Spectators at last year's Caribbean Carnival Festival parade in Toronto
Late last week I joked with my associate Craigg Slowly that it would be only a matter of time before CFRB radio right wing on-air host Jerry Agar would link the Eaton Centre shooting with the Caribbean Carnival Toronto (the carnival formally known as Caribana).
I don't know if Agar has taken a run at us yet, but, other media outlets have indeed made the tenuous link between an inner-city gang shooting at the Eaton Centre and North America's largest Caribbean cultural event.
The Globe and Mail on Saturday ran a feature on public safety at Yonge and Dundas and somehow managed to use the Caribana name. The reporter, Kelly Grant, listed some of the murders that had occurred near the Yonge/Dundas intersection. In that list was the 2005 murder of a Brampton man in Dundas Square -- he was shot dead in front of police the day after the 2005 Caribana Parade had ended. It was referenced as occurring during Caribana.
On the same day the Toronto Sun columnist, Michele Mandel, quoted an unnamed police officer talking about an unnamed man out on bail being caught at an unnamed Caribana event with a loaded gun. The mystery criminal was, according to Mandel, convicted of the crime but gives no facts to back the quoted mystery officer. Mandel was writing about lax bail monitoring.
I privately contacted the Globe writer Grant to once again say that the 2005 shooting at Dundas Square had nothing to do with our festival (it is like the Groundhog Day movie -- this is the seventh year I have been making these calls). I won't get a retraction, but, I would like them to change the information they have in their "Caribana files" so that the Caribana Dundas Square killing moniker doesn't appear yet again. Grant told me she stands by what she wrote but will take into account the festival's concern the next time.
In an email I explained that I have been involved with the festival formally known as Caribana on and off since 1999. I deal with the media and more often than I would like, I have to deal with false statements made by the media about the festival. I have found that the word Caribana is a codeword for "black crime" when there is a story about gun crime in the GTA in the summer.
Two years ago there was a murder in Ajax at a church that was called the "pre-Caribana Murder", even though it was weeks before the festival, in another city and was at what appeared to have been a private party. Police called it pre-Caribana because many of the partygoers were Caribbean Canadian. The media picked up on that name, until we were able to get a police retraction.
"Before that," I continued in my email, "there was a teenager murdered by his 'friends' in Pickering a day after the parade. It was called the 'Caribana Murder' by Crime Stoppers, the court and the media. The young victim told his mother he was going to be attending the parade, but there was no indication he did make it there, or that the parade had any bearing on his brutal death in another city."
Before that? A murder of two Montreal men in the Four Seasons parking lot was briefly dubbed a Caribana weekend double murder.
And even before that there was the death of Dwayne Taylor who Grant mentioned in her Globe story. It was 2005. The Caribana Parade had ended the day before Dwayne Taylor, 21, of Brampton, was shot and killed at the Yonge-Dundas Square in front of police officers.
The Caribana parade had ended Saturday afternoon along Lakeshore Blvd, miles from the Sunday morning shooting at Dundas and Yonge. No one was in costume. In fact there were no indications Taylor had attended the parade, or that his killer had been involved in Caribana. Caribana's name was invoked solely because Taylor was black and because there were many Caribbean Canadians in the Square.
Any murder is tragic. All gun crimes must be punished. Falsely linking murder and gun crimes to ethnic-specific cultural events is lazy reporting and a symptom of a larger cultural problem in Toronto. Running columns that abandon fact, only help fuel intolerance in the city.
As for the Toronto Sun, I couldn't reach the columnist, so I did leave a note on their website simply saying that it is unfair to the festival to cite an unnamed police officer talking about an unnamed armed criminal busted at an unspecified "Caribana events" without any facts to back allegations that a man was caught with a gun at the festival. The year, the location of the crime, the name of the criminal and information about the court bail hearing would add credence to the story. Neither the columnist or the paper has responded.
It is important that as the PR guy for the festival, I have to honestly answer all questions about public safety. I know the festival will be asked about a fatal police shooting after our parade ended last year -- those questions must be answered. It is equally important that we always stare down wrongful reports about previous crimes mythically linked to the festival.