Charley Roach and Councillor Michael Thompson
Charley Roach and Councillor Michael Thompson

Caribana’s struggle more political than legal


The legal developments unfolding between the Caribbean Cultural Committee/Caribana Arts Group (CCC/CAG) and Charley Roach can result in the Black community losing effective ownership and control of Caribana’s festival and carnival.

In other words, while this singular battle can be legally lost or won by either side, politically, both sides and the community can lose the larger war for the body and soul of Caribana. And in the time of her greatest danger, and through no fault of hers.

Leaving legal to lawyers, what might otherwise be useful is noting some facts, specific and overarching, which can enlighten on what has brought Caribana to its present impasse, and how it might overcome.

Several years have proven, in hindsight, pivotal both to the ignoring and bullying of Caribana. One of these is 1989. Ironically, for Caribana it proved the best and the worst of years. Then it was that Price Waterhouse conducted its historic Visitor Economic Impact study which showed, among other things, the significant financial benefits Caribana brought to the city.

There were two interesting outcomes affecting Caribana’s revenues. One was that the community now had objective figures with which to convince a so-far skeptical private sector on becoming sponsors. The ‘body’ of the results, however, as Naipaul would say, “remained ribby”, undernourished. Opt-ins provided more in-kind services than cash in exchange for exclusivity, unlike Luminato which, among a slew of media sponsors, has both the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail. The Price Waterhouse study, then, didn’t result in any sustained increase in Caribana’s revenue streams.

What was sustained were the high-decibel demands by mas’ bandleaders for increased funding from the CCC, the owners of Caribana. Bandleaders deserved more than they were then getting, but the CCC, impoverished as it was, being starved of proper funding, had only recently been locked out for overdue rent. And uncritical media were using mauvais langue as Caribana news.

Approximate payouts for years more recent speak volumes. From totals of $1.2 million in grant funding the organization received, bandleaders, pannists and calypsonians respectively got $610,000; $80,000 and $35,000. From the remaining funds, the CCC/CAG paid for all City services: Police – $70,000; Exhibition Place – $120,000; Barricades – $55,000; Pot-O-Lets – $28,000; Clean Up (police horse crap included) – $30,000. These payments do not include the CCC’s costs for rent, salaries, utilities, private security, etc. which all had to be paid out of the remainder of just over $150,000.

The year 2003 was another pivotal year. Directors introduced wide ranging structural reforms. Among these was proposing the creation of an arms-length professional entity, the Festival Management Team (FMT). City reps and others later used Caribana’s documents to create its present FMC. While the FMT was to run the festival it was to be appointed by, and report to, the CCC/CAG, unlike the FMC.

Unfortunately, in 2004, as also in other years (for example in 2005), too many directors failed to carry out their fiduciary duties. Some went further, even preventing others from doing theirs. One fellow, by motions moved on seven different occasions, was able with others supporting, to postpone critical board meetings called to effect these board-created reforms.

Also, is the present FMC an odd creature? It is reportedly disdainful of the CCC/CAG, in principle and on paper its overseer, ‘inviting board members with insufficient notice’ to meetings and events. Is this the City’s large tail wagging the community’s small dog?

The FMC should be concerned that it thereby appears to be neither cascadou nor hummingbird. Does it also function as would a non-profit corporation? As such, ought it to be reporting to a membership, and a board of directors? Is its membership, City councillors and its board, the Mayor’s Executive? And while piggy-backing off events introduced by previous Caribana volunteers, for example international soccer matches (1995), and joint events staged with the ROM (2005), is its decision to make community attendees pay for entrance to see parading mas’ bands something new?

The FMC shouldn’t make the same errors which negatively affected the past CCC/CAG. This use of the CNE was done before and the CNE stiffed Caribana with bills galore, increasing Caribana’s debt while people from our community couldn’t get in with their businesses to compete with CNE concessionaires. Will the FMC, well meaning as they might be, ensure that, along with bandleaders, gate receipts will subsidize individuals who pay to play with them?

Of even greater concern is why should the FMC now allow themselves to be stuck with a funding formula – 30% public-sector; 30% private-sector, and 40% paid gate receipts – not also forced on other groups like the Shaw Festival and Luminato?

If the current City administration under Mayor Rob Ford, unlike previous ones, seeks an accommodation based on respect and justice with Toronto’s Black community, it must request from whomever it may concern, all documents detailing how reps of the last administration were able to appoint the FMC as community replacement, seemingly in perpetuity, for the CCC/CAG.

In conclusion, a proposed recommendation and, as follows:

a) That ASAP, the two legally opposed parties communicate directly with each other, ensuring the full return to the Black community of the Caribana festival weekend in August;

b) That the CCC/CAG board invite as additional support in its ongoing restructuring efforts from two former directors who have in the past proven themselves to be eminently capable and credible: Monica Pollard and Dalma Hill.

Finally, Charley Roach is unmatched as a person from our community and is uniquely positioned, based on his years of selfless and fearless service, to command three key factors necessary for resolving the present crisis: community esteem unmatched for trustworthiness; undeniable clout with City representatives; and an unassailable stature with stakeholders. He can thereby effect, beginning in 2011, the City’s official return, in perpetuity of the CARIBANA name and brand to the Emancipation Simcoe Day annual August carnival, and with funding relative to the corporation’s needs and Visitor Economic Impact.

Toronto’s Black community and its Caribana deserve no less.