to me that all he cared about was the economic impact of the festival to the city and tourism. He just wanted to have the festival and he didn’t care and still doesn’t care who runs it as long as it happens.”
Though the CAG has done some house cleaning in the last three years to clear its debt burden and restore credibility, Halstead does not feel that the organization is ready to manage the festival.
“They are still a body that’s troubled by debt and a history that’s not very credible,” he said. “To assume management and operations at this point is not, in my view, the right thing because they would suffer a credibility problem with respect to corporate entities and the major funders. Having said that, it doesn’t mean that they don’t have a role and a place.
“They have experience and knowledge about festival matters that could only be helpful to the event. The trick is to find a way to engage them and put everybody together without alienating the other arts groups and the other people who lead the festival. What is needed is to put the best faces out there and to go and grow the festival to what it should be so that it could fulfill its potential.”
As part of its cleansing operation, Gomez said the CAG has imposed life bans on six former board members for misappropriation of funds.
“There were some directors who had their hands on the money and I was the primary architect in having them expelled,” said Gomez. “We have demonstrated quite clearly that we have taken unprecedented steps and we are capable of having a board that will work cohesively…One of the reasons why the public has not heard much from us is because we made a conscious decision not to wash out dirty linen in public. We thought we would operate differently and take on more of a corporate culture and deal with issues in a mature and professional manner.
“However, we can’t continue saying we don’t want to wash our dirty linen in public when you have taken away the soap, water, detergent and bucket so that we will inhale the stench and kill ourselves. Maybe, that’s what is intended but it’s not going to happen.”
In addition to Gomez, the other CAG executive board members are Winston LaRose (vice-chair), Knia Singh (secretary), Alicia Sealy (treasurer), Aktome Kumane (assistant secretary/treasurer), Althea Parsons, Raphael Francis, Christopher Pinheiro, Martin Scott-Pascall, Charles Roach and Abdullah Gamandie.
Halstead said this year’s festival is set to make a “reasonable” profit and he’s quite happy with the corporate response to support North America’s largest summer carnival that injects an estimated $300 million into the economy, including nearly $30 million in GST that goes to Ottawa.
“When the FMC was set up in 2006, there was no sponsor and I could not get any corporation to give me $20,000,” he said. “We now have 15 major funders contributing nearly $350,000.”
Halstead chided individuals who said that the FMC undersold the festival’s title rights to Scotiabank.
“To those people, I would say you have short memories,” he said. “In 2008, I personally made pitches to the five major banks and the only one that was willing to offer us something was TD Bank with $25,000. They told me we were lucky because we are not a community group and they were doing it only out of the goodness of their heart. It was through a personal contact who is an executive at Scotiabank that arranged a meeting for me with the institution’s president who, 24 hours later, came back and said we are going to take the lead position.”
Last May, Scotiabank – which assumed the lead sponsorship role last year – announced it was extending its title sponsorship by three years to 2012.
Halstead heads the FMC board which includes TMBA members Louis Saldenah and Selwyn “Nip” Davis; Organization of Calypso Performing Artists and Ontario Steelpan Association presidents Allison Charles and Ed Peters; Rita Cox, Roger Gibbs, Joan Butterfield, Rick Gosling and C.J. Augustine-Kanu.