The annual Lake Ontario boat cruises have long been a popular part of the city’s Caribbean Carnival (or, if you prefer, Caribana). But with memories of last year’s gang-related shooting during the Carnival parade still lingering, they got an added boost this year, with several promoters playing up the relative safety of their cruises.
Late last Sunday afternoon, four small cruise ships in the Toronto harbour pumped out hip-hop and reggae beats as throngs of cheerful passengers boarded, de-boarded, and bathed in the sunshine. “We wanted to assure people it was going to be safe,” said Charlene Palmer, who advertised her cruise as having “security to the max.” Along with her husband Fred, Palmer organized a party cruise on a rented boat, the Pioneer Queen. “A lot of our friends were nervous about coming to a Carnival event.” So, she added, she was glad to see an increased police presence this year, including TPS boats cruising around the harbour.
Other attendees were also pleased to see more cops around, but were wary about what looked to many like racial profiling. One man, Will, said, “We can’t simply attach shootings and crime to black people. It’s not that simple.”
At one point, as one large party boat returned from Lake Ontario and dropped anchor, nine Toronto police vehicles pulled up in the parking lot near the piers. Officers mostly kept their distance, camping in the shade of the Gardiner as partygoers came and went.
R&B artist Carlos Budd Ford was scheduled to play an Irie Festival event until organizers cancelled it over security concerns. As he and friends chatted by their cars after a cruise, he said,”If you change what you do because of a few foolish people, you’ve lost. I’m from L.A. originally and, as they say, the show must go on.”