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Caribbean People with Colin Rickards

CAG faces off against FMC

By Colin Rickards

People who turned up at North York Civic Centre last Thursday evening for the “Town Hall Meeting” organized by the Caribana Arts Group (CAG) hoped to get answers concerning the many questions relating to its conflict with the Festival Management Committee (FMC) and others.

To some extent, amid three hours of rhetoric and information, they got them, the main topics being two: the CAG’s initial lawsuit against the FMC, and its current one against lawyer Charles Roach — their own former Chair — the FMC and the Bank of Nova Scotia; and a CAG program of public protest against being shut out of the running of the August Long Weekend Caribbean extravaganza formerly known as Caribana.

The meeting was attended by 30 people — a number which included the three CAG Directors and their legal advisors — with only about half of them being actual paid-up members.

Owen Leach, a long-time stalwart of the Caribbean Cultural Committee, which morphed into the CAG, was obviously anxious and distressed when he asked: “Why not negotiate to regain control? Why the legal route?”

CAG Chair Henry Gomez responded that legal action was “the only way to get clarity” — adding: “It was a last resort.” The initial — successful — action was against the FMC’s use of the trademarked name “Caribana,” but it was decided not to seek an injunction to prevent the Festival being held.
“That would not have been the best thing to do,” Gomez said.
Paula Boutis of the law firm of Iler Campbell is the CAG’s legal counsel, and she was often blunt, saying that when planning what action to recommend she researched the case of Montreal’s CARIFIESTA Festival.

In that instance, the Caribbean Cultural Festivities Association, which had been organizing the parade for 34 years, split away to form a new organization, the Montreal Carnival Development Foundation. The City divided their funding between the two organizations in 2009, but pulled it completely in 2010 when the parties embarked on court action.
“[One party] owning a Trademark doesn’t stop anyone from putting on a festival,” Boutis said — adding: “Nobody owns ideas, only ‘the expression of the ideas’.” She said that there was “no cachet” in having a particular day or route, and “the Law is not necessarily clear,” so a litigant could lose in court “quite spectacularly,” and be assessed costs, providing “a big risk” in such actions.

“Our advice was against an injunction,” she added.
Instead, a Statement of Claim action concerning licensing fees, and demanding damages, has been filed.

“The first case was a matter of paper,” Boutis said. “The new one will be a matter of witnesses. Having letters won’t help you in a courthouse — though it might help with getting damages.”
Margaret Parsons, Executive Director of the African Canadian Legal Clinic (ACLC), is also advising the CAG and jumped in when Leach complained that the CAG’s Board had not consulted its membership before beginning the legal actions.
“The membership doesn’t have to be told,” Parsons said. “That’s why you elected them. At the AGM, the Board informs the membership of actions taken.”
Earlier that day Caribbean Camera had appeared on the streets with a lengthy story — by this writer — detailing lawyer Charles Roach’s response to allegations by the CAG that he behaved improperly at a time when it is being alleged that he was no longer Chair of the organization. This relates to the CAG’s case against Roach, the FMC and Scotiabank. Share carried nothing on Roach’s Statement, but Pride published it in full.

Roach attended the Town Hall Meeting, and towards the end Parsons tried to get him to comment on his relations with the CAG. He refused, and waved copies of the community press, saying: “Read it in the papers.”

In detailing the CAG’s planned public protests — which were initiated on Tuesday at the formal launch of the 2011 Scotiabank Toronto Caribbean Carnival — Parsons made most of the running, describing the actions to be taken as being part of her organization’s “community alert.”

She revealed that the CAG has launched an On-line Petition — and hope to gather 30,000 signatures — and had copies distributed of hand-out flyers saying: “Act Now! Sign the Online Petition & Join the Facebook Group,” along with “Give Caribana Back to the Community” petitions.

Addressed to Premier Dalton McGuinty and Ontario MPPs, and Mayor Rob Ford and City Councillors, it demands — with more passion than grammatical niceties, or attention to punctuation — that they “return the annual CARIBANA festivals funding, permits and management back to the creators of the CARIBANA festival the CARIBANA Arts Group.”

“This is economic, political and cultural,” Parsons said. The ACLC/CAG protest, she added, also has cards saying ACT NOW! STOP THE TAKEOVER & PRIVATIZATION” and there is also a T-shirt — part of a fundraising effort — carrying the slogan “CARIBANA™ FOREVER,” which Gomez declared to be “a tangible form of protest.”

“The community needs to say: ‘We want the Festival called ‘Caribana’. We want the GAC running it’,” Parsons said. In the audience were two people with long associations with — and memories of — Caribana.

Dr. Maurice Bygrave, a Jamaica-born dentist, spoke of being on a committee formed in 1966 to decide how the then very small West Indian community could do something to mark Canada’s 100th birthday the following year.

What became Caribana was born out of that committee, and Trinidad-born Relida Parsons, a sister of the ACLC’s Margaret Parsons, said she remembers “standing in front of Varsity Stadium when the Carnival-style parade went past, and feeling very proud.”

“The strongest force we have is our community,” said Dr. Bygrave, who was recognized by the FMC as one of the Caribana pioneers at the annual Festival Gala. “We need to rally the community.”

“Today, the young people see Caribana as a street party,” the veteran Ms. Parsons said. “We need to re-educate people — the old folks and the young people — in order to go forward.”

 

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