By RON FANFAIR
The Caribana Arts Group (CAG) plans to legally challenge every move the Festival Management Committee (FMC) makes to run the Caribana Festival without a licensing agreement.
Last week, the Ontario Superior Court ruled that the FMC – which was created five years ago by the City of Toronto to administer the annual event – cannot use the name “Caribana” because it’s trademarked by the CAG which replaced the Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC) that started the summer event 44 years ago.
At a media conference next Wednesday, the FMC will announce a new festival name and other plans for this year’s event.
CAG chair Henry “Cosmos” Gomez says his group will not sit idly by and allow the FMC to plan a festival without their involvement.
“We will be back in court because any other name they use, the festival is still the Caribana festival,” said Gomez. “It has certain characteristics to it and it’s identified as intellectual property that the CCC created, produced, nurtured and owns up until now.
“At the same time, we want to make it clear we are willing to work with whoever will work with us. The FMC or whoever wants to manage this festival has to have a licensing agreement with the CAG in order to do it. That’s what we are saying.”
FMC chair Denise Herrera-Jackson said she is disappointed that the matter ended up in court.
“This is however the reality we are faced with and we just have to deal with it,” she said. “We have been going back and forth with the CAG on this issue for quite some time about utilizing the name.”
Herrera-Jackson said Scotiabank, the festival’s lead sponsor since 2008, and other financial backers and partners, have pledged to continue to support North America’s largest summer carnival that injects more than $450 million into the economy each year.
“They are all aware of what is going on and we have their support going forward,” she said. “We knew something like this might happen and you start to condition yourself that you might not be able to use the name. You have to go ahead, however, with what has to be done.”
Gomez said the CAG was left with no other recourse but to seek a court injunction barring the FMC from using the name “Caribana”.
“We had no choice,” he said. “This was our last resort. The FMC was disrespecting us and they kept moving the goalpost on us. We had to seek legal means to assert our rights of ownership…We also felt we had to go to court because the FMC and its immediate past chair had entered into an agreement that we consider illegal and non-binding and that has to do with the licensing agreement that allowed the festival to be called ‘Scotiabank Caribana’.”
Mired in controversy and debt, the city and the Toronto Mas Bands Association (TMBA) – the organization of carnival bandleaders whose bands make up the actual parade – established the FMC in order to have a more professionally run festival and to attract sponsorship.
Gomez insists his organization has cleaned up its act and is ready to reclaim the festival.
“We have restructured, we are responsible and the city has to deal with us as the owners of Caribana,” he said. “To those who say if it’s not broke, why fix it, I say to them that if somebody comes into their house to repair something, they complete the job and then decides to stay in your house and lock you in the basement, would you accept that? We see this as theft by stealth.”
He also said the CAG attempted to meet with the bandleaders to inform them of their position.
“We wrote them in early April saying we would like to have a meeting with them and their secretary responded a few weeks later, asking about the nature of the meeting,” said Gomez. “We told them and we have not heard back from them since.”
The CAG will hold its annual general meeting this Saturday, May 21, at Metro Hall, 55 John Street (corner of John and King St. West), Room 314 at 1 p.m.