Parading Mayor Mel

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There seems to be some confusion as to whether Toronto's Mayor Mel Lastman is invited to participate in this weekend's Caribana events or not. On August 4, the festival - which began last Saturday - celebrates Caribbean-Canadian culture with a massive street party and parade. An average of 1-million people come to the finale each year. The week-long festivel brings in roughly $450-million.

Usually, Lastman loves a parade. But he won't be so welcome at this particular party. About a month ago, the Mayor told a reporter that he wasn't looking forward to a trip he was taking to Mombasa, Kenya to lobby African delegates for Toronto's 2008 Olympic bid. "I can just see myself in a pot of boiling water with all these natives dancing around me," he said.

Oops.

Since then, the tiny imperfect mayor has been under attack. He's said sorry a couple of times, then made it clear there is nothing more he can do. Others disagree. Over forty organizations supported an anti-racist rally held at city hall's Nathan Phillips Square on July 24. About 200 people showed up, calling for his resignation.

Grace Galabuzzi, one of the organizers of the newly formed African-Canadian Coalition, wrote a letter to the chair of the Caribana Cultural Committee (CCC), Frances Jeffers, asking that the organization not to invite Lastman. "I was told by a board member officially, that the mayor could not attend the Caribana event."

But Scott Manage, senior writer at the mayors' office, insists that Lastman was indeed invited to Caribana. Although his honour did not attend the opening event July 28, Manage said that the mayor was invited, but had other commitments. The staffer pointed out that the mayor would participate in a Caribana kids event. However, that particular event was not, according to a Caribana official, "a Caribana-sponsored event."

Still, a recent press release from the cultural committee has some folks confused. It says: "in response to media reports that Mayor Mel Lastman was welcome at Caribana 2001, the CCC states categorically that everyone is invited to join the celebrations." It confirms that some members of the board are critical of Lastman's statement, but "Caribana is committed to welcoming people to join our festivities, not excluding them."

Margaret Parsons, executive director of the African Canadian Legal Clinic, explained it this way: "Sure [the mayor] can come and dance like the rest of the folks, he should not be denied that right. But after he made those racist remarks, he cannot attend in his capacity as mayor. Usually the mayor sits in front of the parade, what would that look like," Parson's asks.

Could this newer, more vague position have anything to do with the roughly $353,000 that the city provides Caribana each year? Whether it means that Mel Lastman will find his way to the front of this year's parade, we'll soon see.

Karen Flynn is a freelance writer and a doctoral candidate in the School of Women's Studies, York University.

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