Date: Sunday, 06 August 2023
Posted Aug 6, 2023, 3:35PM EDT.
A cultural festival that was marred by violence on Saturday is still scheduled to go ahead this evening at a downtown Toronto hotel.
A poster for Festival Eritrea advertises events in Earlscourt Park on all three days of the August long weekend including Sunday night at the Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel on Queen Street West starting at 7 p.m.
A Change.org petition started on July 30 calls on the hotel to cancel the event, claiming the festival is sponsored by the Eritrean regime.
“Unlike community-based cultural festivals, this event is an extension of internationally orchestrated state-sponsored fundraising scheme devised to circumvent Canadian and U.S. sanctions,” reads the petition, which has been signed by more than 1,700 people as of Sunday afternoon. “These events are directed and organized by diplomatic missions of the state of Eritrea using local shadowy organizations.”
CityNews reached out to the hotel, who say the event is scheduled to go ahead as planned.
The city of Toronto revoked the permit for the festival late Saturday night after a number of violent clashes between participants and protesters sent nine people to hospital and stalled local traffic for hours.
A City of Toronto spokesperson said the permit for the festival was issued to the Eritrean Cultural Centre. While this group could not be reached for comment, a Twitter account appearing to represent the Coalition of Eritrean Canadian Communities and Organizations posted statements in defense of the festival, saying it’s been held peacefully for almost three decades and alleging participants were attacked.
The account also posted a message it said came from the festival’s coordinating committee, calling the permit cancellation “regrettable.” It called the demonstrators “a violent extremist group” and said the city’s decision “rubber stamps” their plans to disrupt and cancel the festival.
The Eritrean government has been described by human rights groups as one of the world’s most repressive. It won independence from Ethiopia three decades ago, and since then, the small Horn of Africa nation has been led by President Isaias Afwerki, who has never held an election. Millions of residents have fled the country, avoiding conditions including forced military conscription.
Similar tensions played out last week in Sweden during an Eritrean festival in the capital city of Stockholm. About a thousand protestors disrupted the event, leaving dozens injured.