Toronto Freedom Festival: Let Freedom Rain

How do you light a joint in a torrential downpour? This was one of the most pressing questions at the official launch event for the third annual Toronto Freedom Festival at Yonge and Dundas Square

where a small but dedicated collection of activists, organizers and celebrants gathered (beneath the cement structure mind you) yesterday to hear about what to expect at the day-long event taking place at Queen’s Park on May 2. Paper pot-leaf leis are in abundance and one reveller is in full-on Bongman costume — blue-and-red Superman-style tights topped off with cylindrical body armour and an arm’s length pipe protruding out the front. It may be a gloomy day, but no one’s going let their mellow get harshed.

While the Freedom Festival’s flagship event is the May 2 Global Marijuana March, it’s not specifically a pot party. More than anything it’s a celebration of the freedom to make lifestyle choices and accept responsibility for said freedom. When we duck into the media tent to escape the mid-afternoon dampness festival organizers Gavin “The Gerbz” Bryers and Neev Tapiro explain that the idea was to create an event that the city could get behind and hopefully bring the ideas of the march out into the public discussion a little more. Despite being one of the largest free spring festivals in the city, Freedom Fest hasn’t yet been able to secure funding from any level of government.

Still, the fact that they are holding the launch right in the heart of downtown shows that at least some councillors — like festival supporter Kyle Rae — are on board with the tolerant atmosphere. Gavin hopes that this year the festival will bring out enough people that it will be impossible to ignore.

The lineup for the festival should serve this purpose rather well. On the main stage, performers like Snoop Dog and Dr. Dre’s DJ Jam, Spookey Ruben and Juno winner Humble will follow in the footsteps of previous years’ breakout acts like USS and Down With Webster. Legendary Toronto DJ Kenny Glasgow is one of the many acts to grace the electronic music stage and EYE WEEKLY’s own Voices of Freedom speaker stage plays host to the one and only “Prince of Pot,” Marc Emery, among others, as well as a poetry slam competition. This year also features a film component, called F3, where a program of short films and a special screening of Ron Mann’s Know Your Mushrooms will be playing throughout the afternoon.

The other part of the festival that Tapiro hopes will be impossible to ignore is information about bill C-359 — the pro-decriminalization bill tabled by BC MP Keith Martin in Ottawa earlier this month. The Liberal health critic wants to change the laws so that marijuana possession is still illegal, but that being caught and charged with “personal use” quantities of pot would result in a fine only. It probably won’t take much to convince the crowd that the bill is a good idea; the real challenge, however, will be getting them to lend some support as it passes through the House of Commons.

– Article from Eye Weekly on April 21, 2009.