The Toronto Freedom Festival may get another year in Queen’s Park after all, following a compromise reached with Toronto’s parks department by Ward 27 City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam.
Organizers of the five-year-old festival, which attracted up to 30,000 people last year, were told in January that the event was too big for Queen’s Park. City officials cited capacity and safety issues, damage to the park and illegal public use of drugs and alcohol. That left organizers scrambling to find an alternate venue in time for the May festival date, which coincides with the annual Global Marijuana March. The annual Afrofest, which runs in July and attracts even more people to the park, also got the boot for the same reasons.
Under the compromise, Freedom Festival and Afrofest submitted revised plans to the parks department that aim to reduce the impact on Queen’s Park for 2011. But festival organizers will have to find alternate locations for 2012. City staff have yet to approve the revised plans.
Freedom Festival organizer Gabe Simms says his goup’s revised plan reduces the number of stages from three to one, and the number of vendors from 86 to 48.
“We wanted to be able to address concerns with respect to safety and capacity,” says SImms. “We removed the majority of the exhibitors from the park to the perimeter, and we repositioned the stage so we can play to a larger portion of the park, which should allow for a lot more free-flowing movement and to lessen the impact on the park.”
Organizers had also wanted to close streets adjacent to Queen’s Park to expand the size of the venue, but police refused, says Wong-Tam, because of the use of illegal substances.
“The police have said they feel unsafe,” Wong-Tam says. “With 30,000 people, there couldn’t possibly be enough officers to police illegal activity in the park… I’m willing to take them at face value.”
Although the festival has a full year to find an alternate venue for 2012, organizers still face difficulty securing appropriate venues. They want the festival to remain downtown, but city officials believe the event is too large for any of its park spaces and previously suggested Rogers Centre or Downsview Park. Larger festivals like Caribana and Pride typically close off city streets.
“I am open to working with [Freedom Festival] for next year,” says Wong-Tam.
Part of the compromise was achieved when Wong-Tam pointed out that Queen’s Park was due for a major renovation in 2012, which would mitigate some of the impact of using the park for festivals this year. The renovation includes repairs to the base of the King Edward monument, all paved areas of the park and replacement of benches.