Ericka Alneus, is the executive committee member at the City of Montreal in charge of Culture and Heritage.
She is of Haitian descent and recently had to make one of the toughest decisions since assuming her position.
The decision not to go forward with the CCFA (The Caribbean Cultural Festivities Association) and pull the plug on this year’s Black and Caribbean parade is “heartbreaking” she says.
“ I love my community (both sectors, French and English) and I grew up attending Carifiesta. In my early 20s, I used to travel from the city of Sherbrooke to attend the parade.
However, there has been a revision in the process to evaluate all festivals in the city, and there’s new criteria to be met. Carifiesta organizers did not meet that criteria so we couldn’t go forward.”
Alneus, city councillor in the Étienne-Desmarteau district in the Rosemont–La Petite-Patri borough says she cannot comment on the details of CCFA’s proposal except to say that the evaluation committee determined that it didn’t meet the set criteria.
Since the city sent the rejection letter to the CCFA on May 4, there has been an uproar within the community and mainstream media has been pushing administrators for answers on its decision, which also provoked muted cries of racism and discrimination.
Alneus says by denying funding to the CCFA and thereby cancelling this year’s edition of the parade it’s important that the community understands that it has nothing to do with its value in this city.
“Lord knows my community is worthy of its place in this city, and our culture has to take its place on the street among all the other festivals. But we have to see the problems and put ourselves in a solution mode.”
In days following the decision, there has been movements in the community to try to salvage the parade by presenting alternative proposals to the city.
However, Alneus says, she cannot close the door completely on the possibility of having a Black and Caribbean parade on the street for 2023.
“We will look at what’s submitted to us but we need to analyse those proposals and see if they are viable. But remember we’re just six weeks away, so I’m not sure if we can do it.”
A source close to City Hall told the CONTACT that up to three different proposals have since been submitted as alternatives to the CCFA’s but it’s still a question of coming together and mobilizing participants and community.
“It’s quite a challenge,” he told the CONTACT.
The parade that has become Carifiesta started in 1974 as an anniversary event of Union United Church.
It was then coopted by the Cote des Neiges Project under Leroy Butcher and made its way through other community organizations including The Black Community Council of Quebec and The Cote de Neiges Black Community Association.
It eventually became an independent organization and its history has been marked by a topsy-turvy relationship with the community and parade enthusiasts.
On more than one occasions the city was forced to provide two permits to competing forces.
In its heyday, the Montreal parade, defined itself as one of the biggest outdoor festivals of its kind in Canada.
This year, 2023, marks the first year that the city has pulled the plug completely on the parade.