The Caribana Arts Group (CAG), which started the annual Caribana celebrations, has settled a longstanding trademark infringement lawsuit against the Festival Management Committee (FMC) and Scotiabank, which has been the event sponsor since 2008.
Terms of the settlement have not been disclosed.
The CAG, which replaced the Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC), has been claiming ownership of the annual festival it ran up until eight years ago when the City of Toronto withdrew its funding and created the FMC to stage the event.
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 attract sponsorship.
It was the understanding of the CAG that the FMC was a caretaker organization set up to manage the festival until the CAG was ready to step back in the fold. Following attempts to negotiate an agreement with the FMC to reclaim the festival, the CAG issued a cease and desist letter to the FMC and Scotiabank in April 2010 to stop using the Caribana trademark without authorization or a license. Legal action began in May 2011.
“Commencing this legal action was one of the most difficult things the CAG has undertaken in recent years,” president Knia Singh said at a press conference last week. “The lack of information in the public domain made it hard for the public to understand exactly what was taking place. We were acting responsibly and within our legal right to protect property which is the Caribana trademark.
“In addition, the CAG was acting on behalf of the public interest to protect a festival created by members of the Caribbean-Canadian community from being taken over and controlled by another corporation. Any legal action taken by the CAG was not done in malice, but done in principle. When the control over a festival of this nature is taken away from its creators and facilitators after it has given so much culturally, economically and socially, all that can be left is disappointment, hurt and disbelief. To stand up to corporations with endless resources in the name of what is just is not an easy task. And to hold those who you respect and care for as community organization accountable for their action is something the Caribana organization will always do to maintain its integrity.”
Caribana co-founder Charles Roach, who died in October 2012, was also included in the lawsuit for aggravated, punitive and general damages amounting to $900,000. Last December, the CAG reached a settlement with his estate.
Former CAG chair Henry Gomez said it was not an easy decision to take Roach to court.
“We explored every avenue, including trying to talk to important people in the community,” said Gomez who replaced Roach as the CAG chair in May 2008. “As a last resort, we had to take him to court. At one point, we did have an agreement with him, but he turned around and flushed it so we had no choice. I am glad that chapter is over.”
Gomez said the settlement deals only with the trademark infringement and not the festival ownership.
“The CAG owns the trademark which has a great deal of value and we are definitely going to build on that value going forward,” he said. “We have just crossed a hurdle that clearly establishes that when people stand up, even though the odds might be against them as was in this case, they are capable of winning, however one might want to interpret winning. For me, the mere fact that in this David and Goliath situation, David came out on top is very significant and it should encourage people in our community who at least might have been sitting on the fence or straddling it and people who have been supportive of us all along to let them realise that we were right in the stand that we took. We took a stand that some didn’t like, but we had to do what we felt was right. As an individual, I was at the centre of that and I believe to a greater extent that I and by extension CAG has been vindicated by this ruling.
“Even though we have the trademark, the fight is not over. A lot will now depend on those people as well who will say we have the trademark, so what? This festival, no one can deny, was built by the Black community. This phase to reclaim the trademark is now over and we will see whether the community will say why bother or continue to watch the festival deteriorate.”
A calypsonian and retired Toronto District School Board teacher, Gomez disclosed that this year’s third annual Flags & Colours children’s festival will take place on July 12.
He said the CAG has set up a community engagement group to mobilise organizations in the Jane & Finch community to play a more active role in the festival that will attract members of Toronto Police 31 division who will have a section, including its Youth in Policing Initiative representatives, in the parade.
In addition, the CAG has rented a space at 4400 Jane St. where community residents will be provided with an opportunity to learn how to make and design costumes.