One million spectators view Toronto’s carnival

Mas bands revel in the music as they walk the parade route at the Toronto Caribbean Carnival’s grand parade, in Toronto on Saturday, July 30, 2016.
Cole Burston / The Canadian Press via Associated Press

About a million people from around the world on Saturday converged on Toronto’s Lakeshore Boulevard for city’s 49th annual Caribbean Carnival Parade.

Colorful costumes, floats and reggae and soca music enveloped the boulevard with 16,000 participants, according to the Toronto Sun.

“This is just perfect, and everyone is so happy,” Muneer Ali, 16, taking part in his first parade this year with the “Working with Youth in Policing” contingent, told the paper. “I love the music and the dancing.”

Waving the Guyana flag, Torissa George, 17, said she was having a time of her life.

“I feel so free and proud representing my Guyanese heritage,” she said, dancing. “It is very welcoming, and people can learn a lot of great things.”

Saturday morning started with showers and a ribbon-cutting ceremony, but the sun broke through just in time for the Grand Parade, the Sun said.

“This is a fun and important event in the city that brings out a lot of people to celebrate our diversity,” the city’s Mayor John Tory told the Sun. “This is one of Toronto’s premier events, and it’s not a parade, it’s a huge street party.”

Ontario Education Minister Mitzie Hunter described the parade as “the fabric of the city,” according to the Sun. “It brings us together.”

Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown also told the paper that the parade is the highlight of the three-week Caribbean Carnival festival, adding that it was great to be back at the event.

“The beautiful part of Canada is the way we celebrate our culture and diversity,” he said. “Some places say forget your roots and culture; in Canada, we celebrate it,” Brown said.

The Globe and Mail described the Caribbean Carnival as “an ebullient three-week celebration” that attracts nearly 300,000 tourists and injects CAN$438-million into the economy, referring to a 2009 Ryerson University study.

But the paper lamented that tension lies in the event’s culmination, which many believe is over-policed, with guests subject to harassment.

Police, however, maintain the need to protect the carnival’s million-plus attendees, the paper said.

“An ideal carnival is one in which nobody really notices the police,” said Toronto police spokesman Mark Pugash, declining to disclose the number of officers working at this year’s festival but added that the tally has decreased in recent years.

In 2012, police added 456 officers downtown during the three-day carnival and a further 350 during the parade, in response to heightened concerns about gun violence, said the Globe and Mail, adding that, that year, was also the first time police searched bags.

But Caribbean Carnival spokesman Stephen Weir said police have been more hands off in recent years, allowing organizers to recruit about 270 “Caribbean-friendly” security officers, who, he said, have experience working with similar groups at nightclubs and other festivals.

Each masquerade band is also accompanied by a squad of marshals on the parade route, Globe and Mail said.

It said that, in recent years, Toronto police has publicly embraced the Caribbean Carnival, that it kicked off the festival last summer at its headquarters with a dance-off between Mayor John Tory and Police Chief Mark Saunders.

Police had the first float at last year’s and this year’s parade, the Globe and Mail noted.

Weir said that, given the carnival’s size, the number of incidents and arrests each year are “infinitesimal,” according to the Globe and Mail.

Mas band members dance in front of Toronto Police officers as they make their way through the exhibition grounds during the Toronto Caribbean Carnival’s grand parade, in Toronto on Saturday, July 30, 2016.
Cole Burston / The Canadian Press via Associated Press

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