This group is being spearheaded by a small group of highly impressive, young, intelligent, well spoken ladies who have a passion for carnival.
I was really impressed with the meeting. It started and ended on time, there was a clear agenda and it was an excellent first step.
Everyone was represented. There were about 6 bandleaders (TMBA), two reps from the Festival Management Committee (FMC), The Ontario Steel Band Association (OSA), The Organisation of Calypso Performing Artists (OCPA), and the Caribana Arts Group (CAG).
All of these groups were in the same room having an orderly discussion and nobody was shouting or cussing. Actually, everyone was on their best behaviour and differing opinions were raised and respected. I give full praise to our moderators for setting the tone.
So basically the point of the meeting was to introduce the current skeleton board (lots more positions are still to be filled), to announce a mandate for the group, gather some input to create a mission statement and vision, and to have a question and answer session.
In a nutshell, the mandate is to represent the interests of masqueraders and collaborate with all the involved parties to foster year over year small wins with the goal of building an awesome festival and parade. (that's paraphrased). A large part of this entails re-educating the public about how a parade works.
The Q&A largely revolved around the crowd control issues. The bandleaders expressed that we need much more support from the police, as private security couldn't do the job. They contrasted our levels of policing to those in Brooklyn for Labour Day. Someone also commented that the security in other North American carnivals is provided by the city at no cost to their festivals.
The FMC pointed out that it would be great if we had such support from our city and police force, but kind of categorised it like a "wish". I took it to mean that as festival managers, they had to deal with the reality of budget cuts and a lack of will from the politicians and the police leadership to take a more active policing roll.
What struck me about this group was that it was formed by young women, and their huge concern was security. The CAG chair asked the TMA board what incidents in this years parade contributed to the decision to start this group now.
The response made me uncomfortable and sent silence across the room. Two of the newly formed TMA board members went on to describe two separate incidents where they were manhandled, verbally assaulted and threatened with violence on the parade route by male non masqueraders.
The large majority of masqueraders are women, so its no surprise that this group is lead by women and their large concern is security. We are failing to protect their safety. The really sad part is that they need protection from largely young men from our own Caribbean community.
Some people said that the Toronto police take a hands off approach because the former festival administration had preferred private security and volunteer marshals for crowd control (mind you this was almost 20 years ago (1994-1995) when the festival was much smaller). This ignores that the police and the city seem to have no inclination to take a more active role at this time.
One thing that I learned at the meeting was the police opened barricades along the route to ease the congestion on the sidelines. Apparently, there was overcrowding and there was the danger of people being crushed against the fences.
This begs the question, if we get a thousand officers lining the route, and kick all the non masqueraders out, what have we provided for the hundreds of thousands of spectators to do?
If everyone lines up along the route, they can only see the parade maybe 2 or 3 people deep, what does everyone else do? (perhaps some will get a costume and participate?) It makes me realize that we not only need to secure the route, but we also need to manage the crowd outside of the parade and have different attractions to disperse this crowd along a bigger area.
I think that we have outgrown one long straight route.
The festival is faced with some really big issues and there are no clear answers. But, all interested parties including the general public were in a room together (when was the last time that happened? Has it happened?) and at least they were listening to each other, so that is a good start. That's the first win.
I'm eternally optimistic that we can figure out how to make this thing work. We have unique issues that will need unique fixes. The group has realistic expectations in that they aren't expecting everything to be fixed overnight. They understand that change of this nature takes time, and to aim at this point for small victories over time.