08/04/2012 02:00 EDT | Updated 10/04/2012 05:12 EDT

Toronto's Caribbean parade takes place amid increased police presence

Tens of thousands gathered in Toronto for the city's annual Caribbean Carnival parade Saturday amid sizzling temperatures and an increased police presence.

The Scotiabank Carribean Carnival, in its 45th year and formerly known as Caribana, kicked off its parade at 10 a.m. ET at Exhibition Place, with crowds gathering to take in the colourful costumes and to hear calypso, soca and reggae.

The parade, which slowly moved along a 3.5-km route, draws close to a million people every year, including an estimated 200,000 tourists. Trinity-Spadina MP Olivia Chow was among the revellers on Saturday, posting a photo of herself on Twitter in full carnival regalia.

Nancy DesVignes has been going to the festival for 17 years.

"It encompasses all nationalities.... It's just about freedom, peace and harmony and just come out and enjoy yourself and embrace the day and the cultures," she said.

Courtney Jones came from San Diego for the event.

"I love the outfits and I saw how much fun people were having together, all different kinds of people coming together, and the diversity in the city," she said.

More police

The parade coincides with the first day of an increase in officers on the street for the rest of the summer — a move Police Chief Bill Blair announced in the wake of several fatal shootings in the city, including in the Eaton Centre food court, on a crowded patio and at a neigbourhood barbecue.

About 450 more police officers than usual were expected.

An armed man was killed following the parade last year by police gunfire. Ontario's civilian police watchdog later ruled the police officers were justified in their actions. There were also shootings connected to the festival in 2005, as well as a beating death in 2003.

CBC's Ivy Cuervo reported from the parade route that most people didn't mind the police presence.

Torontonian Rachel Bokou said the various cultures are "brothers and sisters" there to dance and enjoy themselves.

"It's sad to know that we have to have so much protection because it's something that's supposed to be safe and fun, but at the same time it's good that we have the police," she said.

Gerard Clarke, who comes to Toronto from Trinidad every year for the festivities, said Friday that he too welcomes the extra officers.

"Last year and many years when I came up here, I've never heard of so many shootings and type of things," he said. "I said, 'Am I in Canada or am I in some other place?' "

The festival also announced it will search people's bags if they're sitting in the paid, bleacher seats but CEO Denise Herrera-Jackson said "it's business as usual" otherwise.

Despite beefed up security, safety concerns might have kept people at home, said Michael Messoom, a forklift operator who attends the festival every year.

"Looking at the crowd, it's a little small," he said, a sentiment that was echoed by police officers, vendors and people who have attended the event in previous years.

A network of barricades and fences kept the public back from the dancers with glitter-dusted skin and colourful headdresses as they made their way down Toronto's Lakeshore Blvd.

'We're looking at the city as a whole'

Other Toronto residents felt safe enough to bring out the whole family.

Tricia Wright, a marketing manager who was with her kids, said she was somewhat concerned about safety. "But not enough to keep me away," she said.

Wright looked on as her kids waved flags with their faces pressed to the fence. "We're keeping close eye on them in case anything does happen."

Toronto police have also been careful to specify that their extra presence is not just for this event.

"We're looking at the city as a whole," said Toronto police spokesman Mark Pugash. "We're looking at all the events in the city. To be honest, it's been a number of media outlets that have focused on the carnival. We certainly haven't."

Toronto was under both a heat alert and a humidex advisory Saturday. The high hit 31 C, and with the humidity it felt as if temperatures were in the low 40s. First-aid providers treated several people at the parade for heat exhaustion.

Traffic disruptions

The Grand Parade ran from the CNE grounds and followed a route along Lakeshore Boulevard West to Parkside Drive.

It disruped traffic in the area, but at the same time, the TTC expanded service. Express buses ran from the northwest corner of Bay and Front streets to the eastern entrance of the Exhibition grounds.