Black Lives Matter concerned about policing at Caribbean Carnival

As preparations ramp up for Saturday's Caribbean Festival parade, questions are arising about the role of police. While Mayor John Tory emphasized their importance on Friday, Black Lives Matter says the high police presence is undermining.

While Mayor Tory praises the police presence, Black Lives Matter activist calls it 'gross'

Mayor John Tory and members of Youth in Policing celebrating the launch of the Toronto Police float, which will be part of the Caribbean Festival parade on Saturday. (CBC)

As preparations ramp up for Saturday's Caribbean Carnival parade, questions are arising about the role of police at the event — especially from a Black Lives Matter Toronto activist who says the large police presence doesn't make people "feel any safer" at the festival. 

Friday morning, Mayor John Tory and representatives of the Toronto Police Force held a celebration at police headquarters: the 25th annual launch party for the police float in the parade. Tory cracked jokes about needing help with his dance moves, and police representatives described the significance of this tradition to the force.

The mayor also made a point of highlighting the role police play in events like the Caribbean Carnival: "I have comments made to me all the time when we have these big events like Pride and like the Caribbean Carnival about how friendly, how helpful, how reassuring [the] men and women of our police service are, making sure that people feel welcome and feel safe in our city."

Not everyone is so sanguine.

Pascale Diverlus, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto, is excited about the festival as well. "I think it's an amazing opportunity to draw our culture here, to experience a little bit of home here. The Caribbean Festival is home to a lot of us," she told CBC News.

But she does have serious concerns about the level of police involvement in the event. "It's gross that even in a space like that we can be so over-policed and something that is supposed to be so celebratory for a lot of us is actually very triggering to see cops, and as many cops as there are there."

'It doesn’t do anything to actually make us feel any safer,' says Pascale Diverlus, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto, commenting on the high police presence at the event. (CBC)

Chris Alexander, chief administrative officer of the festival's management committee, says he understands Black Lives Matter has concerns, but emphasizes that the festival relies on numerous municipal services. "It's not just police: it's fire, it's EMS, it's parks and rec, everybody — these are part of what make the festival what it is, and flow smoothly."

While police say security will be high, Diverlus maintains it's that very presence which creates problems. "It doesn't do anything to actually make us feel any safer," she says.

Black Lives Matter Toronto recently drew both praise and criticism for interrupting the Pride parade, and the group hasn't ruled out engaging in a protest action at the Caribbean Festival.

"Caribana, just like Pride, is for us as well. We can't act like we're not a part of this community or not ask that we feel as safe at these events as possible," 

With files from Chris Glover