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  1. Motorhead
    Proponents of legalizing marijuana are fuming over the city’s refusal to allow them to celebrate in a Toronto park after their annual pot parade.

    “I’ve very upset. We’ve been debating this stuff online for days. We’re talking about 40,000 people that want to advocate on their point of view,” says Chris Goodwin, who heads up the Hash Mob.

    The group will take part in the Global Marijuana March, scheduled for May 7 in Toronto.

    In past years, participants gathered after the parade at Queen’s Park for the Freedom Festival. This year, organizers had lined up 100 musicians, artists and speakers as well as food and product vendors.

    “Instead of peacefully marching, we might try to sit-in at Yorkville,” said Goodwin. “There has to be some push back on our part.”

    Organizers were told in January that the festival had outgrown the park on the north side of the Legislature.

    “The park was damaged and overwhelmed. There were people hurt. There was broken glass, bottles being thrown,” Richard Ubbens, the city’s parks director, said of last year’s event. “There were lots of different issues. And illegal substance abuse.”

    The group started talks with the parks division that oversees Toronto Island, but were told last week the event couldn’t be held there.

    “We’re not trying to shut it down,” said Ubbens. “This is a huge crowd. They would have to have much better control over persons using the venue.”

    But organizers say they were in talks with the city last October and it shouldn’t have taken the parks department this long to get back to them.

    The event is planned a year in advance and “it was irresponsible for us not to notify our vendors and suppliers. It’s bigger than just us.” said the festival’s Gabriel Simms.

    The march — up University Ave., across Bloor St., down Yonge St. and back to the park via Wellesley St. — will go ahead as planned. Simms is still working with the city and hopes they will find another venue.

    Patty Winsa
    March 04, 2011


  1. Motorhead
    Pot festival organizers not high on city decision

    Organizers of a Toronto marijuana festival say the streets will be crawling with hungry, thirsty, blissed-out protesters if the city doesn’t change its decision to withhold a permit that would allow the group to use the lawn of Queen’s Park.

    The Toronto Freedom Festival has been held since 2007 and happens at the same time as the Global Marijuana March in early May, providing food and entertainment to legalization protesters.

    However, the festival appears to have become a victim of its own success, with city officials telling organizers that the size of the crowds – an estimated 40,000 people at last year’s festival – is too large for the park to accommodate.

    Gabe Simms, the festival’s vice-president of operations, said the city cited several other problems in denying the permit this year, including open alcohol at the festival, under-aged drinking, complaints from the community about marijuana use by protesters and the danger for the grass – the turf, that is – to be damaged or garbage to be left at Queen’s Park. The city was also concerned after a man was injured by falling 20 metres out of a tree at least year’s event.

    “We weren’t naive to the growth of the event. We have faced new challenges,” he said, adding that the festival had already been looking at the same problems the city raised.

    He said festival workers check for garbage in the area and protect the grass and that there were several ways to alleviate concerns over clandestine and under-age drinking, such as performing bag checks on people arriving at the festival.

    Until January, the festival had no indication it would not receive a permit for this year’s event, planned for Saturday, May 7, Mr. Simms said, adding that organizers weren’t given the chance to address the community’s concerns before the permit was denied.

    He said the festival had been unsuccessfully trying to reach an agreement with the city or find an alternative venue over the past few weeks.

    City parks officials could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.

    Organizers said the marijuana march itself would still go forward. They argue that, without the festival’s infrastructure – such as portable toilets, security personnel and volunteers to pick up litter – the problems raised by the city would actually be worse.

    “People are going to get together on May 7 anyway and so we make that experience more enjoyable,” Mr. Simms said. “When you have thousands of people milling about, they need bathrooms and they get thirsty and, in this case, hungry.”

    The Global Marijuana March is held in cities around the world in early May. The event is particularly strong in Toronto, where it has been taken place since 1999.

    In the four years since it debuted, however, the festival has become even more popular than the march itself, regularly pulling in crowds of between 10,000 and 40,000 people.

    Adrian Morrow
    The Globe And Mail
    March 04, 2011
  2. Motorhead
    Afrofest, Freedom Fest thrown a lifeline

    The show might go on after all for Afrofest and Toronto Freedom Festival, annual events set to draw a combined 80,000 revellers to Queen’s Park North until the city refused the organizers event permits for 2011.

    Toronto’s parks department had cited the physical toll on the park and numerous past violations of permit conditions, making the cancellation of Afrofest in July and the Freedom Festival in May almost certain.

    Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, whose ward includes the park just north of the legislature, told the Star earlier this week she would meet with festival organizers and city staff to find other possible venues.

    But Wong-Tam said Friday the meetings instead produced the option of the 23-year-old Afrofest and 5-year-old Freedom Festival submitting revised applications for downsized festivals at Queen’s Park north — with the understanding both will move starting next year.

    “Both have three stages and many vendors — Afrofest has 115 — and so we’ve told them if they reduce that, if they can scale back this year, we’ll take another look at the applications,” said Wong-Tam.

    “That’s the compromise — another year of soil compaction, knowing there will be renovations in the park in 2012 so festivals will have to go elsewhere and the grass and the trees will get a breather.”

    Afrofest, set for July 9 and 10 with an expected 50,000 people enjoying live music, may get one or more roads around Queen’s Park closed, giving patrons an alternative to the grass, Wong-Tam said.

    Toronto police are not willing to do that for the Freedom Festival, which sees up to 30,000 people gather after the Global Marijuana March, because of the use of illegal substances, she added.

    Michael Stohr, president of Afrofest, said he’s working to come up with a new plan and the possibility of using street space means revelers might not notice the change.

    “We’re not really looking at a smaller festival,” he said. “We’re looking at setting up in a way that minimizes the effects on the park, and we’re grateful for the opportunity.”

    Freedom Festival organizer Gabe Simms said he’s “cautiously optimistic” both events will happen in the park.

    David Rider
    March 18, 2011
  3. Motorhead
    Freedom Festival to take place at Queen's Park after all

    Bust out the bongs, the Toronto Freedom Festival will return to Queen's Park for at least one more year. After initially being denied a permit due to concerns over the festival's size and the damage it caused to the park, a press release issued yesterday confirmed that, after multiple consultations with the city, a permit has been granted for Queen's Park North on May 7th.

    Although the release doesn't provide an explanation for the City's change of heart — saying only that "a plan has been developed to keep the Festival at the park for another year" — it's likely that scheduled renovations to the park in 2012 played a role. Xtra! reported on March 22nd that Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam helped to arrange a compromise in light of next year's maintenance, but that still required both the Freedom Festival and Afrofest (which was also denied a permit) to submit revised plans to the Parks Department that promised a reduction in the respective impact of each event.

    While there's still no word on the fate of Afrofest, by reducing the number of stages and vendors to be used, Freedom Fest organizers were ultimately able to appease Parks officials. "We are excited to have reached a safe and reasonable compromise, and we remain committed to once again producing a unique and exciting festival," said co-founder Gabe Simms.

    Despite the stay of execution, the festival will be on the hunt for a new venue next year, a task which could prove challenging. With attendance reaching 30,000+ people, there are few parks to accommodate the event, especially downtown.

    The Toronto Freedom Festival runs from 12pm to 8pm, Saturday May 7th. For those who feel like getting high and walking around the city (always fun), the 13th Global Marijuana March will depart from Queen's Park at 2pm.

    Derek Flack
    April 07, 2011
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