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Toronto summer festivals feeling the pinch amid rising policing costs and other price hikes

A performer is photographed at a Toronto Caribbean Carnival kickoff event at Nathan Phillips Square on July 7, 2022. (Alex Lupul/CBC - image credit)
A performer is photographed at a Toronto Caribbean Carnival kickoff event at Nathan Phillips Square on July 7, 2022. (Alex Lupul/CBC - image credit)

Organizers of three major summer festivals in Toronto say budgeting has become a big challenge this year due to rising costs, particularly for policing.

The heads of the Toronto Caribbean Carnival, Festival of South Asia and A Taste of the Danforth all say they are feeling the pinch amid higher prices for insurance, supplies and programming. But a major factor is that the cost of policing for large events has spiked due to a 14 per cent increase in the hourly pay rate for officers who perform paid duty.

Mischka Crichton, CEO of the Festival Management Committee of the Toronto Caribbean Carnival, said the city can still expect all the sparkle that comes with the grand parade and nothing is being scaled back. But organizers of the carnival, which culminates in early August, are being forced to make "many different considerations" about where they are allocating funds.

"Things like security and paid duty officers are essential and super important to the safe and secure running of our events. Those are really areas that we can't skimp on, but we are feeling it, just like Pride Toronto. We're all feeling the increases across the board," Crichton said.

On Thursday, Sherwin Modeste, executive director of Pride Toronto, said that organization has seen a 300 per cent increase in its insurance premiums and 150 per cent jump in the cost of paid duty police officers, adding the organization may have to cut programming at the festival in June.

Tasneem Bandukwala, executive director of the Gerrard India Bazaar BIA and of the Festival of South Asia, said everything has gone up in cost, including paid duty officers, insurance, portable toilets, security, medical facilities and cultural performances. She's hoping for more government funding for the festival set for July 29 and 30.

"Every year, we try to bring new things to the festival for people to experience South Asian culture but also to appeal to a larger audience. We have some brilliant ideas but it's just so difficult to think how are we going to deliver this in reality," Bandukwala said.

"Events like Festival of South Asia play a very important role in actual human connections and bringing communities together."

CBC
CBC

Mary Fragedakis is the executive director of the GreekTown on the Danforth BIA, which organizes A Taste of the Danforth, set to take place from Aug. 11 to 13. She said in an email on Friday that the organization's costs have gone up as well.

Paid duty costs have risen 30 per cent and production and programming costs have risen anywhere from 30 per cent to 50 per cent, Fragedakis said.

Paid duty rates raised 'as an incentive,' TPA says

According to the Toronto Police Association (TPA), which negotiates a paid duty rate for its members, nearly 40 per cent of paid duties went unfilled in 2022, leaving events and contractors without the requisite number of officers. The statement doesn't indicate why those spots were unfilled.

Jon Reid, president of the TPA, said the association agreed along with the Toronto Police Service and Toronto Police Services Board to boost paid duty rates to $90 an hour "as an incentive" in 2023.

Reid added that there is "a significant misconception" around paid duty policing.

"These members are tasked with ensuring the safety of an event, work site, and the public. The number of paid duty officers is determined by a risk matrix, created by the service, and is intended to allocate the appropriate number of officers to ensure the safety of the size and scope of the request," he said.

"In many cases, the presence of paid duty officers is mandated by the City of Toronto, and as a result, critical infrastructure and development projects as well as cultural events cannot move forward without paid duty officers."

With festivals facing higher costs, Kathy Motton, senior communications manager at Destination Toronto, said the best way for residents to ensure that summer fun in the city continues to show support for major events.

"Cultural events, food festivals, music festivals — they're all a draw for visitors. They support the vibrancy of the city. They are really crucial in terms of our recovery and the recovery of the visitor economy," Motton said.

"These events are integral to the vibrancy and inclusiveness that's so key to Toronto and who we are and what our identity is and why visitors come here," she said.