The summer of sensitive security concerns has claimed its first victim: A two-day celebration of urban music scheduled to take place at Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas Square the same weekend as the city’s Scotiabank Caribbean Carnival.
The annual TD Irie Music Festival of reggae and world music will continue at Nathan Phillips Square around the same time but its urban music program a few blocks north will be cancelled. The festival declined to comment Wednesday evening after releasing a statement that said moving the events at Yonge-Dundas Square to later in the year was “partly in response to the security concerns arising from the recent increase in violence in Toronto.”
“Given the climate, and our incident-free record over the last nine years, we have decided to take a more cautious and prudent approach with this move,” said Phil Vassell, the festival’s director and founder, in the statement. He added that the artists who were scheduled to perform will be invited to a festival in November.
The decision came in the wake of a pair of public shootings – at the Eaton Centre and more recently at a Scarborough barbecue – that left four people dead and dozens wounded. And it followed a decision by the the organizers of Scotiabank Caribbean Carnival Toronto (formerly known as Caribana) to search, for the first time, paid spectators in the grandstand for the parade Aug. 4.
The Canadian National Exhibition, another major coming summer attraction, declined to say whether its security will be boosted this year, saying it does not reveal details of its plans. Spokeswoman Annette Borger said in an e-mail that many regular visitors are aware of an onsite police station and random searches as they enter the grounds.
The Caribbean Carnival’s decision to search some spectators prompted heated debate within the black community, sparking claims of racial profiling but also an acknowledgment that the measures may be necessary.
“The evidence is showing, basically, that these [shootings] are at gatherings like this,” said Alvin Curling, a former provincial politician who co-authored a task force on the roots of youth violence. “If one has to single out a group where certain things like this are happening, I don’t think that’s wrong.”
Mr. Curling commended the “proactive” security decision, while acknowledging that people will be “touchy” on the issue.
Among the opponents was Margaret Parsons, executive director of the African Canadian Legal Clinic. She called the decision a misguided sttempt to be seen doing something, noting that huge numbers of spectators for the parade, and partiers at other events related to the Caribbean Carnival will be unaffected by the grandstand security measure.
“The people that can afford to go in [the grandstand] aren’t the ones carrying weapons, they don’t have a beef. It’s just a silly knee-jerk reaction to label our community and vilify our community.”
Stephen Weir, a Scotiabank Caribbean Carnival Toronto spokesman, said the decision to enact the security measure was made to alleviate public-safety concerns about violence at the parade, not because of specific shooting incidents. He said organizers considered Ms. Parsons’s worries but decided that safety concerns were paramount.
“There’s so many events in the city where people are routinely searched,” he said. “We don’t really see the searching as being specific to one cultural group or another and it’s just an issue of safety.”
With a report from Carys Mills