After community outcry accusing Toronto officials of anti-black racism, the city has reversed its decision to cut Afrofest down to a single day.
Music Africa, the organization that hosts Afrofest, was denied its usual two-day permit for the annual festival, which takes place at Woodbine Park and which has been held since 1989. This change was due to what Ward 32 councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon said were curfew violations and noise complaints from previous years.
Fans of the annual African music festival took to social media to express their outrage over the city’s decision, arguing that the sanction had little to do with noise complaints and a lot to do with silencing the black community.
McMahon and Music Africa president Peter Toh released a joint statement last Wednesday announcing Afrofest’s restoration to a two-day festival, to be held July 9-10.
“With this agreement we look forward to a positive future for the festival and are committed to including Afrofest in the cultural and musical landscape of Toronto,” the news release stated.
This announcement came just two days after Black Lives Matter – Toronto protesters pitched a tent city outside police headquarters. The group issued a list of demands to Mayor John Tory and Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders, one of which explicitly asked for Afrofest to be reinstated to its original format.
Angelyn Francis, an executive member of United Black Students at Ryerson, said she sees cultural parallels between Afrofest and the Toronto Caribbean Carnival, the summer festival popularly known as Caribana that showcases Caribbean culture, traditions and music in downtown Toronto.
Compared to other Canadian events that bring in a considerable amount of revenue, such as the Calgary Stampede, events for black and Caribbean communities receive minimal funding from the government and are constantly under heavy scrutiny.
“One thing goes wrong (at events for black and Caribbean communities), you hear about it and it’s shut down completely,” Francis said.
She said that’s not the case for events such as Nuit Blanche, which have not faced repercussions for public rowdiness or disruptive behaviour.
According to Francis, events like Afrofest and the Toronto Caribbean Carnival are held to a different standard because they are “made for and made by black people.”
“It’s something that’s been ongoing with a lot of African culture and Caribbean culture,” she said, adding that people tend to be reluctant to support something that they don’t have a place in.
“It isn’t your place but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t support it still.”