By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher/Editor
I was dismayed by the news that the Caribana Arts Group (CAG) is suing the Festival Management Committee (FMC), Scotiabank and Toronto lawyer (and one of the founders of Caribana), Charles Roach.
I don’t want to second guess their lawyers here but why sue these parties?
The FMC didn’t take the festival away from the CAG. It was the City. Why is the FMC being sued?
Scotiabank is a business interest that has come on board to help sponsor a festival that has not had a lot of sponsors knocking on its doors. I don’t agree with the festival being renamed for Scotiabank. Whatever money they are providing can’t be enough to give the appearance that they own our festival. It should have been enough to say that Caribana is sponsored by Scotiabank. However, when one negotiates from a position of weakness, the stronger party gets to have its way. If the City (and the province) had treated this festival the way they treat mainstream festivals (which generate far less revenues) the negotiators for the festival would not have to give away the naming rights.
And I don’t understand the action against Roach. Oh, I know that he did sign an agreement with the FMC when he was interim chair, but didn’t that agreement also give the CAG an escape clause which provided the CAG the grounds to reclaim the Caribana name?
Look, it was the City of Toronto, through its liaison to Caribana, Councillor Joe Mihevc, which took the funding away from the CAG and set up the FMC to run Caribana. I am not suggesting that the CAG sue the City or Mihevc either. They will need to work with the City (and, maybe, even Mihevc) in the future when (and it is a when, not an if) they get back the festival. That is why the City has not been named in the lawsuit. It obviously is a strategic decision. But wouldn’t they also need sponsors such as Scotiabank?
It was the City, through Mihevc, which defunded the festival of its just under $500,000 which resulted in the province also holding back its matching funds. Once those funds were taken away, it was doubtful the then Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC), forerunners of the CAG, could have staged the festival. But Mihevc didn’t even give them a chance to try. He just assumed that without the funding they could not have run Caribana and he set up the FMC to take it over.
The right thing to do, the moral thing to do and even the legitimate thing to do would have been to give the CCC the option of finding alternative funding. As I have written before, Caribana was not his to take or to give.
Mihevc also held the upper hand in other ways. It is doubtful whether the police – which come under the purview of the City – would have given parade permits to the CCC – even if they did find the funding – without his blessing. So, he held the handle and the CCC, the blade.
As such, he felt he didn’t need to go through the motion, he didn’t need the charade of pretending to give the CCC the chance to seek other funding. He just went ahead and set up the FMC and hired people from our community to run Caribana. That in itself was disrespectful to our community. I don’t believe he could have, would have, done that to any other ethnic community in this city.
The FMC is a creation of the City and Mihevc. So why sue them? They are just doing what they have been hired to do and that is to run the festival.
I understand that the initial administrators of the FMC set up a corporation to run Caribana and that has been cause for concern. But they say they had to do this in order to receive the funds from the City and the sponsors. That makes sense. The City couldn’t just give Joe Halstead $500,000 to put in his bank account to run the festival, could it? That would have raised some eyebrows, wouldn’t it?
A spokesman for the CAG has been quoted as saying that the reason the CAG decided not to seek an injunction against the festival itself and, instead, pursue the lawsuits, is that it doesn’t want to affect the staging of this year’s Caribana. That doesn’t make any sense, though. A lawsuit is going to drag through the courts for at least another year or two while the festival continues to benefit those who now benefit from that half-billion dollars annually. They will just continue to laugh at us as we fight each other.
Seeking an injunction against the staging of the festival this year, it seems to me, would be the surest way to get the parties to the table without the unpleasantness of these lawsuits. And if an injunction was granted (or even look like it was going to be granted), it would strengthen the hand of the CAG to negotiate with the City and the FMC for a better working arrangement.
The CAG, if it hopes to run Caribana again, would need to work with the City and with sponsors such as Scotiabank. Even if an arrangement cannot be worked out with Scotiabank, how they handle a separation could impact future sponsorship arrangements with other entities. Lawsuits do not provide the foundation (or the optics) for good future working relationships.
I hear that Mihevc doesn’t want to meet with the CAG. But he should, especially since they are not suing him. He has been quoted as saying that this struggle is between the CAG and the FMC. That it has nothing to do with him. So, what we have are two groups of Black people fighting each other.
He is being disingenuous. This is all about him. He is the one who started it and he is the one to fix it.