Toronto Freedom Festival Could Lose its Freedom

CANNABIS CULTURE – The Toronto Freedom Festival – Canada’s largest cannabis-related event when held every year at the same time as the Global Marijuana March – has been denied an occupancy permit by officials responsible for the city’s parks.

Activists planning the event, who have never had problems receiving a permit in the past, say they expected to receive permission from the city to assemble in the park, erect vendor tents and tables, set up portable bathrooms, amplify music and speeches, and provide other infrastructure required for the one-day festival.

But just a few months before the annual event is to be held on Saturday, May 7, event organizers were informed by the city that a permit would not be issued for its regular location at Queens Park North.

Parks officials claim the Toronto Freedom Festival (TFF) and Global Marijuana March (GMM), which last year brought in a crowd of over 40,000 people, violated some of the terms of its previous permit, leading to their decision to withhold permission this year.

“Several valid complaints were made last year,” Festival organizer Gabe Simms said in a press release, “however we had solutions prepared to address each element of concern.”

In a letter sent to Festival organizers, made available to Cannabis Culture, city officials listed ten “permit violations” with respect to the 2010 event:

1. The permit was issued under the pretext that the event was alcohol free, yet alchocol was being consumed in the park

2. Minors drinking in the park during the event.

3. The use of illegal drugs in the park, which resulted in a youth being seriously injured as he was trying to fly out of a tree.

4. Garbage, broken beer bottles strewn at local residences and the Provincial legislature, during and after the event resulting in numerous complaints.

5. Site garbage not cleaned up after the event. One full day of work by Parks staff to put the park back in order.

6. Concerns from the public and staff that Toronto Police Services do not press charges for illegal drug activities. City is seen as condoning the illegal activities by approving the permit.

7. Public endangerment, health and safety of the public – person falling out of tree with serious injuries – under the influence of either drugs or alcohol or both.

8. Generator was not fenced in.

9. Turf damage.

10. Original intent of the event vs. present day event.

Festival organizers told Cannabis Culture they were aware of the city’s concerns and had been in negotiations with officials to find ways of resolving the problems, and were surprised when they were told a permit would not be issued at all.

“The Toronto Freedom Festival has a plan to deal with all the issues the city is concerned about,” GMM’s lawyer Ron Marzel told Cannabis Culture. “Other Toronto events, like Caribana, deal successfully with similar problems every year and the Festival can too. It doesn’t make sense for the city to do this.”

The Global Marijuana March is an annual event held in cities around the globe to celebrate cannabis culture and promote education and discussion of marijuana issues. The March in Toronto is attended by about 20,000, and the large crowd makes its way through the streets with police blocking traffic. This year will be the 11th annual celebration of the Toronto chapter of the GMM.

The TFF, which started in 2007 as an added cultural component of the March, has grown to include nearly 100 vendors, a large stage with live musical acts, bathroom facilities, and volunteer security, and is a peaceful event with very few reported disturbances. One of the few disturbances, reported widely after last years Festival, was a man who fell out of a tree and was badly injured.

Toronto Parks Director Richard Ubbens told Cannabis Culture that he is concerned about the use of illegal drugs during the Festival, though he admitted that he wasn’t aware of any police complaints about such use to his department.

“The use of drugs in the park is extensive and beyond any sort of capacity to control,” he said in a telephone interview with CC. “It’s completely open.”

Ubbens also pointed to beer-drinking and litter as other “major concerns”, and said the crowd has outgrown the size of the park, leading to safety concerns.

Gabe Simms, TFF co-founder and organizer, told Cannabis Culture his group has been looking at moving the event to other locations like Toronto’s Olympic Island, but said they’ve been met with virtual brick walls by Park officials.

“They told me last Friday that due to complaints and concerns from stakeholders, they would be unable to move forward with our desire to relocate our event [to Olympic Island],” Simms said.

Without assisting the Festival in finding another suitable location and denying the permit at the last minute, activists say, Park officials are creating a situation that will lead to increase security concerns. A permit would allow the group to hire security marshals and set up fencing

“The Global Marijuana March is going to happen regardless,” GMM’s lawyer Ron Marzel told Cannabis Culture. “It’s is a protest and you don’t need a permit to have a protest. By denying the permit for the Festival at the 11th hour, this will only increase problems with safety and now there’s going to be thousands of people and no washroom facilities. It could be a big mess.”

The GMM is organized by a group loosely-affiliated activist organizations and is not centrally organized. Chris Goodwin, part of Toronto’s Hash Mob, told Cannabis Culture that his group plans on marching and rallying no matter what the city says.

“If they don’t let us in to Queens Park, we’ll still do the Global Marijuana March, that’s always been a separate entity from the Freedom Festival itself, but at the same time, all those people need a place to have a festival or a rally, so there has to be a rallying spot. Maybe we won’t go to our regular spot – maybe we will do a sit-in in Yorkville.”

TFF co-founder and organizer Gavin Gerbz told Cannabis Culture he is hopeful his group will come to a resolution with Park officials before it’s too late.

“I’m fairly confident that we can work this out with the city,” he said. “It will always be a green-friendly event. It may take on a different shape or form, but as long as the people want it to continue, it will continue.”

Activists plan to meet again with officials and the Toronto Police next week to continue discussions. Stay tuned to Cannabis Culture for more information.

Click here to watch an episode of Cannabis Culture News LIVE featuring the organizers of the Toronto Freedom Festival from Friday, March 4, 2001.

Here’s how to help: please go to the Toronto Freedom Festival website and sign the petition asking city organizers to approve the permit or send email to Parks Director Richard Ubbens and tell him to give the Toronto Freedom Festival a permit! [email protected]



  1. dan chronic hill on

    Whats happenin .When will you tell us about this years march 2012.Just gotta Know

  2. Brian Kerr on

    I’ll be there and I will bring truth as my wepon.

  3. Anonymous on

    Actually disregard the last part of what I said before my friend was much confused and thought that they had been raided recently then she noticed the date. I was going to say I never heard that the last few times I was at either culture shops.

  4. Terra on

    This is ridiculous no one expected the amount of people that showed up for the G20 Summit. People were more reckless on that day than the day of the Fredom Festival and Marijuana March. Multiple people were intoxicated during the G20, also people were climbing on city statues and other pieces. People started a sit in, a riot and violence broke out. Police took people in the peaceful sit in into custody and a lot of young innocent people who were protesting there freedom of speech were arrested. Other individuals took the situation into their own hands some brought weapons others smashed bank machine and store windows. Even though the G20 summit is a completely different situation it shows just how some people may react if the Freedom Festival is not held. People will show up to Queens Park permit or not, and if there’s enough unhappy people things could get out of hand. I have attended the festival for the past three years and not once did I have any problems. Sure there was the ocasional homeless man drinking but the police delt with the man and escorted him from the park. I know a few police who work that day keeping an eye on things and there are never any serious problems, only one time when someone hurt them selves jumping or falling out of the tree. There may be garbage left behind but people could improve on this behavior. Maybe have extra volunteers to help clean. I know I’d be willing to help! 

    My husband has recently undergone a very serious stem cell transplant. He had acute lymphoblastic leukemia for his second time. Doctors did not want to sign the forms for medicinal marijuana because they don’t believe in natural healing. Instead for his bone pain or any other pain and nausea they gave him Gravol and Cesamet 
    (Nabilone) a synthetic THC. He’d rather not take handfuls of pills which are bad on his organs and the rest of his body. Because he had the strongest amount of chemotherapy and radiation he has ever had it destroyed his insides. This made it hard for him to eat for about three weeks or more. The first thing he said when he got home was can I smoke some marijuana I can’t wait to eat swiss chalet again! His appetite has been picking up and for a transplant patient to be home for less than two weeks he is doing amazing. I always tell him we may miss the Global Marijuana March and the Freedom Festival because he is not to be around large groups of people. But he is determined to be there at Queens park as a recovering cancer patient protesting. Why should the government control his choice to use natural medicine and products? Even if the festival has no permit we will be there marching!!

    We do not live in Toronto but we have heard some devastating news. Where we purchase a lot of our products from Shakedown in Kitchener or The Friendly Stranger in Toronto has been raided by the police with no warrants. For what hemp clothing, books and other merchandise. Friends have been updating me and these stores are to appear in court I believe. How can they do this? Why? Is the production of hemp clothing and other products illegal? 

  5. Anonymous on

    Well expect a good beatdown from Toronto’s finest. It will probably turn into another police state showdown. Maybe this time everyone should bring weapons to defend themselves. It is going to come down to that at some point.

  6. AnnieOakley64 on

    1. Humans that are not even a part of the event, as in other events all over the city, will do this. All humans cannot be controlled. No alcohol was served. How can you control whom brings what other than advertising. Has
    alcohol ever been brought somewhere it shouldn’t have been before? Yes, and surely it will be again. Maybe it should be illegal.

    2. Minors are the responsibility of their parents. Again, no alcohol was sold or served by any event organizers and any consumption was without our knowledge or consent.

    3. The consumption of marijuana is the focus of the protest, as it is an unjust law that harms the public more than the plant ever could. 1 person out of 40,000 had an accident that harmed nobody else, resulted in no charges nor endangerment of anyone but himself.

    4, 5. IF the event generates a mess, bill the TFF. TFF will be responsible to ensure that any mess is cleaned within 24 hrs of the event completion time. Can’t hire cleanup crew without vendors that pay booth fees. DUH?

    6. What staff? Show us the number of ‘concerns’ raised by the public. Proof. How many complaint letters received?

    3, 7. 1 person out of 40,000 falling out of a tree is not public endangerment. It is called an accident and nobody is being sued or found responsible other than the person themselves.

    8. Generator can be fenced in. No brainer.

    10. ?? Intent is a gathering with entertainment, speakers, food and bathroom facilities for the volume of people in the protest march to safely converge.

    Bottom line, there has only been 1 injury (accidental) non violent in the annual event’s history.

    Bottom line, granting the Permit will ensure the protest march attendees do not clog the city as they leave gradually as time goes on. The Permit ensures that more security can be hired and more cleanup can be done. It makes it safer and cleaner.

    Drugs should NOT be illegal. Marijuana can not kill you via overdose. That is the point of the peaceful protest.

    Without the Permit, there will be a massive number of protesters in the downtown area, with no entertainment, no containment, no security, no perimeter, no cleanup, no bathrooms, a big mess.

    The downtown core generates a lot of financial revenue from the protesters in food and beverages.

  7. Anonymous on

    Who care sif someone fell out of a tree? How does that affect the general public? People fall out of trees everyday! FFS’s!

    Just another example of oppression. Government pansies! The pigs didn’t even complain about it .

    Fucking idiots.

    Next they will be holding your dick, while you peee. & probably enjoying it.