Activists sounded the alarm this week about the dancehall performer, who, they say, is “notorious” for her homophobic lyrics. Rastafest is sponsored in part by the Toronto Public Library and Service Canada.
Along with local Jamaican activist Maurice Tomlinson, the Jamaican Association of Gays and Lesbians Abroad (JAGLA) also spoke out, and demanded the government revoke Queen Ifrica’s work visa to stop her from coming to Canada.
Then Tomlinson asked diplomat Stephen Lewis to intervene.
“We asked to have a dialogue with the Toronto Public Library and the promoters,” Tomlinson says. “So that’s what [Lewis] did, and it was confirmed today that a dialogue took place and her show is now cancelled.”
An email from Marnie MacDougall, executive assistant to MP Mark Adler’s office, confirms Upfront Theatre Foundation, the company presenting Rastafest in Downsview Park, made the decision to remove the controversial artist from the festival lineup.
Masani Montague, the executive director of Upfront Theatre Foundation, did not respond to Xtra’s request for comment. Staff at Downsview Park would not comment on the cancellation.
Kerron Orlando, from JAGLA, says he welcomes the decision by the promoters. “We have to send a clear message that persons who make comments that jeopardize the well-being of members of the LGBT community in Jamaica will not be welcomed in Canada.
“We hope that other homophobic persons will use this instance as a reminder that acts that incite hate will have negative consequences. We hope, as well, that the government of Jamaica will move swiftly to put in place measures to protect members of the LGBT community,” he adds.
Queen Ifrica could not be reached for comment. On Aug 21 she released a song protesting the criticism she has been receiving recently, called “Freedom of Speech.”
“This song shows that she is unrepentant and uses free speech as her weapon,” Orlando says.
Queen Ifrica recently came under fire in Jamaica for an Aug 6 performance at a national gala celebrating Jamaica’s 51st anniversary of independence. During the show, the popular reggae artist declared her unwavering support of the country’s controversial anti-sodomy law, which criminalizes homosexuality.
UPDATE: Just after this story was posted, the Toronto Public Library’s Ana-Maria Critchley called to say that, despite being listed publicly as a sponsor of the event, the library is not a sponsor of Rastafest. The library provided Upfront Theatre space for an event aimed at children and youth, she says.
“We have not given them any money, and we have no involvement in Rastafest at Downsview Park,” she says. “Our participation is limited to Tweenfest, an event held Aug 15 at our York Woods branch. It’s likely that the confusion arose because Toronto Public Library is listed on Rastafest’s website as an overall sponsor, although our support is limited to Tweenfest. We’ve asked Upfront Theatre to remove our logo from their website to help clarify this.”
“We did have a conversation with Stephen Lewis yesterday and gave him this information,” she adds.
UPDATE, Aug 26: In a clarification, Stephen Lewis tells Xtra that Upfront Theatre had already decided to remove Queen Ifrica from the festival lineup. “I’d like to make it clear that I had nothing to do with the decisions of either the Toronto Public Library or Upfront Theatre. While it’s true that I had discussions with both organizations, it’s equally clear that they had already determined, well in advance of my conversation, to withdraw the logo in one case (the Library) and cancel Queen Ifrica in the other (the theatre). I admire both organizations for their principled stands. Any credit given to me was entirely undeserved.”